Power to the nerdy people! We live in a time where fandom has a voice louder than the horns at Jericho that crumble the walls of studios as they give the greenlight and the greenbacks to multi-million dollar projects based not on an archaic model of box office and Nielsen ratings, but simply because enough people say they want to see it.
It’s one thing to launch a Kickstarter for your indie project and it explodes onto the Interweb in a viral wildfire (examples of this are numerous). But for a major studio or network to bring a mummified property back from the dead based purely on Facebook likes and retweets and shares carries implications for the future of pop culture that it makes my head go all Scanners. It certainly shows a tidal shift — instead of studios force-feeding audiences content, we now have a buffet serving us up plates of the things we want to consume, even if it was previously no longer on the menu.
And it seems to be happening more and more frequently, with exhibit A’s and B’s and C’s back-to-back-to-back in just the past few weeks.
Of course today’s news of Fox abducting The X-Files for a limited, six-episode stint premiering in the near future has X-Philes being all “I want to believe!” This quite unexpectedly comes 13 years after the series finale and 7 years since the second film, which majorly underperformed ($10,021,753 for an opening weekend in the blockbuster month of July). This a result of a hashtag campaign (shoutout #XFiles2015) that as you well know started right here on your friendly, neighborhood Nerdist Podcast back in January on the Gillian Anderson episode
Weeks earlier in mid-February, Neill Blomkamp’s sequel to Aliens was given the Facehugger handshake for 2017 by Twentieth Century Fox after Blomkamp simply posted concept art to his Instagram – a project that the studio was not involved with in any capacity and wasn’t even aware that the director was working on it. Those 10 photos gained thousands of “Likes,” not to mention countless shares and coverage on every major and minor movie blog. All this helped the propel the project from “Hey wouldn’t this be cool if it happened?!” to “Hey this is happening…cool!”
Then, just last week, Blomkamp himself helped director Ruairi Robinson get The Leviathan off the ground, signing on to executive produce the Irish filmmaker’s Moby Dick-meets-Pacific Rim sci-fi project. This came after Robinson posted a mind blowing 3 1/2 minute “proof of concept” short to his Vimeo page which snowballed to 1.2 millions views and counting, as well as netting thousands of views on YouTube.
Late last year, it was the out-of-control social media and traditional media response that convinced Sony to move forward with the release of The Interview in select theaters after initially pulling the film from its Christmas Day opening amidst potential threats from a hacker group thought to be linked to North Korea. But like the great poet Twisted Sister once said, the good people of the good ole’ USA took a stand whilst shouting, “We’re not gonna take it!” Because ‘Murica!
The precedents for this type of fan-led crusade go back a little further in recent history. After airing for only 3 seasons on UPN/The CW, fan-beloved series Veronica Mars was kept in the air by its “Cloud Watchers.” Those self-named fans, also known as Marshmallows, went to such lengths as hiring a plane to fly over The CW offices with a banner reading “Renew Veronica Mars” (though skywriting might have been more effective methinks). They also sent 10,000 Mars Bars to the network after the show was cancelled…because when you want someone to change their mind what works better than chocolate? Finally, in 2013, WB released the Veronica Mars movie after almost 100,000 fans raised over $5 million via a Kickstarter campaign (which raised $2.5 million in just the first 24 hours) to get the film made. The Marshmallows had their day!
And maybe the shiniest example of a franchise kept flying by fandom is, of course, Firefly. During its brief broadcast of only three months on Fox in 2002, Joss Whedon’s space western amassed a small yet loyal fanbase. After cancellation was on the horizon, Browncoats soon hijacked an Internet message board started by Fox (the still-in-active-use “Original Board”) for their own purposes in the attempts to rescue the series from certain death after low ratings. This led to raising money for guerrilla marketing ads placed in Variety, a postcard writing campaign, and a fundraiser that gained over $14,000 in donations in order to purchase the series sets for 250 Navy boats. Talk about keeping the ship afloat! All this eventually convinced Universal to greenlight Serenity for the big screen with an estimated $40,000,000 budget. Sadly, it wasn’t the opening fans had hoped, only breaking even in worldwide box office. And yet the Browncoats still continue to carry the banner after all these years, eternally in a holding pattern to mobilize a Kickstarter campaign for a Serenity sequel inspired by the success of Veronica Mars (except, you know, like raising a bajillion dollars more). Though on multiple occasions their fearless leader has expressed interest in returning to the universe, the all powerful Whedon has gone on record to state he’s not quite there yet due to his commitment to Marvel and hopes for a Dr. Horrible 2. What’s more, Firefly star Nathan Fillion has been tied up with commitment to the long-running Castle, stating in 2013, “it’s a complete non-Kickstarter for me.” But at least we have Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion’s Con Man, which raised 550% of its $425,000 goal (roughly $2,337,526 total) .
The list goes on: Super Troopers 2‘s just announced Indiegogo campaign, Community on Yahoo!, Arrested Development on Netflix, etc. It seems nowadays there’s a nerd flag for us all to help raise and fly, no matter what your fandom of choice may be. And as we’ve all learned from reading comic books, nothing is ever really dead and can always be brought back to life.
Now if I could just get enough people to retweet my #CopRock2015 campaign and fund that on Kickstarter, I could quitcherbitchin’. Hey, don’t mess with my pursuit of happiness!
What is one project you’d love to see a fan base bring back? And how do you see the future of this trend evolving? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t miss today’s X-Files centric episode of Nerdist News!