Hi! As if it means anything, I wanted to sketch out many pennies worth of thoughts spurred from the latest crowdfunding campaign. I’m starting a new thread because, in my mind, this is a crude business situational analysis (lacking quantitative figures) and next step ideation to moving MST3K forward. If the Mods choose to merge this with the Crowdfunding Announcement thread, that’s fine too. I hope this comes off as the constructive criticism that is intended from a 3x crowdfunding contributor and fan since the 90s that ISN’T swimming in the Flavor Aid.
While I’m not exactly cheering for this round of crowdfunding to fail, I fear that if it squeaks across the finish line at this point, the brand won’t make adjustments to ensure its longevity - something I very much want to see. Setting my love for MST3K aside, this is a fascinating case study in devoted fandom-meets-entertainment business realities. The performance of the campaign so far should be a wakeup call, but also an opportunity to pivot, whether $4.8m is reached this week or not.
Crowdfunding each season isn’t going to work forever. Set aside the timing issues with this campaign and the strike. The fanbase is shrinking (aging) faster than it is growing, while the whims of the economy are fickle, and therefore unreliable. Costs are only going to keep going up for everything and fans can’t be asked to shoulder it every time. At best, crowdfunding should be supplementary to the show’s budget, not the crux. There needs to be more of a self-sustaining model.
As others have said, the entertainment industry isn’t the same as when the show started and grew to maturity. Revenue/compensation models are different, and the ebb and flow between corporate fragmentation/consolidation is constant. That said, there has arguably never been a better time for a plucky startup to function - it just can’t be run the same way a plucky startup was run in the 90s.
WHAT HAVE WE GOT?
Autonomy and the Gizmoplex. The rights to MST3K are largely self-owned and there is a distribution platform unbeholden to corporate overlords (at least to some extent). A mountain was moved to build this thing and there is no bigger asset in entertainment these days than a high level of independence from entities that can pull the rug out based on one quarterly earnings statement or leadership change.
The right stewards for the brand. Joel is around to steer the ship and navigate the “old” media landscape, but I firmly believe that Matt and Jonah genuinely CARE about both the history and future of the show. I also think Felicia and Patton are strong advocates and lifelong fans. And there are certainly a lot more folks behind the scenes.
WHAT DO WE NEED?
Succession planning. I don’t think the fans have much purview here, but I believe Joel has put plenty of thought into it. I’m least concerned about this, but it also must be done.
A real vision for the Gizmoplex. This irks me because when I supported the last campaign I really saw potential in the Gizmoplex being the center of a self-sustaining business model. I was clearly way off here, but it doesn’t change my opinion that they should have a dedicated sales/booking person selling “inventory” to advertisers and MST3K-adjacent performers, like a community theater. Find the talent that similarly doesn’t want to be a part of the corporate streaming machines on YouTube (Google) and Twitch (Amazon). Done right it would pull in both advertiser money AND new audience, while having some potential “viral” legs too. It just needs to be managed alongside, but outside of MST3K as a show. Otherwise, just stream and host new episodes on YouTube.
Lean into an approach to modern digital entertainment, driven by the state of social media/content creators. This is a bullet that could get VERY fat in terms of discussion, but kids in their bedrooms find millions of followers and secure business partnerships worth millions of dollars while having none of MST3K’s resources. BUT, they’re self-owned. What do Jonah and Felicia think here? They’ve lived it and are obviously business savvy.
