By Noah J. Nelson
Here's something your history teacher never filled you in on. In World War II the United States had a secret weapon. A lone solider who was worth a hundred Axis infantrymen.
Not Steve Rogers but Pvt. "Little" Sammy Vogel. A 7 ton, 40-foot long Tyrannosaurus Rex. America"s Fighting Dinosaur.
This is the premise of a short mockumentary currently raising funds on Kickstarter by video-game artist turned filmmaker Steve Snoey. Using his gonzo imagination and connections in the indie film scene, Snoey worked out the pre-production for a film that will tell a hidden chapter of America's past in the style of Ken Burns.
It's completely ridiculous and long, long overdue.
The campaign for the film is no slouch either. America's Fighting Dinosaur has already moved past it's initial set of goals and is into stretch territory. Turnstyle reached out to Snoey to talk about the film and campaign.
TURNSTYLE: Okay, right from the start: how the heck did the Army keep Pvt. Vogel from eating his squad mates?
Steve Snoey: It took me awhile to zero in on how I wanted deal with Sammy's behavior, seeing as Tyrannosaurus Rex is almost universally portrayed as an an unstoppable savage beast. I'll let the film itself go into further detail but I will say that Sammy had been raised by humans and I based a lot of his mannerisms on a pet crow that my Mom rescued and raised. Not only was it unafraid of most humans, it thought of itself as a human. Other crows would land near the house and try and communicate with him and he would look back at them, completely puzzled. That question of nature vs. nurture is certainly an important theme of the film. Of course, some of Sammy's natural instincts will surface so I'm not sure I can guarantee anyone's safety.
TS: On to the movie itself, what was the spark that led to a mash-up of WWII documentary and the gonzo Sci-Fi of a Tyrannosaur as mobile infantry?
Snoey: To be honest with you it all started as more of a joke. Several years ago, on a whim, I sketched a pair of armed Tyrannosaurs patrolling occupied Paris. In terms of pure awesomeness you already have a winner right there. Then I started to think, "Ok, as absurd as this is, if it really happened how would this work?" and eventually Sammy was born. From there I dared to ask, "How can we give this some meaning?"
TS: Did you think you'd get as robust of a response as you did to the campaign?
Snoey: Lacey (Leavitt, the film's producer) and I have are fortunate enough to have friends and supporters in both the film and video game industries, so we expected that by the campaign's end we would be able to clear the initial goal. Fortunately for us, the premise alone is a pretty easy sell. We were lucky enough to be featured on the Kickstarter Staff picks, and both The Nerdist and io9 Kickstarter picks of the week within days of launching, which helped propel us forward much faster than we were expecting. We expected to do pretty well but the results we are seeing have us feeling very thankful and excited.
TS: How much legwork/promotion did you do before launching the campaign? Did you have a PR strategy in place?
Snoey: Before launching the campaign I had already started a blog, a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account, mainly to keep my friends informed of my progress. As soon as we knew we were ready to give Kickstarter a try, we tried to get as many of our friends and family members who weren't already following us to do so and share those pages with their networks. We also reached out to our closest friends and supporters on our launch day and asked them to directly donate and/or share the campaign on that very first day. We read a lot of articles about crowdfunding successes and failures through several websites--including most of Lucas McNelly's articles on Turnstyle--and knew that our success was going to live or die by our personal networks first, before we had any chance of going viral.
TS: You're stretch goals are very articulated, is that something you had right from the start? How did you develop them?
Snoey: Through our connections to indie film and video games, both Lacey and I have more than a few friends and acquaintances involved in some of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns to date, so we had plenty of opportunity to watch other campaigns do it right. We also thought about what sort of merch we wanted to end up with, and what we as audience members would want to purchase from a similar project. Lastly, we've heard horror stories of reward fulfillment costs getting out of control, so Lacey budgeted out the hard costs of all the fulfillment and shipping. We are our own target audience, so between personal tastes and some borderline OCD-planning on Lacey's part, we had our road map.
TS: What's been your experience of Kickstarter as a platform? Did you consider using a different platform?
Snoey: There is an element of risk involved with a Kickstarter in that if you don't achieve your funding goals you receive nothing but for us it was a risk worth taking as it's the top crowdfunding site currently operating. There are hundreds of new Kickstarter campaigns launching daily, so while the risk of getting lost in the shuffle is high, there are also a lot of eyes sifting through the categories looking for interesting projects. If you can get some traction that way it can really pay off; we know that's the case because we've donated to random KS campaigns that way. We've been lucky enough to be discovered and supported by Kickstarter browsers, so even though we're only about halfway through the campaign it definitely seems like we made the right choice in terms of platform. We don't think Nerdist and io9 would have found us if weren't on Kickstarter, frankly.
TS: Is there a feature lurking underneath all this?
Snoey: If there was enough interest I'm sure I could be convinced, and I'm certain our team could get it done. However, we went into this purposely planning on keeping the short at a manageable length, as I fear that at a certain point the premise would start to wear a bit thin. Now that it looks like we can afford a short longer than 10 minutes, I'm going to work on a longer version of the script and let Sammy's story dictate how long the project "should" be. I'm not ruling it out.
Originally published on Turnstylenews.com, a digital information service surfacing emerging stories in news, entertainment, art and culture; powered by award-winning journalists.