Kickstarter online fundraising campaigns have had a mixed record when it comes to movies.
Individual donations covered the tab for Hollywood features like “Veronica Mars” and the locally produced family drama “Stay Then Go,” presented at the recent Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.
Truly successful drives appeal to niche fans seeking something unique.
That’s exactly what “Fear of Girls” is.
Followers of the geek-centric comedy series shelled out $11,000 to support Minneapolis filmmaker Ryan Wood, a talented, lesser-known artist who could be called the Orson Welles of fantasy-gaming mockumentaries.
His newest film, the locally made, grass-roots-funded “Fear of Girls 4,” has its theatrical debut Tuesday at the Showplace Icon cinema in St. Louis Park.
Wood’s series chronicles the misadventures of two socially inept but endearing Dungeons & Dragons nerds, Doug Douglasson (portrayed by Tom Lommel) and Raymond Ractburger (Scott Jorgenson). The basement dwellers spend most of their time in their fantasy roles of Game Master Doug, “a registered Druid” and Krunk, Eighth Level Barbarian God of Battle & Fertility.
It’s not easy being that imaginative. In the first chapter, Doug asks viewers, “Have you ever been chased by an entire JV football team simply because you chose to wear your cloak to school that day?” Scorned by their peers (the females especially), prickly control freak Doug and naive, oafish Ray are sustained by their friendship and escapist make-believe.
Wood’s affectionate parody of gamer culture is confident, small-scale storytelling whose satire is so spot-on and savvy to D&D trivia that some viewers mistook it for nonfiction.
“For the longest time I thought Ray and Doug were real people, not just actors playing a role,” admitted Eric Grimes, a fan from Owatonna, Minn.
“It was such a good mockumentary of the Dungeons & Dragons people we all know from high school,” said Brandon Burton, a VA hospital administrator from Lindenhurst, Ill. “I work with a bunch of executives and a bunch of us are fans of the show. Even at high-level committee meetings, I’ll look over at somebody and say, ‘You can’t game the Game Master.’ ”
Wood, a cable TV producer, launched his project in the summer of 2005, when the notion of putting original video content on the Internet was novel.
“YouTube was three months old,” he said. “It had a five-minute length limit.” He put his 12-minute opus on now-defunct Google Video, unsure of what the response might be.
It was an overnight international hit. Someone promptly pirated a copy of the film, translated it, and posted it on a Russian site. “Fear of Girls Episode 1” was at one point the most-linked site on the Internet. It whipped up such a viral-video frenzy that Disney optioned the characters and premise from Wood for its own Web productions.
While that proposal never reached fruition, Wood and his troupe have kept the franchise alive on their own. Wood estimates that the videos have amassed 4 million hits. Wood’s satire even inspired a producer of role-playing adventure games to create a D&D compatible saga based on one of Doug’s overheated fantasies. “Pleasure Prison of the B’Thuvian Demon Whore” has since gone on to win game industry awards.
Jatin Setia, executive director of the Twin Cities film fest, which is hosting Wood’s theatrical debut, calls Wood “one of the notable filmmakers in town. He’s shown tremendous growth over his body of work. Ryan tells stories through character development and does it really well.”
Lommel, now working in commercials and episodic TV in Los Angeles, believes the project’s longevity comes from “targeting a particular subculture that is very passionate and very self-aware. ‘Fear of Girls’ was really the first piece of geek-centric comedy to hit the Web. They love to be in on the joke when somebody is making fun of their culture.” Lommel believes that society at large has finally caught on to the joke in a big way.
“You’re seeing geek culture become very much in the mainstream. One of the biggest shows on television is ‘Big Bang Theory.’ Years ago that would have never flown. Now the people who played those games have ascended. They’re the guys who are making apps for your phone and producing video games. It’s cool to be a geek, finally.”