5 BURNING Questions About #BringBackMST3K
People of Kickstarter:
It’s been 48 hours in Kickstarter Land for #BringBackMST3K, and we're almost 75% of the way to our first goal of $2MM and 3 episodes! If you've already joined in: thank you for giving us such a fantastic start.
Today’s update is important, because I know there are a lot of unanswered questions about this Kickstarter, and about the future of MST3K.
- Why do you need so much money to make MST3K? Isn't it cheap?
- Are you doing this alone? Where are the other MST3K writers and actors?
- Why is there a new cast? I want the old cast back.
- We've got Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax. Who needs more MST3K?
- Is there a Santa Claus? If so, is he contributing to help bring back MST3K?
These are all good questions, so let's start with the tough one: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
Anyway, I know that these questions are still making some fans skeptical. I've seen all of the comments and questions here on Kickstarter. And Reddit. And Facebook. And Twitter. And... man, there's a whole lot of internet.
But hey, I get it. That's why I want to answer your questions the best I can.
If you're undecided about helping us #BringBackMST3K, I hope you'll take a few minutes to read this.
Question #1: Why do you need so much money?
Believe me, man. I hear you. If it really cost $2 million just to make three episodes, we'd be spending almost $700K per show! And you're right: by itself, an episode of MST3K doesn't cost nearly that much.
But the explanation is actually pretty simple:
A. We don't get to keep all of the money we raise on Kickstarter.
- Out of the first $2,000,000, we have to pay about 8% – that's $160,000 – in CAMPAIGN FEES to Kickstarter and the credit card processor.
- Then we have to cover all of the REWARD AND SHIPPING COSTS to design, produce, print, sort and ship all of the rewards we're offering in exchange for your pledge. (Those t-shirts aren't free, you know!) That costs about 27%, so that's another $540,000.
- We're not charging you twice for shipping, I promise. Even though Kickstarter asks you to add more for shipping after you pledge, they count that money toward the total we've raised, but we still have to spend that money on, you know... shipping!
- So, out of the first $2,000,000 we raise, we have to spend $700,000 just on the costs of this Kickstarter campaign!
B. Then, we have a lot of startup costs just to get the show into production.
To shoot new episodes, there's a lot we'll need to do up front: creating concept art and designs, building sets, making models, creating costumes, adding new features to upgrade the robots, and all sorts of other things. All of that work costs money, which is why that first $2,000,000 includes $550,000 for STARTUP COSTS. The good part is that every penny of that ends up on screen, where you can see it.
C. But... the more episodes we make, the less each episode costs!
We have to spend $550,000 up front, no matter how many episodes we make. If we only make 3 episodes, these costs increase the budget for each episode by $183K… but if we make a full 12, they only increase it by $46K each!
Anyway, once you take out the CAMPAIGN, REWARD and STARTUP COSTS, there's a lot less than $2M left.
In fact, that leaves just $750,000 for THREE FEATURE-LENGTH EPISODES OF MST3K, which – I hope – sounds a lot more reasonable than $2,000,000!
At the end of the day, our goal is to make each feature-length episode of MST3K for around $250,000.
To put that in perspective, that means we're spending less to create 90 minutes of MST3K than even the lower-end reality shows spend to make 22 minutes! (Really makes ya think, don't it?)
And remember: that $250K isn't just to hire our writers, cast and crew, or rent equipment and space. It also includes the cost of LICENSING MOVIE RIGHTS, and that can get pretty expensive. Which brings me to the last point:
D. If we want the best cheesy movies, we have to pay for them.
Right now, none of the movies I'd like to include in the next season are in the public domain. That means we have to pay the owner of each movie a substantial amount to include it on MST3K. That would be expensive no matter what... and that's before the owners realize what we're planning to do with them!
Now, I know that was a lot of detail. If you're as worn out from reading about this as I am from writing about it, here's a wicked cool graphic that sums the whole thing up:
I know not everyone will want this much explanation, but I'm asking you to trust me with your money, so I think it's important to be crystal clear about how we're using it.
Finally, if you're thinking that $250K per episode still sounds like a lot, remember: even in the ‘90s, an episode of MST3K cost us between $100K-200K, and with inflation, everything costs more now.
Plus, when MST3K started, we were able to get better rates. As the show got more popular, licensing cheesy movies suddenly began to cost us a lot more. Hmm...
Anyway, I hope $250,000 per episode feels more reasonable than "$2M for three, " which is how it might have sounded at first.
Question #2: What about everyone else? Are the other MST3K writers and actors coming back?
This is the hardest question to answer, because there are several moving pieces involved.
Right now, I don't know who will agree to come back and work on the next season of MST3K… but if the Kickstarter is successful, everyone will be invited to take part.
Until yesterday, I wasn't even sure this whole Kickstarter idea would work. I've reached out and spoken with some of the old cast and writers, but until I knew how much money we'd have to work with – and when we'd start writing and shooting – there was just no way to make the specific offers that I hope will bring many of them back.
Plus – as many of you know – so far, the old cast haven't been compensated as well as they (or I) might have liked. I wish I could go back and fix that, but if I'm going to ask them to participate in the next season, I want to be certain we can pay them what they deserve this time. As soon as we pass our initial goal of $2,000,000, I'm hoping to start making the invitations official, and I hope some of them will be able to join us before we start working in January.
But there's another thing I should say here:
As much as I love the old seasons, we're not just trying to make an "MST3K reunion episode." Even if we do get our entire old cast and staff to come help out, I think it's important – essential– that we bring in new talent to keep the show fresh, and to help it evolve.
