There have been dozens of fan campaigns to resurrect TV shows that have gone nowhere: the pies that were sent to ABC in a bid to resurrect “Pushing Daisies”; the 20 tons of peanuts dumped at CBS for “Jericho” — and has anyone checked on the actress outside of Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters staging a hunger strike for “The OA” recently?
Then there is the fan campaign for the Australian TV show “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, the progenitor to the film “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears,” which is starting to stream on Acorn TV March 23. Based on a series of novels by Kerry Greenwood, “Miss Fisher” aired for three seasons on Australian broadcaster ABC starting in 2012, and has enjoyed a healthy afterlife on streaming platforms including Netflix and its current home on Acorn.
But that wasn’t enough. The TV show ended on something of a cliffhanger, with the crime-solving, perennially fashionable Miss Fisher leaving her paramour Det. Jack Robinson on the side of the runway as she set off into the Melbourne sky for biplane-bound adventures around the globe. While prior fan-led TV campaigns have focused on emotional pleas, charm, and whimsy to try to convince network executives of the value of extending a franchise’s run, “Miss Fisher” fans figured out very quickly that all that matters to the entertainment industry is cold hard cash.
A Kickstarter organized by the show’s production company, Every Cloud Productions, wound up raising almost $750,000 in Australian dollars — a quarter million of that came in the first 24 hours — and that quickly convinced traditional film financiers to come on board to complete the rest of its $8 million budget.
“Here in Australia, we do have a lot of government support for those small [film] markets — the government, in their wisdom, does support certain aspects of the arts,” said executive producer Fiona Eagger. “We don’t have such a strong philanthropic push here, so we do rely a lot on government subsidies or tax breaks. So part of the crowdfunding was to also show the distributor here and the funding bodies here that people did want to see more Miss Fisher and would part with good money for the experience.”
It’s easy to see why “Miss Fisher” resonated enough with fans that they wanted to put down their cold hard cash to see more iterations of the franchise. Greenwood’s series of novels includes 20 books, and while plotlines from these novels have been interwoven throughout the series, the show also made a point of diverging into its own set of throughlines. Both are as equally compelling — good storytelling is good storytelling, be it in an adaptation or an original — and with a history of blending the source material and original writing, viewers could take confidence that a spinoff movie would be in line with the original TV show.
And, frankly, the character of Phryne Fisher is irresistible. “Miss Fisher” always had the sheen of nostalgic wish fulfillment: Who wouldn’t want to be a wealthy, privileged, liberated lady with a fantastic house, clothes, and cars in 1920s Melbourne? But that exhilarating freedom was hard-won by Phryne, who had a devastating childhood, lost her sister, and served as a nurse in World War I. This subtext — that the good times are rolling only because of lessons learned out of tremendous loss — persists in the movie.
“She’s still a woman of the world — it’s not like taking a sit down television series into a feature,” said writer and executive producer Deb Cox. “She arrives in the first episode of the first series from the U.K. and she’s had a wild time in Paris after the war, she’s got Latvian anarchist lovers, she’s quite global. From the scripting point of view, the challenge was: ‘How do you create a big story on how she fights injustice, but what’s the big injustice on a world stage?’ Fiona and I talked a lot about how we wanted it to feel like ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ If we’re going to go deep, we wanted to go really ‘Indiana Jones.’”
The dedication of those enamored with Phryne’s adventures can be seen in the film itself. Besides an extended scroll during the end credits (175 names!) where those who donated $300 or more in Australian dollars to the campaign are thanked, names of higher tier donors are scattered throughout the production as various characters and production design elements. Some donors also appeared as extras during filming, went to visit the set, or attended a table read.
For star Essie Davis, the success of the crowdfunding campaign was a chance to again inhabit a career-defining role and see first-hand how her portrayal of the detective’s battle-tested joie de vivre impacted viewers. “I honestly didn’t realize that we had that many fans,” she said. “I don’t really keep my finger on the pulse of social media. When we opened it at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January, people were whooping and hollering. It brought tears to my eyes.”
“Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears” is available to stream now on Acorn TV, as are all three seasons of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”