Joel Hodgson can’t wait to show you what he’s been working on. “It’s the benefit of having a year of being locked in the guest room with lots of time to come up with ideas,” the creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000 says. Since Netflix declined to order more MST3K in the fall of 2019, Hodgson and the team at Alternaversal Productions have been hard at work keeping the tapes circulating, so to speak: Pre-COVID-19, that meant mounting live tours; during the pandemic, that’s meant putting new spins on old episodes and reuniting cast members from throughout its 30-plus-year history for a charitable cause. Now, they’re ready to unveil the next chapter of their flagship movie-riffing series.
Nearly six years ago, MST3K was reborn thanks to a record-setting Kickstarter campaign; this afternoon, Hodgson and company launched a new crowdfunding effort for a 13th season, with a key distinction. There’s no Netflix involved, and no cable channels, either. If #MakeMoreMST3K reaches all of its goals in 30 days, 12 new feature-length episodes and 12 shorts will be delivered directly to MSTies, shortly after completion, via a dedicated MST platform dubbed the Gizmoplex.
“It’s our own network this time,” Hodgson says. “It’s so much better than pitching to an executive who’s seen it all.”
Jonah Ray is set to resume the role of yellow-jumpsuited test subject Jonah Heston, teaming with robot friends Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn) and Crow T. Robot (Hampton Yount) to lampoon the bad movies sent to them by mad scientists Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day) and Max (Patton Oswalt). While the faces and voices will carry over from the most recent TV iteration of MST3K, the show is preparing to turn away from the binge-release model of the Netflix seasons. New episodes will roll out individually on the Gizmoplex.
“It’s a little richer experience for the people making it and doing it that traditional way,” Hodgson says. “It’s better for watching, too, having them paced out one at a time. It’s really the style that built our show—we really ignored the way TV was made back then and just kind of made it work for us.”
“You get tickets to every show and they premiere,” Hodgson says of the Gizmoplex. “There’s a point where [the audience] can all be there right at the beginning of it. There’ll be a way to discuss it, too—chat and stuff, while you watch stuff.”
When it came time to design a new online home for the series’ past, present, and future, Hodgson wanted to avoid the feeling that MST3K was being given its own nondescript on-demand portal. “I didn’t want to just do a ‘Netflix with more MST’—all these tiles that you click on and go, ‘Okay, what else you got?’” he says. Conceptually, the Gizmoplex is a movie theater run by Day and Oswalt’s mad scientist characters, one that can host special events, a rotating selection of classic episodes, and interactive components featuring the cast and characters of Mystery Science Theater. In describing the Gizmoplex, Hodgson likens it to a virtual theme park, Hollywood’s famed Magic Castle, and one of TV’s gold standards for comedic world-building.
“It reminds me a little bit of SCTV where The Mads are falling all over each other, trying to do new things in the Gizmoplex in the hopes of making more money,” he says of the platform’s role within the universe of the show. “[SCTV] did that so well where, behind the scenes, they’d be planning something and then you’d see it realized on the show, and that was always so fun.”
The Kickstarter’s initial goal, set at $2 million, will fund the launch of the Gizmoplex and the production of three new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. All funds raised up to $5.5 million will pay for additional episodes, as well as apps that will bring the Gizmoplex to mobile and OTT devices. (The 2015 #BringBackMST3K Kickstarter raised $5.76 million from 48,270 backers.) Enough behind-the-scenes work has been done to allow production to begin (under COVID-safe protocols, of course) almost immediately after after the crowdfunding concludes; Hodgson estimates the new episodes and the Gizmoplex will be online later this year. But, ultimately, he admits, the shape of the final product is up to the fans.
“We don’t always know what we’ll announce during the Kickstarter,” he says. “It’s just this living thing. It’s like an iceberg, right? You know that so much of the iceberg is under the surface and you can’t really show it all. But people will indicate the parts of it they want to see.”
With the Kickstarter now underway, he can start that show-and-tell process.
“It’s getting to a point now where I can show it all to the writers,” Hodgson says. “In a way, the audience is seeing it at the same time that a lot of the creative team is seeing it as well.
“We can kind of show our work as we’re doing it, which is my favorite part. We have to entertain [the fans] very directly and make them really content happy that they put money into it.”
Read on for more excerpts from The A.V. Club’s exclusive interview with Joel Hodgson.
AVC: It’s been almost six years since the first Kickstarter launched. What would you say is is different this time?
Joel Hodgson: We know what we can do now. Before it was really unclear—what would this thing look like? What would it feel like? It seemed like the huge goal was could we land it in the world of Mystery Science Theater, and make it feel like Mystery Science Theater again. We didn’t want it to be a love letter to the past—we want to make it now, and know what we know now, not pretend it’s the ’90s.
I think the other thing that’s different is we have so much more identity now than we did back then. It was just kind of like a nostalgia thing [in 2015]. And now we kind of have these things like the live shows and and the shows on Netflix that are our new identity.
AVC: Does introducing the technological elements of the Gizmoplex feel at all daunting?
JH: We got really good people working on it and some really interesting partners for it. We’re working with Scener, if you know them—that’s what the Alamo Drafthouse does with live weekly events.
JH: We have to plan this to do it all remotely. We did experiment with that when we did the MIGIZI shorts. [Produced in the summer of 2020, the shorts “A Busy Day At The County Fair” and “Behind The Scenes At The Supermarket” had Matt McGinnis and puppet operators Nate Begle and Conor McGiffin providing silhouettes for riffs voiced by Hodgson, Bill Corbett, and J. Elvis Weinstein.—Ed.] That was kind of our first test to see if we would lose anything in translation. And most people didn’t seem to notice or even think about it.
I’m kind of astonished how flexible MST is—that we can kind of even look at it this way and break it apart and record each person separately. It’s not going to be a Zoom meeting. We have some conceits that make sense out of [the remote recording]—you’re on the moon, we do a lot of stuff in spacesuits, right?
Our fans are so graceful. It makes me feel not afraid technically of going after it. And even if there’s some problems, they really seem to thrive on that just because of the nature of the show.
On being cognizant of launching a crowdfunding campaign during a time of pandemic-related economic downturn
JH: That’s the other thing we want to be sensitive and alert to. We’re trying to figure out cool ways to make it so people can visit the Gizmoplex if they can’t afford a pass. There’s ways that if your friend’s solid, he can buy passes and bring you along. There’s some one day passes that are very affordable as well.
AVC: You don’t want it to turn into a walled garden.
JH: No, it can’t be. I’m trying to look at it like a roadside attraction on the moon where you can come and spend as much time as you want. But it’s also easy to bring your friends so they can experience it—you share that.