Is the relationship between creators and fans today a healthy one? Has the new closeness made things ever more personal? Kickstarter and other crowdfunded content are coming under increased scrutiny with the biggest lesson so far being that when backers contribute money, they don’t make requests, they make demands.
Passive storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. It will likely continue to exist until the end of time too, as humans have exhibited the trait across generations and cultures without fail. Storytelling exists today in many forms, and it is in that sense that modern passive storytelling (where the audience merely listens or watches) may be reaching the end of its long dominance of the entertainment business.
Writing for Forbes.com at the end of June (and escaping my attention until know), Merrill Barr postulates that Nickelodeon were wrong to alter their marketing plan for Book 3 of Legend of Korra after the Mexican arm of the network inadvertently let a few episodes from the season get loose on the internet, and are beholden to internet ‘pirates’ as a result. I say that’s poppycock.
Kickstarter is a service that continues to enjoy a lot of popularity among filmmakers and entertainers. One of the main reasons that people turn to Kickstarter is to help fun the actual content. That carries a certain amount of risk though, so it’s always good to see someone using Kickstarter to fund something other than the animation, like what WAKFU is aiming to achieve.
Pixar. No studio has been as influential over the last 15 years and no studio has had as many consistent hits as the one from Emeryville. They’ve even been notable for an aversion to sequels that makes their competitor DreamWorks look positively addicted. However, we’ve already seen three Pixar sequels and are about to see one more this summer. Almost every one Toy Story 2 has brought calls for Pixar to stop. Claims that they bring down the studio’s much vaunted integrity have gone unheeded as the Finding Nemo sequel Finding Dory was announced earlier this year.
Pixar’s Selective Sequel Problem
So just what is Pixar’s selective sequel problem? Well, The Pixar Times recently highlighted it with a tweet:
The flames of this haven’t exactly been dampened as of late with director Brad Bird continually proclaiming his openness to a sequel provided he finds a story that fits.
So why does Pixar face such a dilemma with its sequels? It basically comes down to the fans.
Why Fans Are Two-Faced When It Comes To Sequels
Fans are a studio’s best friend but also their greatest enemy. The former is because they fork over money but the latter is because they are often blinded to the need to create content that attracts viewers outside of the fanbase.
This conflict manifests itself particularly in sequels and movie series. The simple reason is that fans form their own expectations and can be left disappointed should a sequel or latest film in a series fail to live up to their expectations.
The problem is compounded by the need to be profitable, which necessitates making films that attract the largest audiences possible; a situation that can put studios in conflict with fans, who will gladly proclaim their love for an original film, but gleefully scorn and deride a sequel that has, essentially, been made specially for them.
Pixar’s Special Case
In Pixar’s case, many of their films are self-contained stories that, being never intended as the jumping off point for subsequent films, wrap all plot points up by the time the credits role. Any sequel put out by the studio has relied upon creating a wholly new plotline distinct from the old one.
This has (in addition to the studio’s declared practice of not making sequels) meant that fans, having witnessed the descent of the Walt Disney Animation Studios into a sort of viscious circle of sequels confined in direct-to-video hell, are quite vocal in their concern that Pixar be lead down a similar road. Toy Story 2 was saved from this by Lasseter et al and was long considered the anomaly in the Pixar cannon.
Consequently, whenever the studio has announced a sequel (be it for Toy Story, Cars or Monsters Inc), it has been greeted with a curious mixture of elation and dismay.
So the question is, why are fans dismayed at the announcement of, say, Finding Dory (with its oh-so-imaginative title) but are seemingly clamouring for an Incredibles 2?
The Curse of the Superhero
The fault can be laid at the feet of the very genre that the Incredibles is based on; the superhero.
Superhero comics have been around for almost 80 years with many titles lasting decades. Pretty much every (good) superhero film has been only the first in a series or part of a trilogy. The idea that someone would make one and only one 120 minute film within the genre is, well, alien!
