Former Kickstarter Junkie VII: An Oscar Would’ve Been Nice


Belated news for the record: the long-awaited code for my digital download of Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion animated drama Anomalisa hit my email on March 15, 2016, forty-four months after its Kickstarter campaign was launched and thirty-four months after the original promised delivery date to backers who pledged at my level. Part of the delay was due to its expansion from the original proposed short to a full-length feature film. Part of it was because stop-motion is just really hard, probably. Part of it was because the subsequent, unexpected distribution deal with Paramount Pictures threw in a contractual complication that meant many of us had to wait till closer to the home video release date before our technically preordered goods would be distributed.

But it happened at last, and the thing really exists. They followed the wording of the pledge to the letter and delivered on their promises on their schedule. Unfortunately for me, the reward came with a catch. That’s why this follow-up was delayed.

* * * * *

Hi. My name is Randy. It’s been forty-eight 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 very special five-year mission:

* 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
* 11/11/2015: Former Kickstarter Junkie VI: Reboot MST3K? You Do It, I’m Bitter

* * * * *

If you’re a fan of the Academy Awards, you may faintly recall the name Anomalisa as a nominee for Best Animated Feature Film last winter. It was neat to be able to say that my paltry bucks helped make a critically acclaimed motion picture possible, one with a Tomatometer standing of 92%. I couldn’t watch it before the Oscars telecast without spending more money on it, so I bided my time till my turn would come. When that March email arrived, I was excited.

One problem: the backers’ “digital download” reward was available only through iTunes. For a guy who owns precisely zero Apple products, the format became a problem. Our family’s phones are all Droids, and I have zero interest in the janky-looking third-party iTunes adapters and knockoffs I’m seeing in the Google Play store. Our primary PC lost iTunes after the Great Hard Drive Crash of July 2015; by the time I attempted to reinstall it after repairs were completed, Apple apparently no longer offered Windows Vista support for the iTunes version that would play movies.

I had one recourse: a few months later, I allowed the spare laptop we take on our road trips a free update/upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The laptop’s performance took a sheer nosedive ever after, but the better iTunes versions are compatible with Windows 10. I reinstalled iTunes on it, went to the iTunes store, entered my code, and got my copy all arranged. Now all I had to do was find time and mood to watch Anomalisa on my laptop.

Many more months passed because for a variety of reasons I hate hate hate hate HATE watching videos on that laptop — TV, movies, YouTube, all of it. Always have, even before the upgrade. I’ll settle for using my PC if I must, but I bought a large TV and a Google Chromecast for a reason. (It’s since been renamed the Google Cast, but whatever.) Netflix and YouTube work wondrously with the Chromecast; other video services vary, but iTunes isn’t on the list. So the movie was tabled for a good while.

This week, though, I’ve been on staycation and had Anomalisa on my list of chores to knock out while I had the free time. This morning I crossed it off as completed. Eventually. The first several minutes were interrupted with notifications (Adobe Reader update time! some useless background program just crashed!), and at the sixteen-minute mark iTunes crashed so hard that I had to reboot the laptop. After that, smooth sailing the rest of the way.

As for the movie itself: I hadn’t expected the finished result to contain quite so many F-words. I definitely had no idea I would be subsidizing a film containing a non-comedic, R-rated scene of adulterous unprotected stop-motion cartoon puppet sex. That being said, the bulk of the film is a remarkably complex allegory in which emotions and animations are equally nuanced and revelatory as long as you can handle the protagonist being a big fat jerk whose puppet I wish I could stomp a few times. I guess that means I came away with a certain level of investment, so in some sense that’s a compliment.

Short version for the unfamiliar: a customer-service guru (David Thewlis) finds himself stupefied by an embarrassing midlife-crisis meltdown till a business trip to Cincinnati brings him face-to-face with a lovable fan (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who seems different from all other women he’s ever known and from all other humans in his universe, every one of them voiced by Manhunter‘s Tom Noonan as part of the film’s inspired symbolic premise — men, women, children, TV personalities, musicians, etc. All characters have the same face and voice except our man and his new object of affection. Issues of identity and individuality are at the forefront for contemplation, though one of the film’s ultimate jokes is that, if you scrutinize any one of us closely enough, none of us are that unique. Whether or not our similarities are unwanted baggage or cause for celebration depends on which character you side with at the end.

All the vocal performances are spot-on, and the puppets match them tic for tic. The movie earns bonus points for deadly accurate tourism jokes about Skyline Chili and the Cincinnati Zoo. I didn’t pledge enough to have my name listed in the end credits among those 400+ other backers who did, but I’m cool with that. One nifty thing about the Anomalisa end credits: a lilting romantic tune called “None of Them Are You” sung by, of course, Tom Noonan.

* * * * *

New updates for our regular columns-within-a-series:

Kickstarter projects that have yet to deliver:

We’re down to one last holdout, but the end may be nigh:

Project: the spaceflight documentary Fight for Space
Launch date: July 2012
Estimated delivery date: December 2013
Last update to backers: November 11, 2016
Status as far as we’ve been told: Director Paul Hildebrandt announced at the end of October that the sound mix had been completed. A special screening was held on November 11th in New York City for any backers in the area or affluent enough to travel. After that screening and any feedback resulting from it, he and his crew would be making adjustments, “finalizing” the film for real, and possibly looking into the festival circuit. After all that, then we get to talk tangible rewards. When Anomalisa got to that level of completion, we had rewards in hand within a year. To me this is a good sign, exhausted patience notwithstanding. Fingers crossed.

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:

* Baron & Rude’s Nexus Compendium
* Alex DeCampi & Jerry Ordway’s “Semiautomagic”
* RiffTrax Live 2016: MST3K Reunion
* JK Snyder III’s “Fashion in Action” reprints
* Comedy Film Nerds’ “Long Ago and Far Away”
* “The Grave of Saint Oran: A Neil Gaiman Animation”
* Director Aisha Tyler’s “Axis”
* The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s “She Changed Comics”
* “Renfest” sitcom starring Mary Jo Pehl and Trace Beaulieu
* Ostrander & Duursema’s “Hexer Dusk”
* Joe R. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s “Red Range”
* Relocating the Kurt Vonnegut Museum
* “Captain Ultimate” vol. 1
* David Gerrold, Ty Templeton, and Glenn Hauman’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!”
* “Elements: Fire” comics anthology
* KC Green’s official “This is fine” plush dog
* Lucia Fasano’s debut album “Radio Silence”
* Ben Templesmith’s “Blood Songs”

If and when Fight for Space delivers at long last, I’ll have an important question to answer for myself: is crowdfunding still worth my time and resources? Will I ever donate to another Kickstarter campaign again? Am I prepared for another years-long litany of calamities and excuses from other wannabe talents?

Every time I dwell on the subject, I start sighing and shaking my head. Maybe if there were an exciting project from an artist with a familiar name, and if the word “accountability” appeared at least once somewhere in their campaign, I might think long and hard about it, and might still insist on waiting till I see the finished product on store shelves. On the other hand, projects by complete nobodies, ostensibly the intended users for this service, have roughly a .000001% chance of gaining my attention, even if I’m related to them.

For now, I don’t have to ask myself that question yet. The answers could change depending on my mood. I do guarantee any campaign in which the most enticing reward option is a vague “digital download” is grounds for instant rejection.

To be concluded. Your move, Hildebrandt.

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