Advertise! Did we go and find any popular aforementioned “kids in their bedrooms” to promote the crowdfunding campaign? Did we even run self-promo ads/interstitials in the places like Twitch, Pluto and anywhere else MST3K runs in a sanctioned way? How about low-CPC SEM that lands on the crowdfunding page? I’ve read a dozen simple suggestions in the S14 Crowdfunding Announcement thread. How about leveraging that Volunteer Corps corner of the forum? What a series of ball drops if things this simple and inexpensive weren’t done. Crowdfunding campaign aside, this is also how you generate new fans of the show. Most of my career is in this field. I could go on and on and on (for free!). 4) Make staff adjustments. This part sucks, and is the hardest pill to swallow, but the whole production feels like it has gotten bloated to me. ADD the two key positions above (Search/Social Media Manager/Planner/Buyer immediately and Gizmoplex Booking/Salesperson near-term once #2 is firmed up). SUBTRACT the bloat. I don’t know who/what the bloat is, but Joel and leadership do. When money is tight behind the scenes, people should be those with true passion for the show, willing to volunteer or be underpaid [Edit for clarity: accepting lower pay than they would otherwise receive, NOT the production exploiting their workers]. It needs to be run like a startup, which is a bit unforgiving. Again, this last part is a VERY unpleasant business decision to be made in hopes that the financial stability of the operation can change it in the future. We’ve agreed that I’m wrong here and this isn’t necessary.
I don’t have any quantitative insider values to contextualize any of this. Some of these are probably terrible ideas next to actual user and budget numbers. But I promise this all comes from a place that wants to see my favorite show succeed now and into the future. Feel free to build on these ideas, tear them down, or offer new ones. If the show’s leadership does read these forums, at least it is a free focus group.
I agree with you in spirit, but it is a tangled web. Is it exploitive to decide 6 writers will do as good a job as 8 writers? Or is it really underpaying if Felicia and Patton, who could command higher paying contracts elsewhere, agree to work for scale because they love the show? Ignoring obvious controversy, is it better to have Baron sing the intro and be Tom Servo instead of paying Har Mar for usage rights to his version of the theme song?
I think you can be frugal without being “exploitive”.
Ad space costs money. And not a small amount. This would be shooting their nose in spite of their face. If you say they need to run like a startup, throwing out expensive ad spots (in an age where social media puts millions at our fingertips) is counter to that strategy.
It “feels” bloated, but you don’t know what or where? This falls into the same “cut production” argument we’ve seen so many times already. And by claiming Joel et al know where it is accuses them of deliberately wasting money.
No. Never. WE should never decide that SOMEONE ELSE’S time and effort is less valuable. It’s not a noble sacrifice deciding that someone else should get paid less.
There have been times I’ve had fun at work, almost to the point I felt guilty taking the money. I’ve even added a little extra value on occasion. But at the end of the day, rent has to be paid and everyone has to eat.
I have to disagree on the advertising comment. The whole idea is (oversimplifying): $5 ad budget, reaches 5 people, for $1/person. One person makes it to the crowdfunding page and donates $10. That’s a $5 gain and 2:1 ROI. You can run highly targeted digital ad campaigns for extremely low budgets. In the case of Search, you only pay when a user clicks the ad, meaning when they arrive on the crowdfunding site. For awareness, you can pay a popular TikTok user $50 to mention the crowdfunding campaign in front of their 1,000,000 followers (you just pick one that aligns well with the MST3K brand). I’m not suggesting a Super Bowl ad.
You’re right, I don’t know where the “bloat” is and it is purely conjecture as the scale of the reboot production has grown. Maybe the ship is run as tightly as it can be, I don’t know, but I’m skeptical.
I think there is misunderstanding in how I used the word “underpaid”. I mean, “make less than you could command on the open market”. Many people make less than they could because they love what they do/where they work and believe that much in a project.
Making a television show in 2023 is not the same as making a television show in the 1990s. Look at the credit roll for Star Trek The Next Generation and then an episode of Strange New Worlds. Television production in general is more complex in the age of high-resolution digital.
This isn’t new. Check the credits for Star Wars vs any modern sci-fi movie.
This idea that MST was produced on a shoestring is nostalgic, but even in the 1990’s “shoestring” was several hundred thousand dollars per episode. Modern MST is still produced at a level far below other shows.
I think you need to rephrase this. I think I see where you want to go, that maybe folks agree to work for scale as opposed to something higher. That is not ‘underpaying’ those who chose to do that. But it should be their choice not a decision forced on them, as once again I think people are seeing ‘bloat’ where none exists.