The blame can’t be levelled at fans however, superhero tales lend themselves extremely well to recurring stories and their ability to last for so long without becoming insanely repetitive is a testament to their strength as characters.
With all that in mind, it’s natural for fans to see a sequel to Pixar’s (thus far) lone superhero film while lamenting sequels of other stories.
Should there be a sequel? Ah, a tough question to answer. This blogger sees The Incredibles as a family film first and a superhero film second. Creating another film based on the family unit and the strife within it would be a very tall order. Basing it on the superhero part risks lowering its stature so that its defining qualities are erased in the quest to equal or better other superhero films.
To make an Incredibles 2 or not, what’s your call?
The Powerpuff Girls continues to exude an influence over American animation and beyond. Such a success was the original show, Cartoon Network brought it back for a one-off 10th anniversary special. Not being able to leave well enough alone, they’re dipping into the pot again with another, CGI special coming out in 2014. Undoubtedly popular and influential, the show also made pariahs out of certain fans.
I suppose we were the Bronies of our generation. After a few minutes you either got it or you didn’t – that alternately beneath or above the surface of innocuous kids’ fare there was something a lot more clever, sharp and self-aware going on. Little tells such as the passive-aggressive asides the show’s narrator (Tom Kenny) would make, or the blink-and-miss-them double entendres and obscene sleight-of-hand sight gags all cultivated a general sense that the folks behind what you were watching were up to something not nearly as innocent as the squeaky voices and bright colours would have you initially believe.
All these are qualities that the show has become famous for. However, fans of the show (when it was being broadcast) were expected to follow certain, well, expectations:
Such was the lament of all Powerpuff Girls fans who didn’t happen to be preadolescent and female. The world just didn’t understand, nor could they without giving it the hours of semi-drunken attention I’d had by that point.
Which in essence is the very issue the show has had to struggle with since it first began. Yes, it featured three female protagonists and was overly sugary, but it wasn’t overly girly. Not to use that term as a perjorative, rather I mean it didn’t conform to the usual notion that shows with girls and heavy dose of pink needed to be aimed at, or exclusively enjoyed by, girls.
The show garnered a large fanbase spread among all sectors of society, but ran into the problem that shows before (and since) have had to come to terms with: the show appears to be better suited to girls, therefore it is only suited to girls.
Fans of the show know the truth, but impressing that on others is a tough sell. Is ignorance to blame? Certainly in a partial capacity it is. Plenty of people form opinions on things they haven’t seen and form subconscious policies on them as a result. That means that if they think or believe that the Powerpuff Girls is a girly show, then they are much less likely to conclude that it isn’t, even if they’ve watched it. It’s not impossible, but the odds are high that they won’t.
The issue extends to fans themselves as well. Become known as a male fan of a supposedly female-oriented show, and opinions and biases are immediately applied to you.
It’s an unfortunate human nature, and it’s one that is hopefully starting to change in terms of animated content. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the subsequent Brony phenomenon (coincidentally another show that Lauren Faust worked on) has shown that there is the potential for fans to be more open about which shows they enjoy without having to justify it to a higher standard than previously.
Can you name any other examples of shows where fans could be unfairly stigmatised?
Over on AWN, Joe Strike has posted a review of BroNYCon, the get-together for fans of, yes, My Little Pony that took place at the end of June. The entire thing is very much worth reading whether you’re a fan of the show or not. It’s a positive, neutral look at the show and the community that surrounds it as well as a description of the event itself. I found the article quite intriguing on a number of levels; here’s a few things I realised after reading it.
Fans Are Fantastic
Every show needs fans, a fact that is well-known and well-documented countless times over the years. Fans are however, finnicky. Just because a network throws globs of money at promotion, etc. doesn’t mean that fans will necessarily follow. When they do though, the signs are very good indeed.
