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2013 S&A Highlights: More Fans, More Problems or Kickstarting Ain’t Easy (On McGruder's 'Ruckus')

Features
by Jasmine Golphin
December 31, 2013 6:04 PM
17 Comments
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Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the 9th of many to come, originally posted in late-February 2013. Happy New Year to you all! 

So by now all us struggling artists know the allure of crowdsourcing. “Someone will give me money so I create and not have to work at Taco Bell, you say? Where do I sign up?” So we make a plan, make a little video and get the ball rolling.  And most of the time we come to learn the very first rule of crowdsourcing: Hitting up your friends is a precarious act at best.

I speak from experience of course.  Three years ago I started work on my feature film Maternal Pride and created an Indiegogo page for it.  Actually I made two, because, you know, it worked so well the first time.  In my head I knew my cash strapped friends would only be able to do so much, but I just assumed that by them spreading the word eventually Chris Nolan/Shonda Rhimes/Robert De Niro (he likes black women right?)/Oprah would find out and help me on my journey.  

Clearly I’m joking a bit, especially since I went with Indiegogo (which will give you whatever you raise) and not Kickstarter (which will only give you the money if you make your goal). But still I had to find out the hard way that asking for $20,000 through the internet was going to require me to be in a different place in life.  A place that didn’t look like my last year in college and a place that didn’t remind people of the story of Moby Dick (And I am going to finish this film damn it!  I don’t care how long we’ve been at sea!).

I assumed that place would be one with a stronger following.  Fans, to be more direct. I was sure that the biggest thing that stood between me and my great white whale was the relatively small number of people that wanted to see me succeed.  In my mind more people equals more money. Easy. But then Aaron McGruder had to go and show me that’s not completely true either.

For those unfamiliar with his name, Mcgruder is the creator of The Boondocks, a comic strip turned cartoon show that stars two black boys and their grandfather in affluent the suburbs of Chicago. It’s satirical  it’s harsh, it’s hilarious.  I cried tears of joy when the main character Huey Freeman (named after Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton) told R.Kelly fans that the man needed help and that his plight was not some conspiracy of the white man to hold black men down, this time. Watching someone else say what’s been on my mind for years was just a thing of beauty.  I became a fan instantly.

Fast forward eight years later and I am one of 6.2 million fans on The Boondock’s Facebook page. After eight months of radio silence, they put up a status that says:

“BIG BOONDOCKS ANNOUNCEMENT TOMORROW! We know it’s been quiet around here for awhile. That’s all about to change. Stay tuned for a huge BOONDOCKS announcement tomorrow.- The Management”.  

The next day they put up a link to a Youtube video with “Teaser.mov” as a title, which as someone that has uploaded a great number of Youtbue videos just made me laugh a little (edit on Final cut Pro, do we now?). The video depicts shots of a stage, lights flashing and obese, poorly dressed man waving a confederate flag. About half way through fans of the show realize this man is Uncle Ruckus, a character I couldn’t begin to properly describe for the uninitiated here. (Sparknotes version: Uncle Ruckus is a black character on the show that hates black people. He is the sort-of-lovable antagonist, the very height of satire, and the kind of character Dave Chappelle would have had to leave his show over).The trailer was for an Uncle Ruckus live action movie. None of the main characters, just this guy that could even embarrass Archie Bunker. 

I remember whispering to myself “America isn’t ready for this. We are still getting over Django.”

The attached link sent people to the Kickstarter page.  Thirty days to raise $200,000.  There is a giant poster to the left of pledge levels that reads “The Uncle Ruckus Movie!” and under that, in smaller print, “If you want it”. I probably wouldn’t be writing this if there wasn’t some sad dramatic irony in that last line. But on the first day of this campaign, with over six million fans, I figured I would surely have a chance to analyze this film once it was done and decide after it was all over if it was a worthy experiment. 

There are now four days left in the campaign.They are about $97,000 short of their goal. The comments on the Facebook page provide the biggest hint as to why:

“I don’t think I’d sit through a feature length uncle ruckus thing. Interesting character but he’s definitely not meant to be taken in large doses.”  ”Season 4…..work on that first” and, perhaps the most direct, “Wtf is this shit?” .

