Can Drifter turn a crowd-funded pilot into a television deal?

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The word that describes the in-development independent series Drifter, on pretty much every level, is ambitious — ambitious in scope and ambitious in approach. Set to begin production in mid-July, the sci-fi/comedy/drama project is crowdfunding its pilot online — but setting its sights on television.

Created by Jeff Koenig, the premise of Drifter could be boiled down to “boy meets girl.” Except the story takes place 150 years from now, and the “girl” in this case (Julie Ann Emery, also a producer and co-writer) is an artificial intelligence manifesting as a character in an interactive TV show, a show the boy (Darren Le Gallo) is watching while lost in space with 12 days to live. There’s also a Battlestar Galactica-esque subplot focusing on a military commander trying to save the lost astronaut and handle the political opposition to the mission — making for a unique combination of genre and tone.

Given how complicated the premise is, the Drifter pilot will not be a short one; Koenig expects it to run about half an hour. The lineup currently attached to the project is full of hardened veterans of the web series wars — the cast includes Anyone But Me star Rachel Hip-Flores and prolific creator Al Thompson, and attached to direct is Pink and Continuum creator Blake Calhoun. Even behind the scenes, Safety Geeks creator Tom Konkle is set to work on effects, and music will be composed by IAWTV award winner Rob Gokee.

But if this sounds intriguing, prepare to open your wallet. The only way to watch the Drifter pilot will be to contribute to Drifter‘s crowd-funding campaign, currently being run through the site Mobcaster; even contributing one dollar gets donors access to the completed pilot online. The reason for this is that the pilot will not be receiving a wide release — instead, it’ll be used for pitching to networks (as well as companies like Hulu and Netflix) as a step towards a full release.

Koenig and Emery, via phone, were both upfront about their hopes that Drifter would find a home on television — Emery said her first choice would be Syfy, while Koenig mentioned the BBC as another possibility. “My dream is for it to be on television,” Emery said. “The appeal is very broad — it’s a sci-fi show that women are going to want to see, that couples are going to watch together.”

Mobcaster is a relatively new entrant in the crowdfunding genre of sites, billing itself as Kickstarter for independent television. While that might sound redundant, as Kickstarter has funded plenty of indie projects, the site differentiates itself with a smaller number of projects. “We’re not competing against nearly as many other projects, and we’ll be featured the whole duration of our campaign,” Koenig said. Like Kickstarter, Mobcaster takes five percent of all funds raised, with an all-or-nothing approach.

As of writing, the Drifter team has raised over $1,300 of its $25,000 goal, with almost two months left to go. If they don’t reach their goal, Koenig says that while they would have to reschedule this summer’s shoot, they would move forward in another direction. “The nice thing about having this producing team is that we don’t want to do this as a branded entertainment product, but if the campaign doesn’t work out, we have other options we can explore,” Koenig added.

The stakes for Drifter are therefore pretty high, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens. “If the project goes to network, we believe it will validate the idea that web series creators have the skills (if not the resources) to compete with TV head on,” Koenig said. “If the project is released online, we believe that instead will validate that audiences are ready for original TV format programming — a bet that Hulu and Netflix are also making.”

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Jeff Koenig

Thanks so much for this article, Liz!
We are being ambitious, but I have faith that the team we’ve assembled is up to the task. Beyond the immensely talented team members you’ve mentioned above, Jorge Rivera (Writer; Odessa, Rhyme Animal) is bringing tremendous contributions to our story and our world.
Producers Bradley Werner (the Confession), J. Sibley Law (TangoDango), and Scott Nap (Issues) bring years of experience on dozens of projects to pull all of this together, and while he’s not a household name outside of New York (yet), actor/producer Gary Ploski is going to catch a lot of people’s attention when the pilot is released.
We’re very much looking forward to the journey ahead. Thanks again to you and GigaOm for explaining what we’re trying to do even better than I myself can!
-Jeff Koenig

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