With more than 25 million YouTube subscribers, Rooster Teeth have been making online content since it was possible to — and keeping generations of online audiences engaged over a 13 year period is no easy feat. Now the studio is on the cusp of something very new and very big: premiering a crowdfunded, original content feature film in cinemas globally, including 70 in Australia.
Gizmodo Australia spoke with Rooster Teeth creator Burnie Burns about Lazer Team, crowd-supported projects and bridging the gap between online and offline audiences.
It also holds the record for the biggest ever crowd funded project on Indiegogo, raising over $2.48 million.
"We were also the third highest movie of all time," Burns told Gizmodo. "The only movies that have crowdfunded more than us were Veronica Mars, and Zac Braff’s movie, the sequel to Garden State."
"The thing I’m happiest about though, Lazer Team was the highest funded original story, because I think that’s what crowdfunding is really all about."
"Just like in Hollywood, unfortunately, the projects that make the most amount of money are the reboots and the sequels — that’s what everyone seems to be funding. But Lazer Team is a whole new story and a whole new IP."
Apart from smashing records, what sets Lazer Team apart is it isn't just crowdfunded, it's crowd distributed as well.
"We have a regular theatrical run in 40 or 60 cities in the US and the UK — just a normal theatrical run," explains Burns "But we knew it was gonna be slightly more limited in terms of screenings, because we are a lower budget movie."
Rooster Teeth chose the cinema on demand platform Tugg — which allows both individual and content creators to choose what is screened in their local cinemas and when — to release the film.
Burns says "We thought it this would be a great way to give our audience the ability to make screenings pretty much anywhere they watch Rooster Teeth. We are talking US, Australia, Canada, UK, and so we have been able to start building these screenings and it’s just been huge."
When pre-tickets went on sale, Tugg saw a 1000-fold increase in traffic to the site. "We broke the record first in Australia for the most amount of on demand screenings and now globally we are the number one," says Burns. "They have never seen a demand like this before so we could not possibly be more excited."
Creating content that is crowd funded, crowd screened and devised off the back of crowd input is definitely a balancing act between pleasing everyone, and pleasing no one.
Burns says that involving online supporters in Rooster Teeth's content is just part of what they have always done, and they have gained a lot of experience dealing with a lot of different voices coming from a lot of different directions.
"We’ve been participating in the internet since it was a real consumer level product, so we kind of grew up as a company on internet forums, and participating in those discussions. On the internet you get instant feedback, for better or for worse, and you need to have a really good filter for figuring out what the real advice is that you are getting."
"A lot of people operate just off raw emotion, sometimes you have to filter through that."
Mostly known for producing Red Vs Blue (the longest running webseries in history) and RWBY (the first western anime series to be distributed in Japan), a feature film either seems like a departure from Rooster Teeth's regular community into a whole new audience, or a natural evolution of it.
"I think that in the early days of online video there were just a lot of early adopters, and there was no real demographic you could associate with them. Now I think a shift happening where there is a line generationally. Everyone under the age of 25 watches most of their content online instead of on TV, everyone over 25 is the complete opposite."
Burns says Rooster Teeth aims to bridge the viewing gap between the generations.
"That’s what we are hoping with Lazer Team. That this massive younger audience can introduce the people in their lives to Rooster Teeth by showing them Lazer Team."
A feature film was an appropriate choice "Because it is a lot easier to say 'Hey lets watch a movie' as opposed to 'hey do you want to sit down and watch a 13 year animated series that I like a lot?'" Burns laughs. "That’s a little bit bigger to take on."
On the back of the overwhelming amount of support Lazer Team has received, Burns says Rooster Teeth plan to continue to work on broadening its audience.
"We want to continue to make content that is in the vein of what we do, but doesn’t just pander to the online audience. We don't tell them how they should watch what we make, we just make it available to them.
Lazer Team is premiering in Sydney on 22 January 2016, following the sold out event RTX Australia. Screening will commence in locations across the country from 27 January 2016.