(Photo info: Reviewing a shot from a scene cut from the first season.
Left to right: Ben Dobyns, Matt Vancil, Emilie Rommel Shimkus (Wren), Rena Stone, Leila Aram-Panahi, Assistant Director Tony Becerra.)
There are days when what you love pains you. There are days when the ideas won’t come, the shots won’t cut, the performances aren’t jelling, you don’t agree with your DP, and you wish you’d never suffered from the annoyance we call inspiration in the first place.
Then there are the days where you launch your KickStarter campaign, asking your friends, family, and fans to publicly, demonstrably support your film project and you get almost $1,000 an hour in contributions for the first day. And reach 75% of your goal before the first week is over.
Do those days balance out? Hell, no. The days when everything works and you’re firing on all cylinders and your fans bear you up and your friends encourage you and Facebook is exploding with people wanting to get the word out about something that is incredibly important to you? Those are way bigger than the bad days. They almost, almost wash those bad memories away altogether.
the right choice for us…”
The biggest question we keep getting after Zombie Orpheus Entertainment launched a KickStarter campaign to such great success is, “How do you do it?” This question encompasses a lot of other questions, like, “Where do I get me some of that?”, “Can I do the same thing?”, and “What makes you so special?”.
Simply, the answer boils down to one thing: Trust. We trusted that there was an audience for JourneyQuest. We trusted that the years we’d spent paying dues with our earlier efforts had created a fertile ground that was ready to respond strongly. We trusted that even though we put our work online for free people would reward us because they liked what we did. We trusted that going outside the Hollywood system was the right choice for us. We trusted that folks who said they loved what we did would put their money where their collective mouths were and shill for us, put us out there, and actually pay to see what we were capable of.
More than anything, we trusted that our fans would meet us halfway. We’d show them what we could do, and they’d respond by helping us do it again.
should always be free.”
That was always the plan with JourneyQuest. We said we’d do Season One on a shoestring to show what we were capable of. Ideally, when it was released we’d sell 100,000 DVDs and just keep making more movies. But realistically, we had faith in our Creative Commons license, and the strength of our fan base to make a Season Two happen. And like any good dealer, we knew that the first hit should always be free.
Like many of our contemporaries, we turned to KickStarter to make our next big thing happen. For us it was JQ Season Two. This was after more than a year of our fans petitioning us to do it, but we were determined to wait until after Season One had been released on DVD and after we had primed our fan base. We had no idea how primed they were.
The initial roll out for our KickStarter campaign was supposed to be gradual. As we envisioned it, week one would just be fan communication, Facebook, Twitter, letting the folks who were champing at the bit to show us their enthusiasm. Then we’d build from there.
But by the time noon rolled around on day one and we’d only been live for three hours, we’d already reached $3,000 in contributions. We knew then that we needed a new plan. Clearly the fans who had been clamoring for the KickStarter had the money set aside and were just waiting for us to pull the trigger. Nothing about our KickStarter has been gradual. We were one-third of the way there before 48 hours was up and it hasn’t stopped yet.
JourneyQuest Season 2 is going to happen, and the main reason why is because we do what Hollywood doesn’t, or won’t. We treat our fans like grown-ups and believe that if we bring the smart, they will get it. We believe that we can cross genre borders and fans will follow. We put the power in the hands of our fans and have faith enough that if they like us, they want us to succeed.
When we saw the colossal fan responses to shows like Farscape, Veronica Mars, and, of course, Firefly, getting the boot, it really sank in. So many people were so passionate about these programs, but they were still dying off. What if we got the fans that worked up before things were dire? What if they were always involved and enthusiastic and part of the process instead of just a faceless consumer
So that’s what we did and that’s how we got here.
“In case it doesn’t go without saying, embrace new media. Movie theaters are great, but they’re still kind of sewn up by the system. Rent your own and throw a big-ass screening instead of waiting for someone to give you a rubber stamp of approval.”
The directive for this article said to include some takeaways, so here’s what we have to give you:
In case it doesn’t go without saying, embrace new media. Movie theaters are great, but they’re still kind of sewn up by the system. Rent your own and throw a big-ass screening instead of waiting for someone to give you a rubber stamp of approval. Put your whole movie up on YouTube and see who digs it and shares it and loves it. Some of JourneyQuest’s most important early success was from embracing Hulu when lots of industry folks still didn’t trusting that online entertainment was going to be a thing. And explore alternative distribution. We can get you a digital copy of JQ Season Two way faster and cheaper than a DVD, which is why it is an incentive in our KickStarter campaign.
Cheap shouldn’t mean cheap. If you have to cut corners to get your production up and running, cut ‘em. If you haven’t read Robert Rodriguez’ “Rebel Without a Crew”, do so. Solve your problems with creativity and not with money. Build a production around what you have and not what you want. Show folks what you can do with a little and then ask for a lot. But no matter what, put the money, whatever there is of it, on the screen. The monstrous difference between viral videos and web series is production value, and the quality of our production was one of the things that got us a lot of notice. Just because you want to do sci-fi doesn’t mean you need CGI in every other shot.
“Every YouTube view, every DVD sale, every handshake and signature was another person who gave a damn about what we were doing. And really, in the end, inspiration and motivation aside, that is what it’s all about for us.”
Finally, build a fan base. One of the biggest strengths we have is the loyalty of our fans. They will and have followed us absolutely everywhere. They come and help out on shoots and they put us up for con weekends. They share The Gamers with everyone they know. They start gaming stores because they want to hang out like the crew in Dorkness Rising. They make us Jayne hats and dinners. Our fans are our friends and that made it easy for us to ask them for support and even easier for them to respond with an outpouring of it. We didn’t start out huge, and we didn’t expect to. Every YouTube view, every DVD sale, every handshake and signature was another person who gave a damn about what we were doing. And really, in the end, inspiration and motivation aside, that is what it’s all about for us.
It has been a long road and while there have been many of those days when it didn’t seem worth it, we’re looking forward to a lot more days that erase those negative memories, where we can bask in the support of those who want us to succeed, because we want to offer them something they can’t find anywhere else.
Matt Vancil is an independent filmmaker and the creator of JourneyQuest. After writing and co-producing two low budget features as an undergraduate (Demon Hunters and Dead Camper Lake), his debut as a writer/director resulted in the fantasy-comedy cult hit The Gamers, which went on to play at fantasy and gaming conventions worldwide and lead to a feature sequel, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising. In addition to his film work, Matt is the Video Director and a Narrative Designer on March 32nd, an episodic online video game produced by Seattle game studio Chromed (releasing 2012). A graduate of the American Film Institute, Matt has an MFA in Screenwriting.
Ben Dobyns is the executive producer of JourneyQuest and the founder of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment. He worked for six years as Director of Development for Dead Gentlemen Productions, where he oversaw the business and creative development of both new media and feature films, most noteworthy the cult hit The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, which he executive produced. He has directed two feature films, numerous shorts, and several web series, is a published short story author, edited acclaimed indie features The Dark Horse and Camilla Dickinson, and has extensive experience as an assistant director on films in the $200k to $8 million range, including Zombies of Mass Destruction, Battle in Seattle, and Zoo.