We are big fans of many Kickstarter projects here on The Robot’s Pajamas. We’ve mentioned crowdsourced projects in several Friday Round Ups. But the biggest issue with crowdsourcing is that people are pre-paying for a product and there’s no oversight to guarantee its delivery. The last thing we want to become is the crowdfunding police but sometimes there are projects worth discussing because they’re niche and could get ignored otherwise. The last time we did this, we wondered aloud if Harry Knowles had fleeced his fans. Ultimately, he did turn in some webisodes as promised, but there are still questions about that one – it was obvious, for instance, that the interviews he did with guests were very out of date and had therefore were probably produced back when Nerdist was producing his show. He may have just used table scraps to complete the ramshackle project. Now we have a somewhat similar case – the Inspector Spacetime movie. Let’s take a look at its history and see if it’s likely to be finished or if the fans supporting it lost out on their investment.
First, it’s important to note that while the project is about the character of Inspector Spacetime, the people making this movie do not have the rights to the character. It was originally a short joke in the third season premier of Community – basically, Abed gets addicted to a show that’s a parody of Doctor Who. It was a very quick joke but it was funny and the fandom really enjoyed it. This led to the actor who played the Inspector, Travis Richey, to develop the character into a webseries. He pitched that to NBC and they said no. Then he decided to make it anyway, and ran a Kickstarter campaign in late 2012 that got him $25,000 to make 6 short episodes. Sony, which owns Community, called and told them to stop (according to Richey, he never received a formal cease and desist letter) so they called it Untitled Webseries about a Space Traveler Who can also Travel Through Time. In May, they posted it to YouTube.
You know the complaints that any Saturday Night Live film gets, how it extends a thin premise too far? Well a simple one-to-one Doctor Who parody is pretty much the same criticism I’d issue. Obviously a lot of people put in a lot of work, though and they did deliver as promised, in a timely manner. A small subset of the Community fandom enjoyed it. But you have to keep in mind, this is someone taking a Community writer’s joke and taking it for their own. Perhaps not the most ethical pursuit? Or is it fair game since ultimately, it’s just a parody of Doctor Who, which anyone can do? That’s a fair question, I think, but I’d also question whether there’s any true parody going on here, or a simple substitution for each Doctor Who concept: the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, the outfit, the Daleks and Cybermen. Is it actually performing satire or simply renaming things and moving forward? The interest in the idea had certainly waned by the end of the short 6-episode series – over two years later, the final episode has less than 7,000 views.
That’s probably best addressed as a separate issue. The facts are that after the webseries, Richey decided to do a second crowdfunded season (later decided to be a movie). First, he tried to raise an unrealistic $125,000 on Kickstarter. It only generated $13,000 and thus, failed. Then he went to Indiegogo, and they were able to raise just short of $37,000. That was completed back in early 2014 with the reward of the movie said to be due back in May of 2014. And yet here we are a year and a half later. I think at this point, it’s fair to ask whether it’s going to happen, or if the people used a pop culture character to get themselves some nice camera equipment for their other webseries? Perhaps most strange is the fact that the producers claim the movie would feature Doctor Who actor Sylvester McCoy, Star Trek: Voyager actor Robert Picardo, Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik and other celebs. Presumably they have other projects going on and their window of availability would have been small? Are they all really sitting around waiting for this to get made? That seems hard to believe.
For instance, Travis has a YouTube channel where he’s produced dozens of new videos instead of the movie promised to donors. And the last update to the Indiegogo page was well over a year ago. On social media Travis last mentions reworking the script back in November of 2015. Only 13 people liked that post and no one replied. What would be interesting is to hear from any backers as to whether they received ANY of the rewards? The goal here is not to attack people, but to heighten awareness of the dangers inherent to crowdfunding. Pre-paying for something with no oversight to guarantee delivery. Choose the projects that you back carefully.