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 happens…Uncle 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.