MEMBERS ONLY: Thanks To the Internet, You’re Now a Movie Producer

13 years after the release of their cult hit Super Troopers, the guys from the Broken Lizard comedy troupe are putting the uniforms back on for a sequel. Or at least that’s what they’re hoping will happen. Like a lot of film independent film projects these days, they’re taking to the internet in an effort to raise money through crowdfunding, telling the fan-base that’s always clamored for a new Super Troopers movie to put its money where its mouth is. The group released a promotional video yesterday aimed at tickling the enlarged nostalgia receptors in the internet’s collective brain with the goal of making a second film a reality. Crowdfunding is nothing we haven’t seen before, but the play to an already established love for a well-known property is the kind of thing that seems to be happening more and more these days.

In the past year alone, we’ve seen three budding projects that appeared online and created such a social media buzz that producers and studios listened and jumped aboard to make them into full-fledged films. It began eight months ago with the “leaked test footage” of what was considered a dead-in-the-water Deadpool movie from Marvel, complete with Ryan Reynolds’s voice providing the perfect embodiment of the character’s trademark snark. The fans went so apeshit over what they saw — and rightly so, since it was pretty brilliant — that they practically demanded somebody make the movie. 20th Century Fox obliged and now Deadpool is set for a February of 2016 release.

Then in January, District 9 director Neill Blomkamp set the internet on fire when he released a series of concept images from an Alien sequel he wanted to make with Fox. The drawings brought back Ripley and Hicks, making it automatically seem like the rightful successor to James Cameron’s Aliens, and were overall so impressive that fans once again raised their voices as one, demanding to be heard. They were, and once again the idea is now going to be brought to fruition with Blomkamp directing, Sigourney Weaver back in the saddle as Ripley and Alien director Ridley Scott overseeing the whole thing. Those who love the Alien canon, and I count myself among them, get a new movie that isn’t whatever the hell Prometheus was supposed to be, and Blomkamp sees his dream brought to life.

Finally, just last week we saw the online release of a “proof-of-concept” short created by director Ruairi Robinson for his project, The Leviathan. The visually stunning clip perfectly sets up Robinson’s tale of deep space hunters who track and kill creatures that look like giant whales. The response was overwhelming, with Digg in particular saying, “The Leviathan deserves to be made into a movie.” The very busy Blomkamp again stepped in and attached himself to the project, along with X-Men writer and producer Simon Kinberg and Fight Club writer Jim Uhls, and The Leviathan is now one of the hottest properties in Hollywood.

What’s happening now can be summed up pretty simply: the middle-man is getting cut out and filmmakers are pitching their ideas directly to the audience in the hope that those pitches will trend and the outcry for more will be deafening. The sense of fanboy ownership that’s occasionally been a burden, with people taking to the internet to complain about casting and direction before they’ve even seen the end result, is being turned around and exploited before the official process has even begun. These things have become test balloons for both the creative class wanting to make the movies and, without a doubt, the studios curious whether they’ll be a worthwhile investment. If either can prove that there’s a rabid audience ready to pay to see them, there’s no reason not to greenlight.

Except of course for one thing: the fact that internet fascinations are the ultimate in ephemera. What social media can’t shut up about today is often very well tomorrow’s no-big-deal. We live in a meme culture these days, which means that our infatuations are, like all infatuations, untrustworthy. Studios can work hard to keep the enthusiasm up for a project as it actually goes through the stages between “online pitch” and “in theaters,” but there are never any guarantees. Also, just because people like what they see in a couple of drawings or within a two-minute clip doesn’t automatically mean they’ll pay up to see something in the theater.

Another potential issue is the internet’s ability to amplify the voices of a small group of people, making it seem so loud that its actual volume can’t always be discerned. Sure, every single website and social media forum I tend to visit may have been talking about The Leviathan last week, but in reality that still represents only a small fraction of the moviegoing public. Ten years ago, geek god Joss Whedon was able to make Serenity because the wailing and gnashing of teeth was so loud over the loss of his criminally mistreated Fox show Firely that Universal felt they might have something big on their hands by allowing a movie. While Serenity was a really fantastic film, it underperformed at the box office. And while the Browncoats are still out there, campaigning for Whedon to reboot the original series, he’s effectively shut it down.

If you’ve got a property that automatically taps into some sense of nostalgia, which is a seemingly endless commodity our culture never stops being willing to subsist on, it can be as simple as pitching a reboot. But what we’re seeing now is something much more complex and interesting: in some cases, the equivalent of going to ask mom for something, and if she tells you no, you just go ask dad. If a studio isn’t interested in a project you want to do, you can not only just avoid the system altogether and go ask the audience directly for funding, you can also stay both within the system and outside of it by starting your own hype machine. And if you’re a studio, you can engineer a “leak” just to gauge the response.

As an audience, maybe we’re being played, maybe we aren’t — but either way, if there are enough people who agree with us, we’re going to get to see the movie we asked for.

Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.