In 2017, District 9 and Chappie writer-director Neill Blomkamp launched Oats Studios, a production house designed to experiment with new ways of developing projects ranging from short CGI films to longer story concepts that could eventually become feature-length projects. Now he’s announced his plans to turn one of those shorter films, Firebase, into a much larger project — and he wants fans to fund it.
Blomkamp told The Verge that just as he designed the studio to experiment with stories, he’s also hoping to experiment with the relationship he and Oats have with fans, “trying to set up a situation where [fans] fuel our ability to continue to make stuff, and just have this one-on-one relationship with the audience.”
To that end, he says he wants to crowdfund a sequel to Firebase, scaling the length and scope of the film depending on how much the campaign raises. Oats isn’t going through familiar crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter or Indiegogo: fans can contribute directly to the project through the studio’s website.
He’s also eschewing some of the traditional fixtures of crowdfunding campaigns, like backer perks, which he calls a “distraction.” Fans can expect all their money to go toward the production of the next version of Firebase, rather than contribution awards like shirts or stickers. (Oats does sell some merchandise on its website.) “The culture [of crowdfunding] is like, ‘Yes, I want the product, but I also want all of these different items,’ and none of those dollars are going into the product that you say you want,” he says. “If you like what we’re making, fund us to make more.”
Instead, Blomkamp says donors will get early access to the film and the behind-the-scenes videos, plus their names in the credits, and a PDF of the project’s concept art. If the project does extremely well, the studio will fly a fan to the set to be an extra in the project.
The original Firebase and Oats’ projects Rakka and Zygote aren’t full films: they’re polished proof-of-concept films that spell out the broader strokes of the worlds Blomkamp and his team have created. Rakka is a series of scenes detailing an alien invasion and humanity’s efforts to repel the invaders. Firebase is a collection of scenes that spell out the world and the central character. Zygote is the most straightforward of them all — playing out the climax of a much larger story. Those short films came out under the heading “Volume 1” on YouTube and Steam. Blomkamp says Oats wants to work on Volume 2 projects, and that one project, LIMA, is still set for release. but the Firebase sequel is currently Oats’ first priority.
Blomkamp told The Verge he developed the Firebase story after getting interested in the idea that our existence is really a vast simulation. In the Firebase short, American soldiers in Vietnam come up against a horrifying creature that seems to defy the laws of nature. The creature, known as The River God, is a construct that goes out of control, and the universe essentially generates an “antivirus program” in the form of a soldier, to try and contain the threat. Blomkamp says he’s written a feature-length script for this sequel to Firebase. “It’s extremely clear in terms of story,” he says, but the challenge is raising the money to make it. “The question is reverse-engineering that to the correct length, or hopefully raising enough to make the entire feature film.” He envisions the production budget as around $30 million, in the ballpark of District 9.
That goal is a tall order for Oats. The biggest film crowdfunding campaigns thus far were for 2013’s Veronica Mars and a Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival, which each raised $5.7 million through Kickstarter. Since last year, Oats has racked up tens of millions of views on YouTube for its various projects, and has developed a loyal following online, but that may not translate into millions of dollars in donations. On the project’s website, he writes that if the campaign raises $40, Oats will film a cat video set in the Firebase world, while if they raise $100 million, they’ll shoot a feature-film trilogy. The campaign will be live for 30 days, after which Blomkamp and the studio will determine the scale of the project, and move into production.
Oats also sells downloadable content from its original films through Steam, and Blomkamp says some of those profits will likely supplement what fans donate for Firebase. But he says the Steam initiative was more of an experiment aimed at a “very specific subgroup” of film production fans. This new campaign is designed to appeal to the wider audience of online viewers.
Blomkamp says there’s been some interest from the traditional Hollywood studios since the Oats films went online last year, but that he’s more interested in continuing to pursue the studio’s unconventional approach. That “doesn’t mean I don’t want to work in Hollywood,” he explained. “There are projects I’m working on right now. But I see myself as split between the ambitious, risky thing that Oats is, and also making films that play in theaters.” He says he’d rather have Oats handle everything under a single roof, from production to digital effects to release. “It’s one self-sufficient ecosystem of creative output.”