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'Starcraft' doc needed thousands in rescue money—even after $42K Kickstarter

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Sons of StarCraft, a Kickstarted documentary film about two beloved StarCraft 2 commentators in South Korea, which received more than $42,000 in donations from the eSports community in 2011, went over budget by as much as three times what was originally planned, according to director Jeff Alejos.

Although the movie was slated to take just one year to film and finish in Oct. 2012, botched planning, budgeting, producing, and staffing pushed release back numerous times, until it ultimately landed a full year later on Nov. 2013. Despite Sons of StarCraft more than doubling its original Kickstarter goal and receiving both an unspecified amount of Paypal donations and a private injection of thousands of dollars, the movie has been received with mixed reviews.

The film’s most notable source of funds has been Kim Rom, who was hired as vice president of eSports at CBS Interactive in July. Rom invested money from his own pocket as it became increasingly clear that the film would miss more deadlines—which risked further annoying donors and, worse, the intended audience.

As time went on, the movie's subject matter ran an increasing risk of becoming outdated, especially as StarCraft descended from atop the eSports totem pole, a position it occupied in 2011 when the Sons of StarCraft Kickstarter launched.

In return for his investment, Rom received an executive producer credit on the film. Meanwhile, the onGamers website, his big project at CBSi, retained exclusive Sons of StarCraft streaming rights for 2013. In an interview conducted last month, Rom said he didn't see the finished product before it launched, but nevertheless expected it to be a great documentary.  

After the project was successfully funded in 2011, little of this information was released to the public, and, in general, the team spent precious little time communicating with donors. Alejos, who previously worked on small film projects like Kansas to Kenya, posted a grand total of two Kickstarter updates over the course of two years. Whether the movie would ever come out became a divisive issue in the eSports world.

Donors and the community at large were left to wonder where the money had gone. Alejos told the Daily Dot the the lack of updates was his biggest regret in the whole process.

 Photo of Jeff Alejos via Facebook

Richard Lewis, editor-in-chief of Esports Heaven, has repeatedly accused Alejos of using the Kickstarter money improperly to fund a trip to Korea to hang out with friends. However, Alejos disputes claims that he was living a “posh lifestyle.”

“For the first year I was in Korea I stayed in a small Korean apartment called a goshitel,” Alejos said. “I could literally touch my front and shower doors at the same time.”

Without a public release of the film’s donations and budget, it’s difficult to verify just how Alejos spent money in Korea, meaning the debate will likely remain a he-says-she-says issue for the foreseeable future.

A number of vocal critics have also accused Alejos of using the project as a stepping stone to media work outside of eSports. He brushed aside those criticisms. “If one project leads to the next,” he said. “I see nothing wrong with that.”

As the project missed deadlines, the team spent thousands of dollars on hiring a post-production rescue crew to ensure the film could finally be released in 2013. The number of editors and sound technicians, for instance, went up three-fold from the original plan, according to a high-level source who worked on the film, but declined to speak on-the-record for this article.

 Photo via Facebook

When the first episode made its premiere last month, the response in the StarCraft community was overwhelmingly negative on Reddit and Team Liquid, the two largest and most influential StarCraft community websites. The poor reception was understandable: The first episode was a meandering, half hour-long trek with little narrative focus. It also featured a surprising lack of attention to detail for something that had been in production for so long.

For the audience, one particular sore point was the choice to use a short loop of elevator-quality music as the soundtrack for nearly the whole half hour. The great irony, which people involved in the product said they appreciate fully, is that a chunk of the cash that Kim Rom injected into the film prior to release went into improving sound.

“I didn't make the deal on any high expectations,” said Rom, formerly the Chief Marketing Officer at Steelseries. “I really just wanted the product to be finished.”

The remaining money was also used for editing and, in a wider effort, to support a post-production rescue operation to make sure Sons of StarCraft didn’t miss yet another deadline. Even as episodes have been released, Alejos has been busy over the last several weeks tweaking the film in response to criticism. He’s currently working with a composer to improve the music for the film’s wider releases on Netflix and Hulu.

Lewis, the Esports Heaven editor, has recently cited off-the-record sources saying that Sons of StarCraft was delivered to CBS, onGamers’ parent company,  in such poor quality that the company had to dump money into the project to bring it up to network standards. Kim Rom has publicly denied that CBS edited the movie whatsoever, however. My source disputed the account as well, saying that the money was not spent to improve Sons of StarCraft after delivery. Instead, after a year of delays, Kim Rom’s private money was spent to ensure that the movie was delivered at all.

Sons of StarCraft is currently up to episode 3. Each successive episode has received considerably less harsh reviews than the much-maligned premiere after the series finally found its key narratives.

“I shot, directed, produced, and edited this entire thing," Alejos said. "I had amazing help along the way but I was the main driving force behind the film."

“I think Jeff is a ‘typical artist’,” Rom said. “In this case a filmmaker who wanted to tell a story

"Thanks to a successful kickstarter project he all of a sudden had more funds, and the story he wanted to tell grew because of it. The complexity of the project also grew and, unfortunately, it ended up being delayed because of it.”

Alejos said he would do it all over again if he had the chance.

“I have seen everything running the gamut from love to hate,” he told me.

“A guy found me on Facebook and just wanted to thank me for this film. You could tell he loves the game and that this was something that really scratched that itch of [StarCraft] love for him. That is all I can ever ask for as a filmmaker. Love or hate my style, if I can connect with people on a visceral level, I'm satisfied.”

Photo via Jeff Alejos/Facebook