WEBSERIES: Husbands and the Kickstarter Revolution

Have you seen Husbands? It’s a charming comedic webseries from Jane Espenson and Brad Bell (who co-stars in it as well), about a comedian and a sports star who, while celebrating gay marriage equality in a fictional, gay-friendly version of the US, get drunk and then married unexpectedly. While an enjoyable series, this post isn’t really about Husbands. 

It’s about their Kickstarter campaign.

In order to help fund a second season, the minds behind the show have put up a Kickstarter requesting $50,000. In 24 hours, they’ve already hit half of that. Which means that the cast and crew have another 29 days, during which time donations can keep flowing in, and all of it will go toward the show. It’s open-ended beyond the minimum of the request, which means if Espenson, the show’s stars and their many Hollywood connections keep the campaign alive… this could work out very well for them.

This is the Kickstarter Revolution or, if you like facial tissues instead of Kleenex, the Crowdsourcing Revolution. I’ve written a bit about this: the idea that micropatronage can allow any savvy webseries team, graphic novelist, or other media producer access to money that they would have never had a shot at before, without the strings attached to large sums of money from gatekeepers.

To get produced by a major studio, often the lion’s share of the rights are signed over. It makes sense in that system, as the reason a studio would invest is out of a desire to make money, so their intent is to earn as much as possible in order for the high production costs to make financial sense. Most television shows, for example, never make their money back; studios take heavy losses on them so that, when one becomes a hit, they see a major pay day. This system works, but it adds a whole lot of players to the game, and skews both the risk and the power to the side of the studio. That means the creative team gets money, but makes concessions on creative control, all the while becoming employees on their own production. I’ve talked about this before, pretty recently.

So, what does is mean if a season of the webseries is crowdfunded? This means that the creative team are in control of the project. Not only is their production paid for, but they have the rights to do whatever they want: license it to Hulu or any other webseries network, to Netflix, or to a television network. They control any DVD releases, any secondary revenue streams, If they know what they’re doing, they can make a lot more money than if a gatekeeper funded them. And the reason works because micropatronage is just that: patronage. Individual lovers of art giving so that those they value can create without the worry of financial burden.

Few webseries creators are Jane Espenson. Few writers are; not only is she one of the central figures in the hyper-intense Joss Whedon fandom (in fact, two of her most prominent forebears in this arena are Joss Whedon, and regular Whedonista Felicia Day), but she’s one of the rare writers who has consistently nailed social media and self-promotion. She wrote a blog for beginning screenwriters that literally only stopped when she ran out of new topics to talk about. She’s an active figure on Twitter, regularly leading writing sprints where her many writer fans write alongside her for a period of time, creating a sense of camaraderie with her. The show also has the help of co-creator Brad Bell, aka Cheeks, who built a name for himself on the web via YouTube before Husbands, and has been using his social media clout and a skill for recruiting loyal fans to help build the show to what its become. They’re a formidable team, and no amateur webseries creator can really expect to start from the same place as they do.

However, figures like Espenson and Bell are the first wave of the crowdsourcing and webseries revolution. Successful enough to be high-profile figures who help bring the slow change that turns this from a fringe idea to a mainstream one, and passionate enough to pursue a path with few easy ways of turning a profit. Once a cloud of similar figures have crossed this bridge, it will become easier and easier for newer creators to follow in their footsteps.

After all, you have the tools at your disposal. Twitter, a blog. A YouTube channel. There are zero-budget ways to start building an audience, which means you just need to engage and intrigue enough people to get their attention.  If you’re skilled at engaging your audience’s attention and building their fandom, it might be worth it to put down that money on season one… if you think you can convince your fans to pay for season two.

Thanks to commenter xof1013, who made sure that I kept co-creator Brad Bell‘s contributions to the series at heart here. A genuine thank you; I should have looked a little closer on that one!

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7 responses to “WEBSERIES: Husbands and the Kickstarter Revolution

  1. xof1013 March 20, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Enjoyed this article very much. Sharing it with other fans of “Husbands The Series” – Bravo! hugs x

    • R. Lackie March 20, 2012 at 2:06 am

      I’m really glad you enjoyed the article, and thank you so much for the share! 🙂

      • xof1013 March 20, 2012 at 2:09 am

        I did enjoy it very much. One small request – would you mind updating it to show that “Husbands” is a co-creation? Jane created and wrote the show with Brad “Cheeks” Bell. And he deserves as much credit for being part of that amazing team! Hugs! 🙂

        • R. Lackie March 20, 2012 at 2:34 am

          As per our Twitter conversation about Bell’s role in the series, I’ve updated the post: both to acknowledge his role as co-creator, and his role in the show’s keen use of social media. I’ve also credited you at the bottom for the help. 🙂 Thanks again! It’s so nice to have folks not just read, but react and offer help too.

      • xof1013 March 20, 2012 at 2:22 am

        Following up from twitter –

        Jane’s completely lovely – Her tweet to Felicia Day re: Cheeks –

        @feliciaday Fanning myself — cannot possibly be true. Anyway, @gocheeksgo is the brains of this operation.

  2. aussiemoose March 20, 2012 at 2:53 am

    A great article – thanks!
    I just wrote an article on crowd funding generally on my blog and I was wondering if I could part or fully publish your article on my blog, obviously crediting back to you and your blog? It would be a great companion piece to mine. But if not, that’s cool. Either way, you’ve written a great piece 🙂

    • R. Lackie March 20, 2012 at 3:01 am

      Hi aussiemoose,

      First off, I’m really glad you enjoyed the article! It was fun to write. I’d definitely be comfortable with you posting an excerpt of it and linking back here, in fact, I’d encourage it! I’d prefer if you don’t post the complete article, just because it’s nice to get the hits from when people read the full thing.

      I linked in this article to another one I wrote on crowdsourcing that you might also find interesting. Also, maybe drop a link here to your crowdsourcing article; not only would I love to read it, I’m sure plenty of people who read mine would also be interested in yours!

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