We’ve all seen them. The Star Trek fan videos, kids living out their fantasies with the help of rudimentary production skills. Poor lighting, horrible audio, and even worse acting.
Eric Bernard wants to make it clear that this is not what he’s proposing. As I explain in this story that appears in Wednesday’s Gazette, Bernard and his Space Opera Society are trying to create a production company that makes high-quality science-fiction series set in space. It differs from mainstream television production in two important ways:
- It’s funded by the consumers directly, rather than sold to a network
- It’s distributed directly to the consumers, through the Internet
Bernard and his group of writers, special effects artists and others have proposed to set up a system whereby the networks are bypassed so that the fans themselves can fund and produce science fiction series. The purpose is so that the “suits” don’t stifle creative freedom or cut off high-quality cult series before their time. This system would also ignore boundaries, so people from around the world could be consumers instead of producing something for the U.S. market and then trying to sell its rights to individual television networks around the world.
He compares the structure he’d like to see with that of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, only with a much more modest budget. Most of the funding would come from private donations, but it would also be a business, with sales to consumers and salaries to employees.
Creators would have complete editorial freedom to produce, without the obligation to tailor what they do to maximize ratings. Fans would be able to communicate directly with those creators, and with each other. Bernard said SOS would be a social network, with people sharing the same passion for space-based sci-fi.
It would also be completely transparent, with funders knowing exactly where their money is going.
Bernard wants the series to be produced right here in Montreal, but with the help of people around the world. He said sometimes it’s easier to deal with someone in Germany who thinks the same way and can produce a visual effect exactly the way he wants it than to try to find someone locally and explain what he wants to that person.
Once produced, series would be distributed online to the fans. He has no interest in dealing with production credits or government grants or television networks because of the restrictions they impose. He’d rather collect money from fans, put it toward production and put what’s produced directly online.
He sees the economics this way:
“When you think about it, you’re paying 60 bucks a month for cable,” Bernard said. “Imagine if you would pay for 60 shows that you love $1, but $1 for exactly the shows you want to see — 60 shows in a month that you would love to watch for $1 vs. 60 you don’t on cable.”
In fact, it wouldn’t even cost that much. Current episodes would be free online. Paying members would have access to archives, forums, and even be able to see stuff in development and influence how they turn out.
But with only ideas for new series, SOS needs funding to get off the ground. So in September, just after Montreal Comic-Con, it launched a fundraising campaign through Indiegogo, setting a goal of just over $200,000. With four days left in this two-month campaign, it’s reached just under $7,000. So that goal seems unlikely unless some huge online buzz spreads very quickly.
That’s not impossible. Though only about 2% of successfully funded projects are for six figures or more, KickStarter lists 40 film and video projects that have raised more than $200,000. At the top of that list was a controversial project to create a movie based on the Veronica Mars television series, which used this method to raise money at an alarmingly high rate after the project was panned by the studios.
Science-fiction projects based on fan passion more than corporate cash-counting have also done well. One sci-fi series based on Star Trek raised $242,000 last year. Another whose funding campaign ended on Wednesday raised more than $100,000.
SOS isn’t anywhere near that yet, mainly because of a lack of buzz. Bernard blames that mainly on himself, saying the launch, coinciding with Montreal Comic-Con, wasn’t done right and it was slow to get the word out. But the Indiegogo campaign is structured so that it’ll get whatever money is raised (minus fees). And the work that has been done so far, combined with the obvious passion these people have for the project, suggests that they’ll probably move on it either way, albeit with fewer means if they don’t raise much money.
I wish them luck, and hope I’ll write another story about their first series once it’s completed.
The Indiegogo campaign continues until Nov. 11. More information about the Space Opera Society is at www.spaceoperasociety.org.
UPDATE: After an unsuccessful campaign on Indiegogo, SOS has started a new one on another website, this time with a much longer funding period.
The concepts of these projects are nice, but most of what I have seen out there tends to fail over time because of a basic “donor fatigue” issue.
