Rooster Teeth Demonstrates the True Power of Fan Funding

Rooster Teeth is, in many ways, the envy of the content creators everywhere. The production company was born a dozen years ago via the launching of their seminal series, Red Vs. Blue, its origins nothing more than a hand-full of friends drinking irresponsible quantities of alcohol and reviewing games. Now, with the power of a partnership with Fullscreen Studios, they boast two production spaces in two different cities, hundreds of employees, and a full, diverse catalog of content, live-action to animation, short-form to a feature-length film.

The first trailer for that film, Lazer Team, hit the web a short time ago, and it looks to continue the company’s tradition of high quality production and relatable humor, featuring a ridiculous premise and what appear to be impressive special effects. But, it’s actually the story behind the film that interests me. You see, Lazer Team is also a perfect example of how empowered creators can become when they engage and activate their fanbase. Rooster Teeth are the masters of fan-funding, and this film is their crowning achievement.

Even before selling to Fullscreen this past November, the company consistently delivered a significant quantity of content with high-production values, in part because they feature one of the spaces more effective subscription platforms, which they call “sponsorship.” For a long time, fans have had the option of receiving special incentives, like early access to videos, sponsor-only forums, and the like, in exchange for small recurring payments. Part of the reason this has proved so lucrative is their sheer size. Rooster Teeth has over 8 million YouTube subscribers, and over half a million twitter followers. That’s one hell of a fan base. But, they’ve also managed to create a community that drives fans to want to contribute. Everything about them, from the organzation of their homepage, to their consistent production schedule, and even their hiring practices, often culling interns from the best and brightest of their forums, is designed to create an open, communal atmosphere, one that makes their fans feel like they’re a part of the process, an integral part of the experience.

That’s why, even though they already recieve monthly contributions from so much of their audience, when it came time to finally tackle a full length movie, the team decided to turn to Indiegogo. “We could’ve just made a movie,” said creative director Burnie Berns in an interview with Tubefilter, “but in order to make it as cool and huge and big as we wanted to, we needed help from our fans.” And help they did, contributing over $2.4 million to the production, making it the fourth most successful crowd-funding campaign ever for a film.

Were they surprised that, given how much fans already gave, they managed to raise so much? Not quite, according to Berns. “We’re lucky enough to have a lot of fans, but you can’t ever tell them how to support you. You need to have a bunch of different methods out there. You’ll never know what is the way that one person likes to support.”

Buried within that statement is an important nugget of truth: fans want to support the creators they love. We live in a time of instant gratification without the instant hit to your wallet. YouTube has ushered in an era of free content, consumed when and how you want, where you want. There are many who would rather not take the risk of going directly to their audience and giving them the opportunity to contribute, as if offering that special access, asking for small payments, is insulting, as if it would scare their fans away. The reality is just the opposite, however, and you don’t need to have a full-on production studio and one of the largest audiences on the internet to be a part of it.

We’ve discussed it before: success on YouTube is about personality and community. Creators aren’t traditional celebrities, sitting high in rarified air, inaccessible. They’re with us on the ground, amongst their fans, a part of the community rather than just its inspiration. A big aspect of that is fans wanting to be involved, wanting to contribute, and if that means giving five dollars towards the creation of a feature-film, maybe not all of them, but many would be thrilled to be a part of it, to jump on board, to grow the team. Rooster Teeth proves this time and again, even as they recieve big-time investment from the likes of Fullscreen and expand to Los Angeles. They keep going back to the well of fan funding not only because it creates revenue, but because it actually builds that relationship, strengthens it. This is an important lesson, not just for the biggest of the big, but for everyone who has a pocket of fans anxiously waiting for the release of their next video: Your fans give you power; you just have to let them in.

Originally published at Apr 2, 2015.

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