 So herein lies the first thing I learned: You have to address the mood of your audience. Not each and every complaint, nor do I suggest you be swayed by the disgruntled. But addressing the mood shows that you are listening and that you give some sort of a damn. 

There was an attempt at this early on in the campaign.  A day after the announcement was made, the trailer was re-posted with this added: 

“hey all, this may not be the announcement you were expecting, but thanks so much for your support! We really appreciate it!”

which was nice but not much.  Most people were concerned this film was going to be in lieu of a forth season, which they (we) have been waiting three years for.  There was an announcement made in May 2012, two actually, but that was the last update anyone got from the page.  A quick reminder that season four is in fact happening would have helped silence some detractors.  

The second thing I learned is to Give followers enough time to get their money together. Cyanide and Happiness, also started in 2005, is a webcomic series that occasionally makes sketch animated shorts. Their humor is black (as in dark, not as in race) and their fan base is much smaller than The Boondocks (826,000 on their Facebook page).  They started announcing their Kickstarter project for a sketch animated series on January 15th, a full month before the project was launched. There were reminders on all their social media outlets everyday until the project was announced. It’s been over a week since their $250,000 campaign officially started. They’ve raised over $310,000.

Fans need time. They need to get hyped.  They need buzz. If you are going to surprise them, for whatever reason, give people more than 30 days to contribute the campaign.  I mean that’s only two paychecks for most folks. I know I’ve already spent my next three paychecks.

Lastly Do or Do Not, There is No Try. As much as I hate to admit it to my Star Wars fanatics, Yoda was right (my ennui of Star Wars is an essay for another day). You are the creator.  You are the master of your craft.  Fans, generally speaking, don’t know what goes on behind the curtain.  They don’t know how you make the music sound good, how you shoot that film, how you paint that portrait  how you write that essay (this one was made with the NERD Pandora station, under-employment and unicorn dust). 

But fans, including those ignorant to your craft, can smell a lack of confidence   You can’t go to them and say “Give me your money.  You know, if you want.”  You have to explain to them how whatever you are doing is going to change their life.  That their money is the least they could give to make this sun rise. But on The Boondock’s Kickstarter page we find this: 

SONY (who produces THE BOONDOCKS animated series) is not involved with this project in any way. In fact, there are no investors, corporate or otherwise, involved with the movie as of this moment. This whole thing is kind of an odd idea, so we’re starting with Kickstarter on this one and we’ll just see what happensUncle Ruckus has a lot of supporters out there. If they want this to happen, they can make it happen.

I mean, does that sound sissified or what? “Eh you know, if you want to you could make this happen, but if you don’t, no worries.  It’s not like we care or anything.” That sounds like what a geek on a sitcom says when he’s trying to act like the popular kids.  I’m not trying to suggest that McGruder and et al’s  feelings on the situation are stronger than these words suggest.  I’m just saying if you give people the option not to care, they won’t. 

All of this said, I kind of feel bad for McGruder. Or at least I have a sense a mourning for this experiment. I’m curious to see what he was thinking.  I want to know what he pitched to Gary Anthony Williams (who voices both the animated character and plays the live action one) to get him to sign on. I want to see what else the costume and make-up department got spot-on (live action Uncle Ruckus looks just like the animated character. I mean JUST LIKE). And who knows what might happen in a week.  But I have to say I’m kind of grateful to see a crowdsourcing project fail struggle on such a big scale. It reminds me that all us artists make mistakes, no matter how many people want to see us succeed.

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17 Comments

  • that dude | January 1, 2014 11:03 AMReply

    I always thought this failed kickstarted effort by McGruder was the epitome of failure. He should have the money himself, so either he was being cheap or he tricked it off. He can't deliver a show on a regular basis, and either won't take money from folks backing his other stuff or they won't give it to him. And he's alienated his fan base so much they won't support him either. Interesting to see the number of posts who weren't interested in a full length film about that character. Why does that character appeal to Aaron so much that he would want to do that?

