It’s supposed to be a golden age for digital entertainment, but one popular webseries is facing the harsh reality of crowdfunding your way to creative freedom.
The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy won a 2015 Geekie for best scripted series, was nominated for a Streamy Award, and received press coverage in Entertainment Weekly and USA Today. But now it’s hit a wall.
“We were mentioned in Forbes as a webseries that deserves an Emmy and we can’t raise enough money to do a third season,” said Shawn DeLoache, series co-creator and writer.
Peter and Wendy emerged in 2014 as a vlog series akin to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which retold a classic tale through a modern lens. The series also uses transmedia elements to emphasize storytelling. The first season they raised $9,230 on Kickstarter to fund episodes, which they buffered by putting production costs on credit cards to make ends meet.
“It’s more expensive than you think to make a series, and then you have to have contingency money,” said DeLoache. “The first season we had no contingency money.”
To cut corners, they all wore different hats. Kyle Walters, series co-creator, learned how to color correct with online tutorials instead of hiring a professional.
“What would take someone two hours took him two days,” DeLoache said.
It was the pure ethos of making your own webseries, but not the ideal.
“There’s no such thing as too much money,” DeLoache joked about the production process. As they picked up critical steam and tens of thousands of viewers each episode, they made plans for a second season. Only days after season 1 concluded, they started a campaign for the follow-up. Their ask was higher at $55,000, but they surpassed that in a month, this time using Indiegogo. They also added actors to the cast, like Supernatural’s Jim Beaver and YouTuber Meghan Camarena.
Between seasons, they filled their YouTube channel with behind-the-scenes clips, cast and creator vlogs, and other content. Season 2 aired July 15 and ran for 29 episodes, but following the epilogue six months ago, the channel went silent until just three weeks ago.
DeLoache said the series was always imagined as a three-season experience to follow the arc of the book, and they went into planning assuming they wouldn’t have to crowdfund again.
“We didn’t want to [do] this again, ask for money every year,” said DeLoache. Investors and companies had stepped in, suggesting they’d fund production. When those offers fell through, the team behind Peter and Wendy realized they’d waited too long between the end of the last season and starting a fundraising campaign. Fans were less invigorated from having watched the series days prior, and DeLoache says it’s shown in their new campaign.
“That’s the advice I’d give to other creators, never have that gap,” DeLoache said. “You lose the momentum and it’s hard to get it back.”
While the YouTube landscape has changed since Peter and Wendy’s inception in 2014, it’s especially changed in the time between season 2 and the new campaign. YouTube launched Red, its own subscription service for high-budget productions; the Emmys have opened up awards to digital series; and there are more players competing for direct dollars from fans in pay-per-view films, subscription services, and Patreon support.
While it may appear the fount of funding is endless for digital properties, the Peter and Wendy team found that relying on fandom for funding can be limiting.
“Nothing about traction automatically equals funding,” said DeLoache.
Even with a slightly lower goal of $50,000 to fund 12 episodes, they’ve only raised a third of it in three weeks. Thankfully, their flexible funding arrangement on Indiegogo means they’ll be able to keep and use any money raised so far, but they’re also giving fans an extension to help raise more.
Fans will have two more weeks to help up the goal, and more perks offered to help get them get there before a new April 17 deadline. No matter what happens, DeLoache says they’ll make a version of season 3, even if it has to be on a season 1 budget.
“I want to finish and I want to finish it right,” he said. “We’re out of favors.”