Documentary crowdfunding frustration


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The Kickstarter for 8 bit generation succeeded, leading to the imminent release of a documentary about 8-bit computers. It was a long road, as the film was marked as "Missing In Action" back in 2012, well after I'd already paid for the DVD.

The Kickstarter promised an unlikely turnaround time: the campaign closed on September 25, 2015, with DVDs to ship just five months later in February 2016. That hasn't yet happened — but while we wait, the producers have launched a second Kickstarter for a second documentary.

"The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary," says the project description, "and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed."

The story of Atari is also the origin story of Apple: Steve Jobs got his first job there; Steve Wozniak developed their Breakout game; and together, before they founded Apple Computer Inc., the Steves tried selling the Apple II to Atari.

But how did the filmmakers spin the Atari content out from the original documentary without detracting from it? Turns out there was a marketing miscommunication: the first film was only the first part of a series, with each installment focusing on a different computer and company. What I thought was a broader overview of the 8-bit generation, and which I backed based on its interviews with Steve Wozniak, turned out to be subtitled The Commodore Wars.

Admittedly, I should've read the project's description more closely: "We resolved to release a single long run episode by the working title of Growing The 8 Bit Generation, focused on the home computer explosion and Commodore role in the personal computer revolution." But I usually count on a Kickstarter's campaign video to detail a project — and this project had no video.

That's not the only reason I feel conflicted about their second Kickstarter. I understand that, logistically, launching another crowdfunding campaign while the first remains unfulfilled makes perfect sense: the first documentary is already content-locked and is in the final stages of production, freeing the directors to begin work on editing another film. But emotionally and politically, it's a gamble, as Comcept discovered with the Mighty No. 9 and Red Ash campaigns. It feels like the directors are asking us to double down.

For almost half a decade now, I've been expecting a DVD of a documentary about Apple and its contemporaries. Such a thing may exist as future installments in this DVD series are produced — but it's not what I've been promised, it's not what I paid for, and I find myself a skeptical customer to be asking for more money and faith from.