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'Corner Gas' headed to big screen, asks fans for help through Kickstarter

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TORONTO - The gang from "Corner Gas" is headed to the big screen — with a little help from fans through a Kickstarter campaign.

Creator and star Brent Butt announced Tuesday that a 90-minute feature film based on the wildly popular Canadian TV show will hit theatres in December.

"It was something we talked about really early on after the series ended. I kind of always wanted to go back one more time," Butt said in an interview with The Canadian Press. "This is when the timing feels right to us, and it happens to be the tenth anniversary of 'Corner Gas' hitting the air."

Shooting for "Corner Gas: The Movie" is set to begin next month in Rouleau, Sask. All eight of the central cast members are set to return and the plot focuses on a devious plan by a corporate chain that would change Dog River forever.

The film is unusual for a Canadian feature in two ways — it is being released directly by its executive producers, and the filmmakers have launched a Kickstarter campaign, which they say will allow fans to participate in the movie-making process.

The campaign at cornergasthemovie.com aims to raise $100,000 for the production in 30 days. Fans can chip in $50 for a T-shirt, $6,000 for a speaking role and $8,000 for a private premiere in a local theatre, among other rewards.

"Corner Gas: The Movie" is fully financed with an $8 million budget, including taxpayer funds from Telefilm Canada. The Kickstarter is more about fan engagement than fundraising, said co-executive producer Virginia Thompson.

"It's not a cash grab at all," she said. "When you raise money for a movie, you're not able to raise money to create unique experiences for fans. This is something we have to do outside of that."

Most of the $100,000 will pay for the fan rewards themselves — set visits, scripts, T-shirts, hats and more — and remaining funds will go toward improving production values, said Thompson.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that was originally intended to help fund independent projects that would not have access to traditional financing. Some established directors have been criticized for using Kickstarter, including Zach Braff for "Wish I Was Here."

Butt said he fully expected to face some backlash for using the crowdfunding website, but he said he knew it would appeal to diehard "Corner Gas" fans. The campaign had already raised $79,685 by late Tuesday night.

"There's always going to be a cynical group that says, 'What's the possible stinky downside to this?' You can't not do something good just because someone might find a crappy cloud to put over it," he said.

"We're telling people, 'We're going ahead with this, so feel free to throw in a buck or two if you want.' There's no coercion."

The film will be distributed directly by its executive producers through Prairie Pants Distribution. The theatrical opening in December will be followed by premieres on The Movie Network, CTV and The Comedy Network.

"Corner Gas," about gas station owner Brent Leroy (Butt) and friends in a fictional rural town, was a huge hit for CTV over its five-year run. The series finale made television history when a record-breaking 3 million viewers tuned in on April 13, 2009.

The movie picks up five years after the series finale and not much has changed for the residents of Dog River, Sask. But when Brent and the gang discover the town's been badly mismanaged, they must rally to save their sleepy hometown.

"These are people who don't like change. They like where they are, they like their life, and sometimes in a small town you could really get the sense that it's not changing. That's always been kind of a running theme of the show," he said.

"There are kind of a lot of towns in rural Canada that are facing difficult times. 'Are they going to survive? Are they going to stay alive?' It's getting harder and harder for rural Canada to stand up on its own. This kind of deals with that — a small town under attack, under threat of maybe not surviving."

Butt said the writers wanted to make sure that everything fans loved about 'Corner Gas' was a part of the film. Asked why he thought the show was such a hit, he said fans embraced its authenticity.

"We came along at a time when a lot of shows were hanging their hat on being edgy," he said. "I always thought that kind of sounds like when your uncle tries to tell you how cool he is. When somebody's telling you how dark and edgy they are, you're like, 'No you're not.'

"We never had that. We just thought, let's just make a show we really like, and that we really think is funny, because we thought nobody was going to watch anyway ... I think people picked up on that we didn't have another agenda. We weren't trying to be cool. We just wanted to be entertaining."

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