This week’s fantasy quadrangle “The Wingfeather Saga” became an overnight success after 15 years of world building by the author and a decade of dedicated fan engagement.
In the dying minutes of a three-hour livestream on Wednesday, Andrew Peterson – producer of the series and author of the four-book series – and former DreamWorks filmmaker Chris Wall watched the online investment reach $ 5 million. dollars to fully fund the first season of their animated action. – adventure television series. “We’re going to work hard to make this as great as possible,” Peterson proclaimed to supporters, as family members cheered in the background.
Reaching its lofty goal in just 20 days, “The Wingfeather Saga” becomes the largest crowd-funded children’s entertainment project ever – a title owned just a few months ago by “The Tuttle Twins”, another series. ‘Angel Studios. The Utah-based, family-focused studio recently launched innovative marketing and distribution strategies that are shaking up Hollywood business models. Angel enjoyed early success with “Dry Bar Comedy” and the gospel-inspired series “The Chosen”.
“The great thing about Angel Studios is that when our thousands of readers invest, they become part owners of this thing,” Peterson said in a telephone interview from his Nashville home. “People don’t just give us money and get a little giveaway like Kickstarter. As partners with us now, these families can be part of success when it is built. “
For producer Wall, who has worked on more than 15 “VeggieTales” shorts, infusing entertainment with truths comes naturally. He regrets, however, that most value-based series cannot hold the interest of young viewers.
“Like all producers around the world, our job is to entertain,” Wall said in a telephone interview. “If we create compelling stories, sturdy characters, eye-catching visuals, and memorable songs where appropriate, we can get the kids to say, ‘I want to watch this.’ Then we really won.
He cites “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” as examples of the type of serialized action-adventure series they want to create. This is not empty talk. With over 20 years in the animation industry, Wall brings together a team of animators who have worked at Disney, DreamWorks and all the majors, some of whom will be working remotely on the next series. These independent producers are thinking big – and they have been doing it for years.
Small beginnings, huge dragons
Known the world over for his hits on Christian radio, including “Is He Worthy” and “Lay Me Down”, Peterson has long been hungry for fantasy fiction to define the second stage of his creative career.
Fifteen years ago, when his three children were still at home, the singer-songwriter remembers being on tour continuously. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this when I’m 60. I love music, but it’s going to tire me.’ I could imagine myself as a grandfather who wrote cheesy fantasy novels, but not as someone who travels the country to do shows.
Indeed, when I asked him if he knew Michael W. Smith, who lives nearby in the Nashville area when he didn’t fill concert halls across the country at 63, Peterson chuckled. heart. “I don’t know how he does it! We call him the Gandalf of Christian music.
Peterson has devoted years to perfecting his art of writing fiction, unannounced citing theses on creative inspiration from academics Madeleine L’Engle and GK Chesterton. Yet back in the days when they barely knew each other ten years ago, producer Wall remembers when the folk artist gifted Wall a copy of his first novel. “I said, ‘Oh, you’re a fantasy writer. I’m sure it’s… awesome. I really hesitated! “
In the saga, three siblings embark on a quest, although Wall has noticed that it differs from many popular myths today. “A lot of times in a story of a child protagonist, you have parents who are either detached, deceased, or squarely against the child,” Wall said. “In this story, the children do much better when they are with their families. Sometimes when they go their separate ways, they struggle. They need each other’s support. A father of six, Wall and his family were quickly drawn into the drama.
Filled with dragons, magic and intrigue, the medieval lands of “The Wingfeather Saga” tap into the mythical wells dug by JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and their contemporaries of the Inklings. It is squarely aimed at children aged 8 to 12, given the level of darkness and peril that the saga dramatizes. Similar to “The Princess Bride”, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, often reveling in silly humor and lighter moments.
When it comes to religious themes, Peterson moves away from straightforward allegory, which brings her the closest to Tolkien’s legendary Middle-earth. “I have dedicated my life to trying to speak the truth as nicely as possible,” said Peterson. “I’m not trying to bring overt Christian doctrine into all of this. On the contrary, I wrote the best story possible and I trust it will carry its own truth.
Scheduled for a reissue last year, the pandemic halted a planned book tour and marketing campaign. It looked like the show was going to languish. On a whim, Peterson began reading to fans online, thirty minutes each night. He had no idea it would attract an average of 20,000 users on Facebook and YouTube for months. The new editions of the books have been in stock on Amazon for several weeks.
After a big year of sales, more than 250,000 copies in total have been sold according to the publisher. This is an impressive sum, although a far cry from the 100 million copies sold of “The Chronicles of Narnia”. Peterson’s series may have a long way to go.
Cultivate history through relationship
As entertainment moves more to video on demand (SVOD) streaming, drawbacks of the new model have emerged. Each service promises options for families, with most failing on multiple fronts. The few who succeed with a quality series barely stand out in a crowded market.
In response to these new realities, Angel Studios has pioneered what they call “CVOD” (community video on demand). Their first major series to distribute, “The Chosen”, has become a worldwide hit with over 175 million views worldwide for its 13 episodes currently. By releasing it for free via a mobile app, it generates maximum buzz through community interaction around the series while ancillary products and dedicated fans help fund future seasons.
After meeting Netflix, Amazon, and other Hollywood actors – who showed interest in “The Wingfeather Saga” but sought to seize some creative control – Peterson said working with Angel was too good to be. true. “They allow us to tell the story exactly the way we want it to. They don’t want to own the IP. They are mainly there to encourage us and distribute it.
In the ever-changing world of CGI action-adventure series, producer Chris Wall intends to deliver the goods. This is why their first season in six episodes will cost $ 5 million. He says it’s pretty competitive compared to Disney. “This new ‘Monsters, Inc.’ the spinoff series that’s coming out is being produced for $ 14 million per episode, “he said.” We’re able to get over that a little bit and still recruit the best talent. “
Five years ago, with less contact and less experience, a short pilot for “The Wingfeather Saga” reflected this sought-after, high-caliber talent. Those who joined forces with Wall included director Tom Owens (responsible for the story of “How to Train Your Dragon 2”), animation producer April Lawrence (“Kung Fu Panda”) and animator Keith Lango (“Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas”), among other artists.
Although they are now working on a larger scale – with budgets of a million dollars, app development and dozens of people involved – Peterson happily remembers how his elementary-age children gave. the impetus for it all. “You want stories where your kids are eager to know what’s going to happen next. I struggled to find ideal books for reading aloud with short chapters. So I had to write it down.
The creative tools honed in those years could reappear as TV series production ramps up. “This process unfolded like a freight train. Now we get to work, ”says Peterson.
Watch the pilot below and learn more about “The Wingfeather Saga” official site.
Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith and public policy for several media, including The Stream. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion & Politics, Faithfully Magazine, Religion News Service, and Providence Magazine. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously served on the staff of the Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, DC area with their two children.