Eavesdropping Media

Month: May, 2012

Joss Whedon Strikes Again with The Avengers

Warning: the post below will contain some serious fangirl geeking out over Joss Whedon and all of his works. If you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, or are not a fan, you are kindly asked to leave this blog immediately and go watch all the Buffy and Firefly episodes you can get your hands on. It is in your best interest, believe me.

When I first heard that The Avengers was to be developed, written and directed by Joss Whedon, I had real mixed emotions. On one side, I was happy to see Whedon get a seemingly unlimited budget with which to tell his stories. On the other side, the idea of one of my creative hero’s using his time to make a big business blockbuster action flick with mega explosions, mainstream superheros, huge stars, international red carpets, and 100s of millions of dollars at stake left me worried that I would no longer be able to connect to his vision. It just seemed too big. Was he to become the hack he had joked about being in the commentary from Dollhouse season 1?

Now Whedon was never exactly a struggling artist. He has been working for the big film and TV studios since the mid-90s. He had been nominated for awards. He had worked on Toy Story… But still Whedon always had a bit of an underdog status as a series and film creator. Starting with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he made series after series that were brilliant and genre bending but often overlooked by the masses. 

His fan base was predominantly outside of the mainstream. But it was also highly active  and very very loyal.

Don’t believe me? Take the 4 main TV series that he crafted – Buffy, Angel, Firefly, & Dollhouse. These have all spawned huge numbers of fan websites (biggest being Whedonesque.com), university courses, art exhibits, packed panels at comicon and SXSW, stage productions of some of the scripts, and tons of books and papers. When the series ended or were booted off the air, each moved into comic book form. Now all these characters exist within successful comic book series which are still being overseen by Whedon himself. 

The Whedonverse lives on…  

Whedon has also flirted with webseries (with the fantastic “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”), started a small production company and has recently made a micro-budget version of Much Ado About Nothing in his house. For Fun. He may have been competing to be known as the most productive man in the world, but none of these projects have the markings of a big mainstream Hollywood super action film director…

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SO back to The Avengers: as a longstanding fan of Whedon, I was worried that The Avengers would kill my admiration. I really was.

For one, The Avengers is not Whedon’s creation, but rather the culmination of a number of other Marvel superhero film franchises: Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk & Thor …(yawn)

And unlike his previous projects, which took some time to find their audience, with The Avengers, Whedon needed to immediately and simultaneously satisfy a lot of distinct groups. He needed Marvel comic fans, mainstream action fans, regular movie-goers with no prior knowledge of the Marvel universe, the sci-fi community, the fantasy community, and his very engaged and demanding fan base to understand and like this film. 

Tough challenge. And yet, it seems as though he has done just this. Last weekend, the Avengers had the highest grossing opening weekend in film history, with $ 200.5 million in the US and $ 650 million worldwide. In one weekend! The critics are raving about the movie. And the funniest part, it was actually really good!

I usually hate action films (especially the big loud blockbusters) yet this one left me with a huge smile on my face. Whedon figured out a way to speak many different languages simultaneously within this film. He spoke to mainstream audiences with the flashing lights, explosions, snappy dialog, plenty of quips from Iron Man and big 3D effects. He spoke to the fans of Marvel with his adherence to spirit of the Avengers canon. Sci-fy fans liked the spaceships, fantasy fans liked that the spaceships were actually alive and looked kinda-like dragons!

But Whedon also spoke extensively to his fan base by including tons of visual and verbal references to his past work. For example, the huge cave-in at the beginning of the movie is reminiscent of Buffy’s big battle in the series finale. He references Dollhouse with some of the slickness and design of the interior spaces, costumes, & tech. Within the big battle scene, he repeatedly used the Firefly “handheld camera in space” technique, as well as similar pace of action & spacial perspectives. Plus the alien ships have an eerie similarity to the Reever ships (except that they wiggle).