Bronies are no exception. They watch the show, they buy the merchandise, they discuss it, the expand the universe, they write fan-fiction for their own amusement and they ultimately put a lot of money into Hasbro’s coffers. So do the target demographic of kids, but their purchasing power pales into insignificance in the face of grown adults.
Devoted fans like Bronies are what every show needs and desperately wants but are notoriously tricky to conjure up out of the masses. My Little Pony now has its own convention. Surely proof that fans can make a big impact.
Good Shows Will Smash Demographic Boundaries
This is another aspect to shows that is often rarely discussed. Networks don’t like it when shows grow beyond their demographic because the effects are much more difficult to measure and hence plan for. Having MLP garner an adult audience is great on one level, but will that same audience feel alienated after the hype has died down or the network declines to tailor the show to them?
That said, many shows have smashed demographsic boundaries. The Simpsons, while ostensible aimed at an adult-heavy, primetime audience became immensely popular with kids. The reverse could be said of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with story arcs and characters that many argue are better than the bulk of adult-oriented TV shows.
Breaking though the demo barriers is only a good thing for a show. In the case of MLP, it gave the newest incarnation of a toyetic show a life of its own beyond the TV set.
Lauren Faust is Soooo Underrated
Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken are a creative powerhouse that together have worked on some of the most undeniably brilliant animated TV shows of the last 20 years. However Lauren seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to her own creations. Many animation fans know she worked on the PowerPuff Girls, but how many know she has her own girl-centric creation, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls? How many own something from that? (Hint: this blogger is at least one).
That’s not to belittle Craig, he awesome too, but Lauren spells out the challenge pretty clear in this quote from Joe’s article:
And what about her dream project, the one she pitched to the Hasbro executive who instead asked her to reconceive My Little Pony? “The Galaxy Girls is the bane of my existence. It’s in stasis until I can do it right. I’m looking for the right partner who shares my vision for it.”
Here’s hoping an animated version sees the light of day soon.
Full Cast & Crew Support is Essential
Another thing that Joe’s article makes clear is that the cast and crew of the show are behind it 100%. They see it more than just a job, they see their success depending on its success, and if they can help it to succeed, they will! Voice-actor Tara Strong is particularly fond of her Brony fans, often tweeting to them and answering questions in addition to meeting them in person at cons.
A lot of TV shows rally behind their creator, such as Family Guy and Seth McFarlane, but others like Adventure Time and MLP focus on the team behind it rather than just one individual. This has benefits for everybody involved, and gives the all-important fans something even more to relate to.
Trust In Third Parties Is A Win-Win For Everyone
The one big thing that Joe’s article made me realise was the WeLoveFine and other outfits like it are perhaps the keystone in the link between a show and its fans. A quick cursory glance of the WeLoveFine website reveals more than a few famous shows have merchandise for sale there.
What makes companies like this so relevant is that they are simultaneously at the forefront of the fan movement while being actively engaged in the licensing/merchandise part of the network’s marketing machine.
Even better, WeLoveFine uses fan-made designs, running competitions with cash prizes. What better way to get fans excited than to give them the chance to have their very own T-shirt! The Hub naturally has to approve the design, but it’s a rubber-stamp process and basically eliminates a lot of risk involved with selling merchandise; let the fans tell you what they’d like to buy! Genius!
Apparel and clothing are very popular forms of merchandise because they let fans express their favourite show without permanence and with the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions; very important for temperate climates I assure you.
By trusting third parties and with careful monitoring, networks can ensure that they gain the best of both worlds. A fandom whose appetite for merchandise is fulfilled and a network who wishes to earn revenue from their content.
Via: Animated Review
Adventure Time continues to set the bar when it comes to connecting with fans of the show (although Futurama is apparently catching up) and the latest is this rather cool project: Adventure Time wallets!
Via: Animated Review
There’s a number of things that are cool about this kind of merchandise:
- They’re cheap! $20 isn’t going to break the bank for most people
- Their relatively customised. With 7 different designs to choose from, there’s good chance most people won’t have the same one.
