Will Crowdfunding Lead to an Indie Sequel Boom?

By  · Published on November 5th, 2013

In the history of indie film, sequels haven’t been very common. If we exclude horror movies, that is. And now documentaries. There’s Clerks II, S. Darko, John Duigan’s Flirting, Wayne Wang’s Blue in the Face, Lars von Trier’s Manderlay, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and I guess The Road Warrior (and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome). There tend to be weird circumstances and technicalities for a lot of them, too. One of the purest examples of an indie sequel is, of course, Before Midnight, which is even rarer for being a third part. It’s possibly the most beloved and critically acclaimed film of the year, and it could very well lead a new wave of follow ups to indie favorites and cult classics that aren’t necessarily easily banked genre flicks.

Back in May we learned of another indie threequel in the works, Hal Hartley’s Ned Rifle. The sequel to Henry Fool and its first follow up, Fay Grim, will complete a trilogy about the Grim family with stars Liam Aiken, Parker Posey, James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan all returning. And the means to finance this film, which is highly anticipated among Hartley’s core 25-year-strong following, has now been announced as falling on the shoulders of that fanbase. The Kickstarter campaign began yesterday with a goal of $384k. And it’s already taken in 10% of that amount. Apparently some of his devoted – of which I was once a huge one – weren’t as turned off by the second installment as I was.

We can add Ned Rifle to a number of other indie film sequels popping up on crowdfunding websites of late. This past weekend I spotlighted the campaign for SLC Punk 2: Punk’s Dead, which has raised close to $20k in a week. Because it’s on Indiegogo with a Flexible Funding campaign, it’s not as important what the percentage of its total sought amount is (7% of $250k if you must know), as the production will get to keep any amount pledged even if it’s well short of the goal. There’s also The Man From Earth II: Millennium, which had an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign, but the filmmakers are going to give it another shot soon.

Plus Girls Will Be Girls 2, which funded through Kickstarter three years ago and is still in post-production (last update two months ago: “editing a movie is hard”), Iron Sky: The Coming Race, which funded through Indiegogo earlier this year, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, which gets to keep the 10% of its goal raised recently at IndieGogo, and The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler, which successfully topped its goal a year ago on a site called Jewcer.

That’s not a ton of titles, and there’s obviously something in the trendiness of movies involving Nazis, but there is still a significance to their being made at all thanks to the crowd-sourcing model. Would any have gotten financing through other means? The thing about sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo isn’t so much that they allow filmmakers to beg their fans for money as they get to put feelers out to see if the fans want such and such movie to be made. It’s understandably easier to sell them on a sequel to a favorite movie, especially comedies with lovable niche characters like the women (all famous drag personalities) of Girls Will Be Girls and the Jewish hero of The Hebrew Hammer, all of which are the sort you’d otherwise see in online sketches – Girls Will Be Girls in fact has already had a web series spin-off.

One of the explanations that has been given for why indie sequels weren’t common in the past is that indie filmmakers worked on a level of the industry that championed freedom and originality. Aside from the fact that a lot of indie classics hardly lend themselves to sequels – at least up until the 2000s when we got a lot of quirky character pieces like Napoleon Dynamite and Juno – many directors simply preferred to move on to new ideas and new characters. Or they just went to Hollywood and had no reason to revisit, say, the guys in Swingers. Another explanation is that even the popular indies that aren’t horror films never actually wound up enough in the black to prove a sequel would be any more profitable.

Now it’s harder for filmmakers to do the free and original thing in the traditional sort of indie market, so they’re turning to crowdfunding. But even there it’s difficult to convince people to pre-pay for something that isn’t a certain success. Few names in that world are big enough to be trusted to make a great or even very good film every time, and those who can (the Coens, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino – the types with consistent style and quality) are able to use that trust to get financing the old fashioned way (some, like Kevin Smith, will even go a more conventional route to make a sequel such as the planned Clerks III, for which he has actually considered crowdfunding in the past to the dismay of fans). This is why we could wind up seeing more and more of these indie sequels from directors who need to fall back on something familiar, with a built-in audience.

Crowdfunding, for better or worse, is most successful with provable properties. This is why documentaries are quicker to fund just because of what they’re about, especially if it’s something that taps into a wide geek market. We can literally get ten docs each about Back to the Future and video games and the Brony phenomenon, but few if any about a great true story that we haven’t heard of before and which might sound uninteresting yet could be told really well. Crowdfunding indies are all about giving people what they know they want. But independent cinema used to be – and this is another reason sequels weren’t necessary – about showing us things we didn’t know we wanted.

There is nothing wrong with a few indie directors making sequels to their films, where it seems necessary and appropriate. I’m actually curious which titles we’d all really like to see followed up (my pick: Swimming With Sharks, where the focus is now on Frank Whaley 20 years later as a producer in today’s Hollywood). I just hope that with the rise of crowdfunding and because of the nostalgic audience demand that we don’t end up with the sort of glut we’ve seen for decades with mainstream Hollywood movies. Outside of Before Sunset and Before Midnight, we haven’t seen enough indie sequels that are as great as the original (and Clerks II is so terrible it almost even ruined the original), so if this does become a trend, hopefully it will be a short-lived one.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.