To do that, it's important that we bring in the next Host, the next Mad, and the next robot voices. And if everything goes well, there'll be a dozen more after them. (I'll come back to this in the next question.)
At the same time, I'd love to work with the entire old team again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 became the show you know and love because our writers and actors were – and are – some of the smartest, funniest people I've ever worked with. If they have time to come back for the next season, I'll be so excited to work with them again.
But even if everyone comes back, we'll never be able to reproduce the magic of how those old episodes feel to you. No one ever could. People usually think that the “best year in music” was they year they turned eighteen. In the same way, the “best year of MST3K" – for you – will probably always be the year you turned 13, or 16, or 18, and your parents finally sprung for the good cable package. To misquote Rick James, nostalgia is a helluva drug. We can't compete with your memories, and it would be kind of silly to try.
But we can try to make something that today's kids (and adults!) can discover, that will give them the same feeling you once had. And hopefully give you long-time fans something new to enjoy, too. That's the goal, anyway.
3. Why is there a new cast? I want the old cast back. It's not MST3K without them.
I've gotten a lot of messages asking – or complaining – about the decision to bring in a new cast. This came up a few times on Tuesday during my Reddit AMA, but I don't know if I explained it as well as I'd like, so I want to take another minute to talk about this.
The funny thing is, this isn't the first time we've gotten these complaints.
When we first imagined Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1988, my hope was to launch a show that, in success, could be as enduring as Saturday Night Live. We had a simple format that could evolve over time, with each new generation of actors and writers finding their own take on the basic concept.
If MST3K hadn't gotten canceled fifteen years ago, it’s possible we could have had 4 or 5 hosts by now, and it would be just like Doctor Who: even if you had "your Doctor," you'd still be able to appreciate the different flavors that each new Host or Mad or robot added to the show. It's part of what makes a show like Doctor Who or SNL last. I’m a Tom Baker fan myself, and no one is funnier than Dan Aykroyd. (To me.)
The problem is that MST3K got canceled after just two hosts, and instead of becoming a proud tradition, some audiences started to see it as a competition between "Team Joel" and "Team Mike." I think that if MST3K had lasted long enough to have a third host, this wouldn't have happened. It makes me sad that it did.
When I first left MST3K and Mike took over as host, some of you said you were done watching – not because he was bad, but because he was different. Then, once the shock wore off, a lot of you realized he brought something new and great to the job. Many of you even liked his episodes better! And when Kevin took over as Tom Servo, there was hate mail, but for many of you he became the definitive Servo! I could go on.
So yeah, we've been through this before, and I get it. Different can be scary, especially if you really loved the old seasons. But just think: if you had never given Mike or Kevin or Bill or Frank or Mary Jo a chance in their roles, you'd have almost 100 fewer episodes of MST3K to enjoy today. I'm not asking you to like the next cast better than the last one, but I hope you'll give them a chance, and see what they can do.
Then, when their time is up, I hope you'll give the next cast a chance too.
Anyway, I think we've found great new people to act as our next Host, Mad, Crow and Servo, and I'll introduce you to all of them before the end of our Kickstarter. And if the old cast are up for it, we'll look for ways to bring their old characters back for cameos. (Anything's possible! Even Servo and Crow could have "software glitches" from time to time and temporarily boot with their older personalities.) But the reason I hope a lot of the old team will come back is to help guide the next generation as they learn the ropes.
Here's the thing: I don't want us to make a whole different MST3K. We love the old seasons for a reason, and so did you. But I also don't want us to make the same exact MST3K again either.
As I've said before, it's like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle as applied to MST3K: if it doesn't change, it's not the same show. So to stay the same, we need to keep changing. Make sense?
4. Cinematic Titanic and Rifftrax are great. Who needs new MST3K?
To me, this has been the weirdest question to try and answer, because some people are acting like we're asking you to choose between Cinematic Titanic, Rifftrax and MST3K, or to convince you that MST3K is the "one true riffing show." And guys, this might be why we can't have nice things.
With Rifftrax, Mike, Bill and Kevin have brought riffing to a whole new set of movies, by finding a way to riff the kinds of flicks we were never able to include in – or afford for – MST3K. And they're great at it!
Cinematic Titanic was all about a live riffing experience that performers could share with fans in the house. It was an incredible thing to be part of, and even with so many great MST3K veterans involved, it still had a completely different flavor.
I will always support good riffing, and the world will always need more riffing – especially under the imminent Trump/Carson Administration. Plus, it's exciting to watch so many MST3K vets out there doing their thing, and making people laugh, in whatever form they enjoy most. We're better off with more riffing shows out in the wild – and even if our old team comes back, they'll still be free to continue their other projects.
But I know there's still a place for Mystery Science Theater 3000 right there next to them, because the world will be more fun – and more bearable – with Crow, Servo, the Mads, and more cheesy B-movies.
No one is asking you to pick between Rifftrax and MST3K, and no one ever will. There's room for both of them.
5. Is there really a Santa Claus?
Droppo, you are the laziest man on Mars.
Anyway, that was a lot to read, but I think it was important to tell you all of that. If you made it this far, I hope I've eased your mind.
If you have more questions, I want to make sure I'm answering them, so please be sure to post in the comments. And if this all makes sense to you, I hope you'll help share these explanations with others, when you see them asking these questions.
I'll have something fun to share with you tomorrow.
Cheers and Thanks,