- They’ve got the approval from the show’s creator (always a good thing)
- They go beyond the simple design of the show itself (and the stuff most marketing departments are comfortable with) and give fans something new.
- Fans can feel good about supporting a small company and awesome creative team!
The only downside? Showing off your awesome new wallet to everyone will only prove how much/little money you actually have.
Fred Seibert re-blogged a post by Megan, a.k.a. animationbits over on tumblr in which she goes into detail about how much she loves animation and how she’s hard at work on becoming a fully-fledged animator.
As inspirational as that post is (and you should definitely read it), what struck me was that while she drew and doodled from a very young age, something happened:
Then, like some of you, I hit an age where suddenly it wasn’t appropriate anymore. At this point I was living with my father and stepmother and suddenly im in a world where it was weird for me to create fantasy worlds and draw cartoons.
She was 18 at that point, and as she mentions, at one point, her father had something taped to the table which read the following:
THIS , this is whats keeping you from growing up – all these cartoons
Thankfully, Megan overcame all of this, but the fact remains that moreso than being a professional stigma for a lot of people; the old “all artists are starving” and “you’re not famous till you’re dead” notions continue to proliferate among society unfortunately. As Megan herself says:
Most of the time this talk comes from people who don’t KNOW of the art industry but base things on very surface conversations or stigmas like ‘starving artist’ .
The fact that this seemed to happen when she reached a certain age is exemplary of the continued stigma that grown-up animation fans continue to encounter here and there. Oh sure, it is much more acceptable now than in the past, but you could say that outside of conventions and industry circles, my Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends T-shirt is not nearly as appreciated.
The thing is though, the whole reason my passion for animation was re-ignited was because I realised that it is grown-ups who are making it and that they are people with real jobs, a real education and life-goals. Until that point I’d always thought of animated studios like Bart thought of the offices of MAD Magazine; a fun-house kind of scenario. Of course that was partly me being, like my father says, a stupid kid. A dose of the real world changed that mindset substantially.
Far from peer-pressure being the enemy of teenage animation fans, it is people who think it’s a profession for perpetual children. Nothing could be farther from the truth and here’s hoping that the stigma will someday be a footnote in history.
The other week, Cartoon Brew featured a post about a competition then being held over at online clothing site, Threadless. The gist of it is that people were asked to submit their design for a new Donald Duck T-shirt with the winners having their design made into an actual article of fashion.
This is a great idea, but there seems to have been little discussion about the significance of such a competition. Beyond simply crowdsourcing a design.
Professional designers may decry the blatant use of free labour in order to obtain a design but that is overlooking the many benefits there are to be gained by both sides.
First of all, it’s proof that Donald still has many, many fans, and that they’re willing to use their talents for his benefit. Through 12 pages of designs, there are a few bad apples, but the vast majority are something that I would love to wear (see the three examples, this post)
Secondly, the official sanction from Disney is good in that the winner is (or rather ought to be) guaranteed a fair deal for their work. OK, so it’s not like they were commissioned in the traditional way, but the winner should be adequately compensated for their work. While everyone else is out of luck, they at least have used an opportunity to stretch their skills and can still use their design in another place.
Via: ThreadlessHow many times do we see smaller (or even larger) studios encouraging and cajoling us into buying merchandise that they think we, as fans, want? Why not let use tell them what we want and let them sell it to us? (It’s a bit crazy I know, but right now that’s essentially what Hollywood does with its films).
Competitions like the Threadless one build good relationships between the studio and the fans by giving them a hand in the game and making them feel as if they are valued; a tactic that Adventure Time has done since it’s beginning to great success.
While care must naturally be taken, there is no reason why studios can’t interact more with their fans in this way, especially since the rise and ubiquitous use of the internet has broken down so many barriers to communication.
Fans have and will continue to be, the lifeblood of studios large and small, and the sooner we see closer collaboration between the two, the quicker both sides stand to benefit.