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Rooster Teeth’s Burnie Burns On Why Massive Crowdfunding Success Shouldn’t Hurt Its Brand

Rooster Teeth’s Burnie Burns On Why Massive Crowdfunding Success Shouldn’t Hurt Its Brand

The production company Rooster Teeth has had an incredible journey, one that began with heckling video games, then led to the wildly popular series “Red vs Blue,” a success parlayed into a company with 85 employees. Rooster Teeth is now trying something new, though — a crowdfunding campaign to fund the feature length sci-fi comedy “Lazer Team,” about aliens which takes place during the late seventies.
The response so far to the “Lazer Team” Indiegogo campaign has been incredibly successful — even though the Rooster Teeth gang only asked for $650,000 initially, it made over a million dollars during its first three days, and the money keeps piling up. But is there a danger that too much money could hurt the brand? If “Lazer Team” takes Rooster Teeth to a new level of comedy popularity, is there a risk that they could lose what makes them so funny and cool in the first place?

Rooster Teeth founder Burnie Burns doesn’t seem so concerned. As he explains to Indiewire, a feature length movie was always part of the game plan, and the true fans won’t be left behind.

Why did Rooster Teeth turn to crowdfunding for Lazer Team?

We’d never taken outside investments before… We’ve always had a roadmap to feature filmmaking, and making a feature film could have been three or four years away for us. But crowdfunding helped us get there in a year, and it allowed us to take a much bigger step. From the story/concept level, we’ve had this particular film in development for four years. We wanted to make movies back in college before Rooster Teeth. Our roots have always been in feature filmmaking, and we’ve always wanted to go back to it.

Do you feel there’s a danger that things could get too big, or do you want Rooster Teeth to crossover to a larger audience?

There is a line in the sand. If we got $100 million dollars to make a movie, I don’t know if we should be making a $100 million dollar movie our first time out. I don’t think we’re going to get close to that. The good thing about feature films is that the budgets tend to scale. We have scenes we wanted to do that we had to cut from earlier drafts of the film because we didn’t have the funds to do it. Crowdfunding brings those possibilities back up for us. Is there a danger in getting too big? There is, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that neighborhood.

So if Rooster Teeth eventually gets to the level of say, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, you don’t feel that would be a bad thing.

Oh yeah, that’s the whole purpose of making these moves. We have a very well established base with our online media content with Rooster Teeth, but we’re taking these steps to grow. As an artist, you always want to try to do something that’s not necessarily bigger, but more challenging. We’ve been very clear with the audience. 

A lot of people backed “Lazer Team” because they’re familiar with Rooster Teeth and what we do. A lot of fans realize we’re not household names, even though in their particular households we are, but for the audience at large, we may have to go out and hire some outside people because the Rooster Teeth actors may not be taking the lead roles as the budget continues to grow. At the same time, we recognize that if you go to see a Rooster Teeth movie, if you don’t see anyone from Rooster Teeth in it, that’s going to be a little strange. 

It’s a fine line to walk, but sometimes when we make productions, we don’t make them for our existing audience. We’re trying make them for a bigger audience that includes our current fans, and grow and do new things. And there are going to be some people that love every show we make today, but this movie may not be their particular taste. That’s how you grow an audience, and that’s how you grow a community.

Even with more money coming in, do you currently have a budget and schedule set up for “Lazer Team” that will stay within certain parameters?

We put the initial budget in the goals on the crowdfunding page. We wanted people to know where the money was going. Once we hit that goal in the first ten hours, we went back and revisited some of those numbers, especially in terms of talent and visual effects. There are areas of the production that scale much more quickly than others. If were going to hire somebody that was a household name in terms of talent, that part of the budget could scale up very, very quickly. We got in the mode of, “Let’s get an idea for how this thing is trending, let’s see where we end up, and that’s where we’re going to end up with the budget.” We feel that every dollar that goes into the fund at this point just makes the movie better. And it’s our job and our mission to make sure that as many dollars as possible will show up on screen.

Are you thinking of releasing “Lazer Team” on several platforms, like “Veronica Mars” did, where you could have a theatrical release and simultaneously stream it as well?

With everything we make here, Matt (Hullum, Rooster Teeth CEO) and I try to stay format-agnostic. We don’t really design content for a specific platform, especially a feature film, simply because when you start doing that, you’d have to look ahead twelve to sixteen months and say, “Let’s predict what’s going to be a viable platform for delivering content.” I don’t think you can do that these days. If we started this movie a year and a half ago, could we really have identified Netflix or Amazon Prime or some of the other platforms that have risen up in that time? You can’t really do that. So our plan, as it’s always been, is to focus on getting the content created, then once it’s done, we’ll decide what the best delivery for it is. Right now, sitting here today, if you asked me, I would talk about things like movie theaters, Blu-Ray, things like that. That’s the language I would use today. In ten years of doing this, we’ve learned you have to stay adaptive.

Do you feel it’s important to keep the Rooster Teeth fans involved in the process, and have you been surprised at how big the crowd funding response has been so far?

We love working with the fans. We always have wild expectations for the support that the fans are going to give us, and 100 percent of the time they surpass those expectations. We’re in the third year of our convention, and we’re going to have more than 30,000 at the event. That’s mind boggling to think about.

Rooster Teeth has always had a long history of hiring people from the fan community and collaborating with them directly. In our staff of 85 people, at least a third of them started in the fan community. It absolutely keeps us grounded. It makes a whole lot of sense from a business standpoint as well. We’re shaping such a unique business that if I hire somebody from the community, I don’t have to explain to them what this company is trying to do. I don’t have to explain to them what digital media is. I don’t have to explain to them how we deliver off the internet and why it makes sense for our business. They get all that, because they’re fans.

All of our content comes from a genuine place. We make content that we would want to watch. That’s the thing we always say when we sit down with a new producer or content creator. If you’re making content that you want to watch, you have to have faith that it’s going to be genuine, that it’s going to have heart, and that it’s going to find an audience. That’s been true for every thing that we’ve done. I think that if the content comes from a genuine place, I really do honestly believe that it will find an audience.

When you see “Lazer Team,” it will be a logical progression of what we’re doing. The audience has expectations for what we’re going to do. We can’t just go crazy and make something so far off the beaten path from what we’ve done in the past that the audience can’t identify with it. That’s a stretch that, if we wanted to make it, we’d do it on our own, and not ask for help for doing that. 

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