One of the early Black Widow fight scenes, where she fights off 3 guys while tied to a chair, reminded me a bit of River’s battle choreography in Serenity, Eliza Dushku fight scenes as both Faith and Echo and Buffy’s smashy battle moves (I almost thought at one point that Black Widow would pick up a stake!).

Most obviously, The Avengers larger theme, that of “the group is greater than sum of its parts”, is a theme that dominate many of Whedon’s projects.

And was it just me or was there even a little gift to the fans of Angel who never got to actually see the big battle at the very end of the show, in the series finale. I totally pictured Iron Man as Angel, Black Widow as Fred/Illiria, Hawkeye as Gunn, Captain America as Wesley, The Hulk as a mix of Lorne (who is green and went nuts in season 5) and Spike(a wild-card and a counter-balance to Angel/Iron Man). Although you could argue that Spike is Iron Man due to their sharp-witted over-confident comments and Angel is the Hulk, since he goes all ‘evil Angelus’ sometimes and destroys stuff… but I digress. 

Either way Angel finally got to “slay the dragon”.

To conclude: That Whedon could satisfy all of these different groups of movie goers, to break financial film records and still come up with a product that was actually good is… well… amazing.

I will never doubt you again, Joss Whedon!

For his take on the hoopla, here is a response from the man himself. 

Funded by the people, for the people

When the term crowdfunding first appeared in 2006, who could have predicted the fury of activity that this very simple concept would spark. The creative and tech industries have since embraced this emerging form of funding whole heartedly, and as a result we are witnessing a re-think of the traditional finance model. This enthusiasm for crowdfunding has also spilled into other realms, prompting its inclusion into the recent US JOBS bill.
So what is crowdfunding exactly? According to Wikipedia, crowdfunding is described as “ the collective cooperation … by people who network and pool their money and other resources together, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations.” Put another way, you ask people within your network of friends, partners and customers to help you fund the creation of a work/company/product. In return you offer rewards such as shares in the company, special gifts or the finished product.

But the concept of crowdfunding is not particularly new. It is a long standing strategy for charity organizations to offer small rewards (such as gifts or tax refunds) to encourage many donators to contribute funds towards a central cause. Also in some sense, the stock market is a form of crowd financing.

So why the excitement?

Mainly it’s due to the incredible opportunities that emerge when crowdfunding is coupled with a highly connected network of users. If you can tap into your audience before production, then you can remove the need for a 3rd party investor at the beginning of the process. Previously unprofitable projects have all of the sudden become viable. Furthermore, since we are more connected online than ever before, there is an enormous and growing volume of potential participants. The time is right to start re-thinking finance and fundraising.

And why are so many in business paying attention? To be blunt: there is also money to be made.

The first online crowdfunding platforms was Artist Share in 2000. But since 2008, we have witnessed an explosion of new crowdfunding platforms.

Some of the best known are:

  • Kickstarter (2009)- the largest funding platform for creative projects in the US, and potentially the best known of all the platforms.
  • Indiegogo (2008)- the best known international funding platform, includes non-creative projects such as social campaigns and product development
  • Sponsume (2010) – the biggest crowdfunding platform for creative projects in the UK & Europe”
  • Rockethub (2010)- funding platform for creative projects, partnered with many larger Media companies.
  • Peer backers – a popular crowd-fund “for entrepreneur, innovators and trailblazers”
  • Sellaband – music website that allows artists to raise the money from their fans and the SellaBand community in order to record a professional album.

For a full list, take a look at the answers to this quora question.

These platforms are in essence bridging the gap between the creator of a product and the consumer of the product.

As a result, anyone can be a micro-investor or mini-philanthropist and anyone can be a creator or an entrepreneur. The barriers-to-entry have been lowered profoundly.

But crowdfunding is only one small aspect of the movement towards a crowd-centric marketplace. The crowd is gaining momentum, and in turn is slowly eroding the power of the financial gatekeepers, such as investment groups, financial institutes, governments and funding foundations.

For better or worse, the crowd is increasingly shaping our world and our future.