Right now there are a huge number of “crowd fund” projects out there, and websites to support them. It’s a cool kids idea like “FREE!” marketing, but it’s generally a longer term business fail. In this case, it’s more likely the people will put up money the first time (or for the first few episodes) but without a financial model that doesn’t depend on the public continuing to make the effort to give them money, they are pretty much doomed to slowly circle the bowl.
The lack of a real long term business plan beyond “and then people willingly take time out of their day to give us more money” pretty much is a sinker.
Didn’t the article have them say “we suddenly realized we needed to do promotion”?
That’s one of the failures, this like other websites is seen as a “magic website”, capable of doing something that hadn’t been done before. But it’s merely a trending thing right now.
If they don’t promote in an area where they will find interest in the specific project, why should the “community” of people who actually check Kickstarter and the like be interested? They get a “return” for their investment, but it’s related to the thing being made. if I have no interest in science fiction, I’m not likely to offer money.
Hidden (because it’s not talked about) is that these websites aren’t non-profit, out there for the public good. They exist to make money, and they take a percentage (one story suggested a fair percentage) off the top. That’s their motive, they aren’t there to “do good”.
But it gets promoted as a magic website, submit and then sit back, the money comes in.
So you still rally need to do the hard work, promotion and interacting with people, but the magic website gets a percentage for doing not much.
One Fringe Festival show a few years back used this to raise money. “Wow, awesome” a new generation acting without thought, they like the new. But it wasn’t about doing local promotion, which often has secondary benefits. If you’re fundraising for a local thing, the fundraising itself becomes a means of promoting the actual thing you need money for. Or if you put on a benefit, or run a raffle, you can sell to people who aren’t interested in the actual product. Someone might go see a musician perform, and never have an interest in that play they need money for. So a new stream of money comes in; if you are selling to the playgoers, you might as well just raise ticket prices, because the money is coming from the same place. Same with a raffle, if you can get items that the public is interested in, they’ll buy the tickets, whether they care about the thing that needs money or not.
Most groups that need money also need other items. If you are visible early, that may help to produce those other items. “You need a DVD player? Don’t raise money and then buy a new one, take this one I found in the garbage, it works fine.” Or maybe it gets new people involved. Use the fundraiser as a means of being visible, not just to raise money but because being visible is important in the first place.
That said, the model of fundraising has some advantage. Why donate money if the thing can’t come to fruition? Pledging, and then paying when the needed limit is raised, means that it’s not some general fundraiser, the money going to general upkeep if enough money isn’t raised to let the project proceed. It’s kind of a reverse Mexican standoff, everyone gives the money only if enough have said they will.
The talent required to write great story, act the hell out of the characters, and to direct it all to a satisfying end product… these talents are not widespread. There are actually relatively few who can consistently deliver shows that would pass muster when everyone has become used to seeing the ever higher production values on their television every night of the week. Now extend this out to the rest of the crew, with the director of photography, the editor, the person scoring the show, and dozens of other talented people.
And those few people are not usually found sitting around waiting for a minimum wage job. Sure there are those amazing talents waiting to be discovered, but you are not going to staff a show entirely with these people. You will be lucky to find one, and one will not cut it when they are surrounded by enthusiastic, but untalented, writing, acting, and directing.
It is tough to convince anyone talented to work for a couple hundred a day on an indie movie that will shoot over a three week period, it will be nearly impossible to convince them to sign up for a year long contract.
Going forward, it is going to get even harder to attract any talented people to a long term commitment with a micro-budget ongoing series.
With the explosion of high quality media outlets, talent is being snatched up as production increases for cable originals and for online delivery by the likes of Netflix, Amazon, and Microsoft. The $2 million plus per episode they have to spend means that the best talent goes there, and they are able to deliver production values that simply are out of reach for those trying to create shows for less, often MUCH less, than $1 million per episode.
Hell, even with their deep pockets, network producers are complaining about not being able to fill their bench with talent; they are often going a long way down their wish list to find someone both available and willing.
We are now on https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/cdqG2/ab/61mkb2 with cool new perks!
SOS is here to stay and the skeptics will be confounded :-P