If you’ve never seen an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I’m really sorry that you’ve been deprived of the pleasure. I missed the first several seasons of its basic-cable run, but the Rhino Home Video releases began in May 1996 at exactly the right moment in my life when, more than any other, I needed powerful reasons to laugh, to overlook emotional pain, and to appreciate sci-fi puppetry. Joel, Mike, Crow, Tom Servo, and the rest of their motley crew were like a shining, snarky beacon through so much real-world darkness. I snapped up every episode as it was released and filled up a few shelves. When I could afford basic cable again circa 1998, I caught up to speed with the Sci-Fi Channel reruns, and the rest is a great time in history for this latecomer MSTie.
Some of its funniest fans were among the first online citizens I met when I discovered the wild world of Internets. My wife and I met several of those odd-fellows in person and quite a few cast members over the past fifteen years — at a St. Louis convention on our 2000 road trip, at Indy Pop Con 2014, and at C2E2 2015. It’s been kind of a wild ride.
Today news broke out across my social circles that MST3K creator Joel Hodgson, with the assistance of the good Samaritans at Shout! Factory (the show’s home-video distributor for the last several years), has obtained the rights clearance to pursue a full-on revival with the same puppets but probably an all-new cast — a bit like the Sci-Fi years in a sense, so some of us are bound to fret and complain till we get used to Tom Servo’s new voice. Rather than rely on modern studio executives to come to their senses and right the wrongs committed by their soulless ancestors, Hodgson has launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign that will allow fans, newcomers, and hopefully kindhearted deep-pocketed investors to determine whether or not the world’s greatest Cowtown puppet show deserves another chance to live and riff.
As a fan, I hope it succeeds and I wish I could help. I also wish there were a way to do it without Kickstarter.
Hi. My name is Randy. It’s been thirty-six months since I last gave a single dime to a Kickstarter project.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: when Kickstarter became a thing, I cheerfully committed to numerous projects because I loved the idea of becoming a true patron of the arts and helping artists and performers achieve once-futile dreams that the magic of crowdfunding had now made remotely possible. Several users met all their objectives and delivered A-plus customer service to us backers. A few missed their deadlines but tossed in some extras that acknowledged our patience and won our forgiveness. Far, far too many of those campaigns were run by creators who had no concept of budgeting or deadlines, taking months or literally years to meet their obligations, all without any viable recourse or accountability through Kickstarter themselves.
When I’d had all I could stand and couldn’t stands no more, I drew my line in the sand:
At first, [my Kickstarter moratorium] was mere exercise of selective self-control, consciously deciding to prioritize other responsibilities vying for my attention, and favoring other areas in which I’d rather splurge my monthly fun money. In recent months, I’ve amended my stance and my game plan. The short version: I’m not backing anything else on their website until and unless I receive the rewards I’m owed from all other projects I’ve previously backed first. And I mean all of them.
I’ve not donated to a single Kickstarter since I made my commitment to no more commitments. With each preceding entry I’ve recorded the progress of the remaining delinquent campaigns and kept lists of other Kickstarter campaigns I declined in the meantime while awaiting receipt of rewards from every last project.
Reading guide to the preceding chapters in this ongoing, depressing series:
* 3/24/2013: My Former Life as a Kickstarter Junkie
* 10/4/2013: Former Kickstarter Junkie II: Even Formerer
* 6/22/2014: Former Kickstarter Junkie III: the Former and the Furious
* 1/13/2015: Former Kickstarter Junkie IV: Here, YOU Save Spaceflight
* 5/15/2015: Former Kickstarter Junkie V: Praise Lord and Gimme My Movies
As of tonight, my outstanding Kickstarter campaigns are the same two stubborn holdouts as last time, both of them movies conceived and shot outside the studio system. We’ve seen encouraging progress on one (including some slowly escalating media attention) and sad radio silence from the other.
Kickstarter projects that have yet to deliver:
Project: the spaceflight documentary Fight for Space
Launch date: July 2012
Estimated delivery date: December 2013
Last update to backers: July 5, 2015
Status as far as we’ve been told: During the never-ending editing process, director Paul Hildebrandt shared samples from the enormous film archives he and his team have been sorting. They expect the film to clock in around two hours; by the end of July they hoped to move it to the next steps with the associate editor and a composer. After that long-ago message, the backers of this movie’s second (!) Kickstarter received an update on August 30th that’s off-limits to those of us who backed only the first campaign. The movie’s official Facebook page has received some light attention, but backers shouldn’t have to follow them on Facebook.
Project: Dan Harmon and Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion feature film Anomalisa
Launch date: July 2012
Estimated delivery date: May 2013
Last update to backers: November 2, 2015
Status as far as we’ve been told: These past six months saw the film’s fortunes skyrocketing as it played at least two film festivals to unanimous acclaim (I’ve yet to see a festival write-up bestowing less than five stars). The guys at Starburns Industries secured a distribution deal with Paramount and are now preparing for a limited theatrical release at year’s end in the grand Oscar-bait tradition. Pretty impressive considering this was first proposed as a simple 40-minute short. In the last update, backers were treated to a first look at the official trailer shortly before it appeared online. Any NYC backers had also been invited to an exclusive local screening, which I’m sure was awesome for them. Unfortunately, the terms of the Paramount deal require that any of us backers awaiting digital or physical copies won’t see our rewards fulfilled until the film is released for sale in those formats to the general public. So I’m looking at maybe next April or May, three years after the estimated delivery date. That part sucks.
For those who’ve been following along since episode one, here’s yet another round of Kickstarter campaigns I’ve viewed and considered but declined specifically and solely because of my moratorium despite the temptations:
* Kieron Dwyer’s “West Portal”
* John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake’s “Kros: Hallowed Ground”
* Mike Baron and Steve Rude revive “Nexus” as a comic strip:
* Jamal Igle’s “Molly Danger” as an ongoing series
* Mark Twain’s Niagara: the Graphic Novel
* Alternative Press Expo 2015
* Barefoot Gen for Schools and Libraries
* Quinn Norton’s “The Great Cat Clans of Istanbul”
To be honest, I had quite a few more, but our July 2015 hard drive crash wiped out my saved list. These were all I could remember, plus a couple more launched since that dreadful day.
But take heart! You don’t have to let my misfortunes, poor campaign discernment, and self-righteous stubbornness stop you, the Viewers at Home, from resurrecting Mystery Science Theater 3000 from the TV graveyard, polishing off the deep scratches left in its hull by the Cancellation Bear, and plotting its course for a smash eleventh season! Check out that jam-packed Kickstarter page for a video from Joel and special written messages from Crow and Tom. With your help, the not-too-distant future could arrive once more!
(Meanwhile, as you’re helping make entertainment entertaining again, I’ll be sitting over here in a completely different theater, with no Shadowrama or robot sidekicks, waiting for a pair of overdue non-MSTed movies to show up someday before I die, maybe. So, HUZZAH, then.)