The film you know as Super Troopers is a film that almost didn’t happen. The script was originally commissioned and developed by Miramax, but when it failed to get a green light, Harvey Weinstein was kind enough to give it back to us so we could make it elsewhere (he didn’t have to do this). The problem was, no other studios wanted to make it either. In their eyes, it wasn’t a good bet. I say “bet” because that’s what the film business is—it’s a series of wagers made by the presidents of production. The president of a film company is allotted a yearly production budget, and he (or she) makes bets on which films they think will bring the studio the most profit. If he or she chooses well, they’ll have a good, long run in their job. If he or she chooses poorly by betting on the wrong films, they’ll likely be yesterday’s news. As funny as we thought our script might have been, Super Troopers, starring five nobodies, didn’t fit the model of a good financial bet.
Unwilling to give up, we approached independent financiers, but we were rejected again—this time for being “too commercial.” At the time, the most financially successful independent films we’re dark, quirky, and dealt with topics like heroin addiction, complex sexuality, and mother/son love. Sadly, Super Troopers had none of those things.
We were caught in between and out of options. And then, a miracle happened: A college friend of mine called to ask a favor. Her father, Pete, had retired from an investment bank, and wanted to get into show business. He’d written a comedy script and was eager for me to read it and give him notes. When Pete and I spoke, he told me about his script and I offered to read it; but then he paused. He asked to read a writing sample first, ostensibly to audition me—to see if I was even worthy of giving him notes. I bit down hard, but because of my friend, I sent him the script for Super Troopers. A week later, Pete called back, “I read your script. It’s pretty damned funny. What’s happening with it?” I told him we were looking for money, and just like that, he said, “I’ll give you a $1.2 million. Not a penny more.”
We made the film, took it to Sundance, and Fox Searchlight bought it. Pete more than doubled his money and Searchlight nailed the release, turning Super Troopers into a cult hit, and putting our comedy troupe Broken Lizard on the map.
And now, after years of build up, we’re contemplating a sequel.
Crowdfunding Super Troopers 2
Here’s the question everyone asks: If the first film did so well, why do we need to crowdfund the sequel? Let me tell you a little story that sums up the current state of the film business.
Two years ago, my friend was the president of a major Hollywood studio. When I sat down with him to talk about what movies we might make together, he said, “We need $100 million comedies starring Johnny Depp, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, or Vince Vaughn. That’s it. That’s the list. That’s what we want.” I smiled, “People resent $100 million comedies. They feel bloated and not of the underground. What if, instead, we made a few $20 million comedies?” (Low budget for a studio). He shrugged, and what he said shocked me. “The most a $20 million film will make is, what? A $100 million?” I nodded. He shook his head, “That’s a double. I need grand slams. I need movies that can gross $250-$400 million worldwide. I need movies that can move the stock price.”
OK look, I get it. I’m not naïve. It’s a business, and every studio has a corporate strategy. And for my friend’s company, making huge movies with huge movie stars was their strategy; and it was a strategy that was really paying off. So, I had a choice: I could either try to convince him to go against his company’s mandate, I could buckle and make the big budget comedies he wanted, or we could agree not to work together right now, and move on. I chose the latter.
Two years later, the trend of going for grand slams has affected the whole town. Every major studio now has a development slate chock full of high-budgeted, high-effects superhero movies, which has left the medium-sized and small-sized movies shit out of luck—or at least, shit out of financing (capes and tights are apparently very expensive). So, when it came to our film, unless we were willing to write a sequel where the Super Troopers turn into superheroes, we weren’t going to get any studio’s money. But that’s OK, because Fox Searchlight has offered us an enormous gift: distribution. If we can raise the money to make the sequel, Searchlight will release the film in theaters, wide. And when it comes to releasing movies, there’s no better outfit in the business than Fox Searchlight. This is a huge deal.
This arrangement is much more common than you think. Many films you see in theaters are financed through outside sources. With big films, the studio will pay, hoping to reap the reward of their big bet. But with medium and small-sized films, outside production companies and financiers often foot the bill. And now, thanks to platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, fans are getting a chance to help get films made that otherwise wouldn’t.
When we sat down with Slava Rubin, the co-founder of Indiegogo, we told him we needed to raise all of the financing for the sequel—both production and marketing/advertising. He said that based on the success of the first film, this felt like the perfect crowdfunding project. I wasn’t so sure. Yes, we had a rabid, motivated fan base, which we could ask for funding, but this relationship was precious to us. Integrity matters. What our fans think matters. How could we avoid the backlash from the perception that we we’re just celebrities soaking our fans for money? Here’s the thing; if we could pay for Super Troopers 2 ourselves, we would. We’ve written 16 drafts of the script and we really believe in the film. And we’re investing every cent we can, but none of us are millionaires. Not even close. We don’t have the money needed to make this film a reality. We need help, and that’s why we went to Indiegogo. .
At our meeting, I vented to Slava about my perception of crowdfunding. I told him I wished people could invest in the movie and then own an equity piece of the backend. He said, “I totally agree.” That’s when we hit it off. He said that there is legislation in Washington, as we speak, that if signed, will make equity-based crowdfunding a reality. Think about that. In the very near future, when the major studios won’t finance anything but superhero origin stories, I’ll be able to come to the fans for investment, not donation. If the film makes money, they’ll all get paid back plus a profit. How cool will that be? We’re talking about the true democratization of film funding. So, instead of someone grousing about Hollywood (“Who the hell green-lit that piece of shit?”), they’ll be able to choose which films are financed, themselves. In fact, two days ago in Washington D.C., a crucial step was taken toward this type of financing becoming a reality when the SEC issued rules on Regulation A+. But until Regulation A + is finalized, the current system of crowdfunding, which allows fans to voluntarily donate and receive rewards in exchange, is still very cool.
The Problem with Crowdfunding Films
Here was my biggest problem with past crowdfunding campaigns for films: Doesn’t it suck that a fan can donate to a film, and help get it made, but then have to pay again to see it when it comes out in theaters? How do we avoid that? After much back and forth, here’s what we came up with:
We formed a partnership with the movie ticket service Fandango. So now, for the first time ever, a fan can buy a package called, “The Fandango Bango” (priced at $35) and get a movie ticket to Super Troopers 2, which they can use at their local theater. They’ll also get a digital script, which we’ve annotated with hand-written jokes, and a shout out on Twitter. Is that worth $35? In the first few days of the campaign, over 2000 fans have signed on to buy tickets, so it appears fans are feeling good about our solution. Yes, I’m aware that the average movie ticket is $12 dollars, but we’re using the markup to make the film. That’s how crowdfunding works.
We really want to make this feel worth it for our fans, so we’ve committed to making the Super Troopers 2 experience last a lot longer than the typical 90-minute film. We’ve shot 19 funny campaign videos, we’ll be updating you from the set with candid videos and photos, and we’ll give you special rewards while we’re in post. You’re going to get your $35 worth, I promise.
Look, I can’t wait for the future when equity-based crowdfunding passes (maybe as soon as June). But in the meantime, our campaign aspires to be a step in the right direction. We hope that you’ll grab your ticket now, if for no other reason than to help us make the point about how future crowdfunding campaigns should be treating their supporters. And if not for that, then buy your ticket now to tell Hollywood that there is an appetite for smaller budget films; that there is an appetite for Super Troopers 2.
- Jay Chandrasekhar
To crowdfund Super Troopers 2 visit here.