'Nightwing' Web Series Turns to Fans for Funds

"Grayson: Earth One" creator Hisonni Johnson tells THR he has 24 episodes planned out and a cast raring to go. All he needs is $40,000 to make it happen.
"Grayson: Earth One"

Filmmaker Hisonni Johnson says he resorted to drastic measures to complete the first episode of Grayson: Earth One, a fan web series following Richard Grayson, who in the DC comics donned the mask of Robin and later Nightwing.

"I made this episode for less than $2,000, but no one was paid, so that is why the expense was so low," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Times got hard, because I wasn't making any money, and I ended up selling my bodily fluids to keep the project moving forward."

Since its release last month, the episode has received more than 135,000 views on YouTube, and now Johnson is asking fans to chip in to help make the rest of the series a reality. He's set up a page on indiegogo with the goal of raising $40,000 and has received roughly $10,000 in pledges to date, with just days to go on the campaign.

Johnson says all of the money will go back into the production, with his actors being paid this time around.

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Grayson tells the story of the iconic superhero's early days, but with a twist: He is not the protege of Bruce Wayne, which opens up all kinds of questions of how he will grow personally and morally. Grayson is a musican-turned-vigilante living in a gritty city in which young women are being abducted as part of a villain's mysterious plot. 

Johnson says he sees parallels between his life and that of Grayson. Both were gymnasts who lost their parents at young ages but found father figures to guide them.

"In my own life, I can't help but wonder where and who I'd be if my coach and adopted dad hadn't taken me in," Johnson says. "To answer that question, I've decide to change that element of our protagonist's back story by taking Bruce Wayne out of his life. The entire experience has been really therapeutic."

Johnson says he has 24 episodes planned out and will fight to do more even if he doesn't reach his funding goal.

For more on the project, read THR's conversation with Johnson below and watch the first episode at the bottom of the post. And if you're feeling generous, make a contribution the Grayson: Earth One indiegogo project here.

The Hollywood Reporter: What are you hopes with this project? Some people have made fan videos and been given the greenlight to do an “official” version for the web. Is that a possibility?

Hisonni Johnson: I hoped for three things when I decided to do this project. The first was to build and interact with an audience. I'm hoping to be able to tell stories like this for the rest of my life, and now is as good of a time as any for that start building a fan base. The second was to get exposure for a group of actors that deserve the exposure and whose skill I'm in awe of. And finally, I'd hoped that the fans would fund the story, and that seems to be going well. I  believe with the help of the fans, I'll be able tell a story that eventually attracts the "powers that be," and hopefully they decide to make things official.

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THR: Do you have a sense of where the story would go? Will we see more Batman?

Johnson: (Laughs) It depends on who you think Batman is. As far as what I have planed, I've outlined a full 24-episode arc through which we'll watch the evolution of the entire bat family. I believe it's what happens to these characters before they decide to wear costumes that really makes them interesting.

THR: What are your influences for the project?

Johnson: I drew inspiration from several things. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. All of the New 52s and a little bit of my favorite TV show Luther. But I believe the most important elements of this story are the elements taken from my life. I've managed to see several parallels between myself and the show's protagonist, Richard Grayson, aka Nightwing. We both were gymnasts and lost our parents at a young age but were lucky enough to find father figures that changed the course of our lives. In my own life, I can't help but wonder where and who I'd be if my coach and adopted dad hadn't taken me in. To answer that question, I've decide to change that element of our protagonist's back story by taking Bruce Wayne out of his life. The entire experience has been really therapeutic (laughs).

THR: You’ve got great performances in the first episode. How many more do the actors seem on board for?

Johnson: My actors can't wait to get back on set! Actually, I was the one holding us back (laughs). The indiegogo hasn't reached its goal, and that's left me faced with a moral dilemma. I wasn't sure how comfortable I was having my actors work for free anymore. So I discussed my issue with one of my friends and Grayson series regular Tania Nolan (Underworld, Spartacus Blood and Sand), and her reply was simple. She said: "Don't be an idiot." I think it was exactly what I needed to hear, and we will be pushing forward until I either run out of money or I finish the show.

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THR: How long did it take you to shoot the first episode?

Johnson: We shot for nine days. It was a super fun and relaxed shoot. We had plenty of time to get what we needed, and I hope to keep it that way.

THR: What has the fan reaction been like?

Johnson: It's been amazing. I've gotten emails from all over the world. I've done radio interviews. Right now I'm a fan of our fans! They inspire me. I've recently found out that nothing makes a me want to take my work to the next level like having people that don't even know me,  trust me with their money. I know they only want one thing in return ... A great story. I'll make them proud.

THR: Have you heard any feedback from DC Warners? Do you have any concern about possible negative legal action from them?

Johnson: No to both. Warner Bros. actually encourages fan films. Sometimes they even arrange to screen fan films at comic book conventions. As long as I stay away from product placement, ad revenue and sponsors, I'm good. Every dime I make goes into making the show. As a matter of fact, I'm losing money on this because when I'm doing the show, I can't go out and make a living. Which is fine because I love what I do. However, I hope to make the show so well that I attract the attention of the WB or DC and they collaborate with me on this little adventure. 

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THR: How did you decide on indiegogo vs, say Kickstarter?

Johnson: I'm new at this whole thing, so everything was all based on a simple compromise. Either Vimeo or YouTube. Kickstarter or indiegogo. As an artist, I wanted my film to look as good as possible so I wanted Vimeo, but YouTube gets the traffic. So I caved and went with YouTube. In return, I pushed for indiegogo because it has a flexible funding option as opposed the all or nothing approach of Kickstarter. So we went with indiegogo over Kickstarter in case we’re forced to fund the show episode by episode. I'm glad we did. However, our next crowd-sourcing campaign will be on Kickstarter because the fans have requested it and insisted that it's a smarter option.