"Kickstarter is a hell of a drug," said creator Eric Powell as "The Goon" Kickstarter panel began at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Powell and his Blur Studios collaborators, Tim Miller and Jeff Fowler, shared details on some of the work already underway thanks to the funds contributed by fans. "Anyone who didn't contribute has no right to be here," Powell joked.
Blur Studios have worked with Powell since 2008 to bring his vision to the screen. With the help of David Fincher, actors Clancy Brown and Paul Giamatti and the talented artists at Blur, they produced an early demo reel (shown at a 2010 Comic-Con panel) designed to get various studios jazzed about the project. While the reel was high quality and illustrated the sort of "mature" animated film Miller wants to make, it has yet to garner significant interest amongst the moneymen in Hollywood.
"We [went to Kickstarter] because we tried the studio system," Miller explained. Blur has a relationship with Fincher -- they produced the acclaimed credit sequence for Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- and Miller shared his enthusiasm for Powell's book with the star filmmaker. Fincher quickly agreed to sign on as a producer, but "The Goon's" unique take on zombies, childhood traumas and knives to the eye made selling the project in the usual Hollywood manner extremely difficult, even with proven talent on board.
"Anything that's out of the norm is looked at askew because [the studios] have nothing to compare it to," Miller continued. "They don't think it'll make money." After a couple of years struggling to find the right studio, Powell suggested taking it directly to the fans.
"I just kept getting email saying, 'Go to Kickstarter,'" the artist recalled. Once they took the idea seriously, Miller and Fowler determined that while it was not feasible to fund a fully-rendered 3D animated feature, they could conceivably raise enough money to create an animatic/storyboard of the script with music, dialogue, sound effects and timing to show off the project's potential. They went to Kickstarter last October with a $400,000 goal.
Though it may sound counterintuitive to make a reel of storyboards when there are already volumes of "Goon" comics to read, Miller said most executives in the studios lack the time to read a script or even a few collected trade paperbacks of the series. The story reel serves as succinct proof-of-concept. "If the storyboard doesn't work for these executives, then why would it work for a wide audience?" he said.
"The Kickstarter also gave the fans a chance to promote it," Powell added.
Characterizing the campaign as a "nail-biter up to the end," Miller said they also faced opposition from people who thought Fincher could write a check to make it happen. As it turns out, the filmmaker contributed funds early in the process so Powell could take time off to write the script and the artists at Blur could produce the initial demo. Fincher's support was key, but it failed to prove an audience exists for the type of animation Blur hopes to make. Successfully funding the story reel, on the other hand, provides tangible proof an audience exists in a way executives understand.
Once the campaign went live, Fincher was surprised by the reaction he got on the streets of Hollywood. The director's involvement caused some waves in the studio town. "They're afraid of this thing," Miller said.
With the project funded, Blur hired four storyboard artists to work on the reel. Miller reassured backers in attendance that their premiums, which include a specially printed issue of "The Goon" with a brand new cover, t-shirts and signed posters, are in the process of being made. "David and Eric came down and signed a lot of posters," he said. "Eric couldn't masturbate for a week!"
Finally, it was time to show two clips from the story reel. The first showcased some of the action they have planned as the Goon and Franky infiltrate Zombie Priest's lair, only to fight a really big monkey. It has the mad energy of the book and the comedic tone will be familiar to any fan.
The second was something Powell called a "poignant scene" in which the Goon tells Buzzard to find someone else to be a hero, much to Franky's dismay.
"That's some powerful shit," Fowler said afterward.
Though Brown and Giamatti provided the Goon and Frankie with their voices in the early demo reel, the clips from the story reel utilized other voice actors approximating their original voices. If the film does go into production, Miller promised Brown and Giamatti will return.
Miller announced that two-thirds of the script has been boarded and a quarter of the entire reel is already edited with scratch music. The complete reel will likely be ready in November, at which point they'll screen the whole thing for backers at a party promised on the Kickstarter page.
During the fan Q&A, the group was asked what they did right during the Kickstarter campaign. Fowler, who was point man with the community, said, "It's important to stay in touch with backers. Throughout the thirty days, it feels like a political campaign." In their case, they were lucky to have so much material ready to share in the form of previously unreleased production art. "It's one thing to get an email [update]," he explained. "It's another thing to get it with a pretty picture attached. Without that, it would've been a lot trickier."
Miller noticed a dip in interest at around the halfway; a common occurrence on the crowd-funding site. "A lot of Kickstarters look like an S curve [over the funding period] and we thought we'd beaten it, then it came," he said. The people at Kickstarter warned them the dip would happen and the best way to fight it and bring numbers up toward the end was to "stay engaged" with the backers and the community.
Fowler added, "There were a lot of backers who donated their time to answer questions from new backers, resolving fears."
"At the end of the day, to do computer animation -- which is what Blur does for a living -- it's very expensive," Miller said. "Jeff is extremely expensive. The budget for the film is $35 million. Usually, that's a studio that signs the check and we want to find them."
Finally, a fan asked where the project's "screw the gatekeeper" attitude ends and a more mainstream appeal to the studios begins. "Now that we've got [the Kickstarter] done, we have to switch to ass-kissing mode," quipped Miller. Pointing out the $5 million success of the "Veronica Mars" movie campaign, he admitted they could keep up the "screw the gatekeeper" attitude and fund the entire movie themselves if they wanted to make a 2D film. "It might be feasible," he said, but the ability to fund their brand of computer animation through a site like Kickstarter is still at least a few years away.
"We could do a Kickstarter for each minute of the film," he joked.