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Fans, executive producer pumped by reaction to 'Corner Gas' Kickstarter campaign

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ROULEAU, Sask. - The temperature hovered around 25 C as the Garvie family from Sacramento, Calif., soaked up the sun on their family vacation — but this wasn't their planned trip to Hawaii.

Ben and Angela, along with sons Ian and Aidan, went to Rouleau, Sask., better known as the fictional town of Dog River in "Corner Gas."

Stars from the hit Canadian TV series were on location filming a movie and the Garvies paid $3,000 through what is known as a Kickstarter campaign to get a VIP set tour.

"We chose Saskatchewan over Hawaii. This is my trip to Hawaii," Angela Garvie said with a laugh.

"It's fabulous! Look, it's a sea of canola. It's beautiful. We're so happy we did this. It's a great experience."

Ben Garvie was the one who got his family hooked on "Corner Gas" after discovering the series online. Garvie says he was drawn into "this wonderful escapist comedy" by the writing.

He says the set visit was a unique opportunity for the family.

"They've laid out incredible stuff for us with just structured tours and behind-the-scenes things," said Garvie.

"But when we're sitting, the cast comes up, they're the nicest people, someone you've watched hundreds and thousands of times on the TV, and there they are, right there, coming up and introducing themselves. You can't put a price on that."

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding website that allows people to donate to projects, often in exchange for rewards. Its stated purpose is to be a new way to fund creative projects, big and small. But it is often used by independent or first-time creators who do not have access to traditional financing.

The Kickstarter campaign for "Corner Gas: The Movie" raised a whopping $285,840 — nearly three times its $100,000 goal.

Executive producer Virginia Thompson says the money came from more than 2,500 fans around the world, including the United States, Europe, Australia, and as far away as Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Thompson says she wanted to make sure the resources were in place to let people know "Corner Gas" would be in theatres in December. Kickstarter was a way to engage fans while also boosting financing.

"When you finance a feature film, you get just enough money to make the film — that's it. You don't get extra money to do extra things," said Thompson.

"So we thought, well, if we're going to open up our sets to fans, we need financing.

"The second reason is because we really wanted to market the film well, and in Canada we were worried that marketing the theatrical release would be a challenge. I love Canadian features, but I'm personally frustrated that Canadian features don't get that much promotion generally. There are some winners out there, but the average Canadian feature film doesn't get a lot of promotion."

Thompson says smaller, lower-budget films have used Kickstarter campaigns as a method of financing. But she knew there would be a lot of questions about why a popular brand like "Corner Gas" would do it.

There was some explaining to do, she said.

"I think what was interesting is the public got it immediately. The fans got it immediately. But I think the industry was going, 'Wow, this has never happened before,' and so it was more clarifying it from an industry perspective instead of from a public perspective," said Thompson.

"We got our confidence because you see this kind of stuff going on in the United States and you can see that it's working.

"But there was a lot of research to do it right and there was a lot of nerves. We really wanted the campaign to give more than we in fact get from our fans. That was a very important piece of it, so there was a lot of work to make sure that there was real, tangible value for people who actually backed us."

One man in Saskatoon paid $8,000 to host the private, world-debut screening of "Corner Gas: The Movie." He plans to make it a charity event for the Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation and for local children's charities.

Ian Garvie, 15, first heard about the Kickstarter campaign on Instagram where he follows "Corner Gas" creator and star Brent Butt. Ian says he ran to his dad and showed him the details.

It didn't take any arm twisting to convince Ben Garvie to buy the set visit experience.

"I'd say he was more over the top about it than I was or any of us were," Ian said, laughing.

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