  • Odira | January 5, 2014 2:40 AM

    GREAT I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE

  • Aaron | January 1, 2014 9:29 AMReply

    I was ready to pledge $500.00 but I kept trying to find any information about appearances from the Freeman Family and there were none so I decided not to support. I would support a Boondocks Live Action film without reservations.

  • Miles Ellison | January 1, 2014 1:57 AMReply

    If this had been a full-fledged Boondocks project, it might have gotten more support. Uncle Ruckus only works in context with the rest of the characters.

  • Micah | February 26, 2013 6:31 AMReply

    You have some very insightful thoughts about how to use kickstarter. Also, I love boondocks and can't wait to see more of it!

  • jeftcg | February 26, 2013 2:09 AMReply

    Excellent points here. Hard for regular folk to fund the project of an already-rich dude who hasn't made good on his televised series' potential (particularly after the "Red Tails" let-down.) Aaron's got the $200,000; he should just make it himself. Respect would go up.

  • Correction | February 26, 2013 12:40 AMReply

    For the record the Boondocks does not take place in the burbs outside of Chicago, it's placed in Howard county Maryland, where MacGruder grew up. Please, get your facts straight.

  • Jasmine | February 26, 2013 11:30 AM

    I actually did try to get my facts straight. In a few episodes ( like Granddad's Fight and Smokin' With Cigarettes) you can see the Chicago skyline whenever the family goes into town. But you're right, it was at least initially supposed to be in Maryland. My bad.

  • Proteus | February 25, 2013 10:35 PMReply

    Great article. Would be a blessing if I can ask you a few questions in confidence concerning a project I'm considering to kickstart with an established fan base. Thanks

  • Jasmine | February 26, 2013 11:40 AM

    I don't know how much help I can be, as I'm just a lowly filmmaker trying to make in this big world. But you can email me at jasmine.celluloid @ gmail . com anyway and I'll share what I know. Thank you for reading!

  • NinaG | February 25, 2013 5:30 PMReply

    Yeah he absolutely assumed that he would be able to raise the funds without really engaging his audience beforehand. It came off terribly. I was also disappointed to see that Aaron had only backed one project via Kickstarter and it was something that looked like a joke.

  • Aaron | February 25, 2013 2:11 PMReply

    He would've already surpassed this goal if there was a glimpse of a cameo from Huey, Riley, and Granddad atleast. I always thought of Huey or Riley being played by an actor of a young Jaden(karate kid young that is) Smith, hair and all.

  • Akimbo | February 25, 2013 10:31 PM

    True. I'd rather watch a film about Thugnificent, Colonel Stinkmeaner & friends, or the Wuncler family than one about Ruckus.

  • Luce | February 25, 2013 2:25 PM

    I know right. I can't stand Uncle Ruckus on his own. I would have preferred a movie about Huey, Riley and Granddad and having Ruckus, Thugnificent, M'sieur Dubois et al. as cameos. Troy is also right, I waited too long for a new season.

  • Troy | February 25, 2013 1:14 PMReply

    Well it has been a very long time since season 3. So it is understandable.

  • Jen Jen | February 25, 2013 1:00 PMReply

    Jasmine - what a great piece! I'm going to share this with my arts-inclined friends and colleagues who have been passionately using Kickstarter and Indiegogo for fundraising. This is definitely a cautionary tale. If either crowd-sourcing site offers resources to their users, you should consider submitting this article to them (hopefully for compensation). It's a nice examination of the work they do.

  • Reelblack | February 25, 2013 12:58 PMReply

    Lots of solid points in this article. I'm currently raising funds for my next project online #BLACKFILMNOW and it certainly isn't an issue of "If you build it, they will come." You still have to be direct and specific about ASKING for what you want. Indiegogo is not Craigslist. I didn't contribute to Uncle Ruckus for a variety of reasons, but what an amazing time we live in when fans can support the work they want to see by pre-purchasing the content for a small amount. I hope things turn around and they make their goal. That being said, please check out our pitch video and page on Twitter. It's definitely something you'll want to support and tell others about.

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