I don’t completely disagree with some of your points. Ads, influencer marketing, using the gimzoplex as a “community theatre” etc.
But you completely lose me at the “bloat” stuff. Especially when you’re posting on a forum where people who actually work on the show post and can see it. People who work on MST3k have other jobs as well as working on the show. Entertainment is a freelance industry. It’s also a heavily unionized industry and I don’t think it’d be a fantastic look for the show that launched a Kickstarter during a strike and openly said “we support the strike” to start pitching grindset mentality of “work more for less”.
People will take the job if they are comfortable with what it pays… that’s a decision that’s up to them, I guess.
MST3K won’t go on forever. But I don’t think the likely failure of this campaign indicates that the end has come. I firmly believe that we would be well north of $3 million by now if it were on Kickstarter, if there were no strikes and if the same level of energy was devoted to it as to the previous 2. All of those are conditions that can be rectified.
It’s likely that 6-episode seasons will be the norm going forward. I’m afraid I don’t see any viable model other than periodic crowdfunding.
I don’t think on relying on people to take less money is predictable at all. At any point they might feel they’ve given enough and deserve better pay, or move on to higher paying jobs. And someone shouldn’t run their business on that expectation, unless the person volunteering to take less money is themselves.
And fans volunteering their time and talent is entirely different. That’s a blessing, and the reward of producing something that makes people passionate. But that shouldn’t be part of someone’s business model either.
I honestly think we are saying mostly the same thing because the only thing I disagree with is Crowdfunding>Accepting Below Market Value Pay. Neither solution is without risk, but I’d prefer the latter - then when everything is a success, bonuses and raises for everyone!
Things get muddy when it comes to everyone’s definition of fairness or means to an end. If I were to say “let’s actually use the fan’s creative in advertising to help the campaign!” some people would be glad to let that happen and others would clamor that the fans should be paid for it.
It is hard to separate the business side from love of the creation.
I did hope the Gizmoplex would grow beyond something more than just a venue for MST3K episodes. I hoped it would become the central place on the Web for film riffing and related types of comedy. A place for independent creators to get their stuff seen, not necessarily as a replacement for YouTube but as a location where this kind of stuff can be more easily found and seen. Rifftrax could have a store there, stuff by the Mads, Bridget & Mari Jo, Cinematic Titanic… webseries and videos by all the cast members and writers… even old stuff by Vampira and the other pioneers of riffing.
Expanding it beyond the world of MST3K, with its finite audience, would make it far more likely to attract subscribers. Merch could be offered, etc.
It is a view that definitely takes the human out of things. It sucks. But I’d be willing to bet that the team that works on the show has been watching the crowdfunding over the last month wondering if they’ll be out of a job entirely.
Heck, I wish someone could make $100,000 a year to keep raisin snails stocked. I’d support it. Everyone that works on the show should be OVERcompensated in my opinion. It brings me that much joy. But it just isn’t tenable.
The staff will be downsized in some capacity even if $4.8m is hit. Fewer episodes means reduced economies of scale and shorter production periods during which staff gets paid. My whole point is, let’s admit there are things that could be done better, be solution-focused and try to do them better so the team can do the things that come with more episodes: hire, give raises and bonuses.
They haven’t had any meaningful production for a couple years, so I’m not sure how many full time employees MST3k actually has. So we don’t know that anyone will be out of a job entirely if the campaign fails, or if there’s ongoing staff to downsize. It’s likely that all but a select few have jobs and contracts elsewhere since s13. I doubt they’re paying all the staff and crew from remining s13 funds.
I’m sure the team carefully planned out a budget for a 6, 9, and 12 episode season. They already had to negotiate movie rights in advance so that they had the budget numbers for that baked in. It’s not “what do we have to cut” with the money they end up with, it “here’s what we got, what can we do?” (if the campaign succeeds)