We’re huge Fighting Fantasy fans – and the odds are in favour of you being one, too! It’s a gamebook series that not only popularised sword and sorcery (among other genre tropes) in the UK in a way scarcely equalled until Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, but it’s tied into the birth of Games Workshop, the breakout appeal of Dungeons & Dragons and the rise of all forms of interactive storytelling. It’s a suitably epic saga that director/producer Sean Riley wants to tell to the highest possible standard, with a TV-quality documentary and he’s taken to KickStarter to get Turn To 400: The Story Of Fighting Fantasy funded. We spoke to Sean to find out just what it entails and why you should get involved…
Where did the idea for Turn To 400 come from?
My current job is to come up with factual programme ideas to develop and pitch to TV stations, so I’m always on the lookout for stories that might make a documentary. TV stations like reasons for a documentary, like anniversaries etc (you can see where this is going) Anyway, Games Workshop is around the corner from my office, it sparked a conversation in the pub and a few hours reminiscing about cheating playing Fighting Fantasy books under the duvet. Before you know it I’m emailing Ian Livingstone/Steve Jackson’s publishers with the idea for the documentary.
Why do you think this is a story that needs to be told?
I have a great deal of nostalgia for the Fighting Fantasy books, and once I’d discovered more about the story behind them (the lengths Steve and Ian went to to get GW off the ground are incredible!), I thought that their determination to follow their dreams would be a great example to everyone. Plus, there were 16 million copies of the books sold worldwide, so I expected there to be an audience for the film!
What made you take this to Kickstarter, was fan funding always part of the plan?
Not originally. As mentioned, the first port of call was the commissioning editors of TV, but even interesting stories are often branded too niche for TV – we have to remember that they’re hoping to score hundreds of thousands of viewers, and therefore things need to have scale and a broad appeal. We thought even if a couple of thousand viewers wanted to watch the documentary that it could be made for a lot less if we pulled in some favours and did some of it for free.
What does the £40,000 target actually break down as?
KickStarter fees are 5% plus transaction fees of 3-5% (lets say an average of 9% goes to KickStarter so about £3.5k). Before we even get to that there’s the subject of tax – little’s been mentioned about this with KickStarter projects and I even skirted round it when I first started doing the sums – but an organisation (and I’m part of one!) has to charge VAT on any ‘rewards’ – (so at 20% on £40k, that’s about £6,666).
Next there are those rewards – the cost to buy in and to post out (we’ve estimated the costs at about £8k-£10k). This leaves us with a filming budget of more like £20k. Archive licensing on a DTO basis (Download to own) for BBC archive is £1407 per minute. Yes, just one minute of archive – and we’d want to use several to tell the story. That and music licencing will be our biggest cost per minute of film.
Daytime TV, (a famously low-budget form of TV) is approx £1,000 a minute, you can do the maths on our film – 60 minutes for £20k with a heavy archive content is, I think, good value. Hopefully, you can get an idea of our production values when you watch our taster tape and pitch video on KickStarter. For those who haven’t seen the original promo on YouTube, there’s a little more Games Workshop content on it – search for ‘mmbroadcast fighting fantasy’, and you’ll find it!
We were originally going to ask for a lot less money, then we did the maths factoring in reward costs, VAT etc and worked out we simply couldn’t afford it. It truly is all or nothing!
What’s your own relationship with Fighting Fantasy been? Which was your first book?
I was about eight when Warlock Of Firetop Mountain hit the shelves, so my first book was actually Forest Of Doom. I was blown away and the books became a collecting obsession… until sex drugs and rock n’ roll took over (well, rock n roll anyway, precious little sex and drugs in the little seaside retirement town I grew up in!). I’ve now got two boys, and think they’ll love the books too when they’re old enough. However, when I went searching for my collection, it appeared to have disappeared. When I got my new copy of Blood Of The Zombies, I opened it to do a bit of research and was glued for a weekend.
Do you have any more geeky projects lined up after TT400?
Not at present – there’s still the day job of trying to get factual TV ideas commissioned, and as part of that we’ve discussed Ian’s involvement in Next-Gen, but TV’s a tricky business, and people are constantly paranoid about having their ideas stolen! I’m always open to people’s ideas, though!