Disclaimer #1: In a world of streaming services, I am a proud Luddite.
Disclaimer #2: I have never made a movie.
Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo present a gamble for creative types looking to drum up funds for their latest projects, but those that are successful usually flourish. My co-host on The Last Knock podcast, William Prystauk (@crashpalace on Twitter) successfully drummed up over five grand for the crime-thriller short, Case #5930, and the film looks amazing considering its tiny budget. It is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit. But on the other end of the spectrum, it’s kind of perplexing when something like Nevermore – a film directed by genre legend Stuart Gordon and starring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe – falls short of its goal.
Disclaimer #3: I have never run a Kickstarter campaign, but I think an important element in doing so would be setting an attainable, realistic goal. (If you expect 100 grand just because, you’re in for a world of hurt. Not everybody is Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Veronica Mars.)
Which brings me to a theory on what makes for a successful crowdfunding campaign: with big-box stores abandoning Blu-rays, DVDs, and CDs at an alarming rate, and former physical-media juggernauts like Best Buy becoming pathetic shadows of their former selves, the Internet is the last castle for those who still answer the siren call of accumulating stuff. Companies like Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome, Blue Underground, Cult Epics, Criterion, and Shout! Factory cater to (and respect) the collector mentality, putting out editions of lesser-known films that justify purchase. While the audiences for these labels are niche (with the exception of Criterion, which puts out a wide array of films in every genre), they are also very devoted – for instance, buying one of Grindhouse Releasing’s excellent Blu-ray/CD sets is giving a vote of support and confidence to the company itself, encouraging them to keep doing what they’re doing.
And crowdfunding sites are no exception. I’ve supported a number of film and music campaigns, and the incentive is twofold: 1) I eventually receive a physical copy of the film or album being funded; and 2) I am helping an artist whose work I admire. I have declined – or contributed a lesser amount – to campaigns that subsist on digital downloads, or lock the physical versions in expensive ivory-tower pricing tiers out of my blue-collar reach. In my observance of successful (and unsuccessful) fundraisers, donors tend to aim more for the physical reward tiers, because there is a sense of sharing in the accomplishment once the energy (and capital) expended yields something you can hold in your hand. Someone like Matt Fanale (mastermind behind the band Caustic) will even stuff envelopes with random items to show his gratitude, adding a personal touch to the laborious process of fulfilling pledges.
Such is the case with Tex Montana Will Survive!, the little movie that could, from directors Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella (the team who brought us The Battery). The byline for the Kickstarter campaign was, “Let’s Change Film Distribution,” which – my positive bias for the filmmakers aside – struck me as a cool idea. The goal was to make the finished movie available worldwide, for free, at the same time. It was an audacious proposal from the talent who, despite a seemingly lucrative deal with Scream Factory, didn’t see much in the way of financial returns with The Battery (a damn shame, as it’s one of the most inventive zombie films of the millennium).
Of course, I contributed to the campaign as soon as I found out about it. The ScreamCast podcast even did an episode on Tex Montana to spread the word. But up until the final week or two, it seemed perilously close to disappearing into the same “unfunded” void that claimed Nevermore. On February 8, the creative team gave an update regarding the merger of some reward tiers to make the physical edition of Tex Montana more easily accessible. After this change, contributions seemed to increase at a steady clip until the campaign reached its final day, earning nearly $54 thousand (four thousand more than its goal) on February 26.
The Blu-ray/DVD edition of Tex Montana, which was created-to-order for the Kickstarter backers who claimed it, is a true collector’s item. The packaging is a nice digipak with an unconventional cover and some interesting – albeit cryptic – interior art (that is clarified, sort of, over the course of the movie). The “limited edition” quality gives the Blu-ray an almost homemade feel that makes it even more endearing, and underlines what a labor of love this distribution project really was.
As for the film itself, it’s not on the same innovative level as The Battery, but then again, it doesn’t aim to be. Gardner plays Tex Montana, a reality-TV star whose show is called out for being fake. To disprove his critics, he vows to spend 30 days in the wilderness, surviving on his wits and instincts alone…neither of which are forthcoming. A semi-improvised adventure through delusion, paranoia, and mania, a little of Tex’s shtick goes a long way, to the point where I wondered if the production would have been better suited to a series of 10-minute vignettes on Adult Swim. Even though the film ends with an ironic punchline, it lapses into redundancy (too many panicked nighttime scenes) in its stretch to feature length. That being said, Gardner is a versatile actor, essentially giving his all in an extended, super-vulgar Saturday Night Live demo reel. Some of the dialog is twistedly creative, with profanity mash-ups I’ve never heard before (and probably never will again), and the physical humor is well-timed (I honestly couldn’t get enough of Tex toppling over his pathetic, stick-and-twig “shelters”).
It’s hard to argue with free, and the success of the Tex Montana Kickstarter ensures that even casual curiosity seekers can check out the film without a fiduciary risk, and that’s a pretty cool thing. While not the follow-up to The Battery I had hoped for, I can’t deny my eagerness for the next project from this promising team.
(Watch the full movie – for free! – below.)