Q&A: How JK! Studios raised $1 million to produce Season 2 of comedy ‘Freelancers’
Executive producer Natalie Madsen explains how JK! Studios partnered with Angel Studios and used crowdfunding to raise the needed funds
The original cast members of “Studio C” cast set out on their own and created a new successful show, “Freelancers,” but they needed serious cash to make a second season.
How long did it take them to crowdfund $1 million?
The answer is one month, starting in December 2020 and continuing through the first week of 2021, thanks to a partnership with Provo-based Angel Studios.
The fan-raised funds made it possible for their new comedy network, JK! Studios, to produce Season 2 of “Freelancers,” a family-friendly comedy show about a group of friends who want to start a video production company but have no money.
With funding secure, the creative team of JK! Studios invested six or seven weeks to write eight episodes, filmed from May to August, and began releasing episodes in mid-November, according to Natalie Madsen, executive producer for JK! Studios and a former longtime cast member of BYUtv’s popular sketch-comedy show “Studio C.”
“It’s been quite a busy year for us,” Madsen said, “from start to finish, from crowdfunding to everything is out in 12 months. So very, very fun and very busy.”
The first episode of “Freelancers,” Season 2, is available on YouTube, but to watch the other seven episodes you will need to download the free Angel Studios app.
“Freelancers” is the latest crowdfunding project from Angel Studios, previously known as VidAngel. Angel Studios’ most successful crowdfunding project has been “The Chosen,” a religious show that focuses on the life of Jesus Christ.
“Freelancers” premiered on YouTube in 2019 and Season 1 featured eight episodes, which tallied more than 7 million views.
With all eight episodes of Season 2 available for viewing, Madsen spoke with the Deseret News about the decision to partner with Angel Studios and the process of crowdfunding, her personal experiences with JK! Studios and future plans for “Freelancers,” among other topics.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: How did you become the executive producer after so many years performing sketch comedy in front of the camera?
Natalie Madsen: As a creative group, we were writers and actors on “Studio C” for eight years. A few years back now, we left to make our own company called JK! Studios, where we can make all sorts of different shows, all comedy, all family-friendly, but just kind of more than just a sketch show. In that process of changing, I started learning more behind-the-camera stuff, and how to fund, produce, film and edit and all that kind of stuff. We have all learned a lot more behind the camera. So now with Season 2, I was able to really do more behind the camera, for sure, than in front of it for the first time, which was fun. It was a real learning experience for me.
DN: What was the reasoning behind the decision to partner with Angel Studios for “Freelancers” Season 2?
NM: It was a new venture for us. It allowed us to connect with our audience and fan base and get them to be involved with the show, invest in the show. It’s been a cool process. ... We’ve always been friendly with the creators of Angel Studios. We’re content creators that live in Provo, Utah, which is kind of a small pool. With them doing shows like “The Chosen” and “Tuttle Twins,” we saw that they were able to access the audience in order to make things happen.
With JK! Studios, after we made a few shows, we had pitches with all the streaming services you could think of, and there’s just a lot of barriers there. A lot of streaming services don’t see the value of family-friendly comedy. But with Angel Studios, they were able to say, “OK, if you can crowdfund it, that means that there is a need for it.” We took out the middleman and went directly to the audience and fan base, which was really cool.
We’ve built this fan base over years and years of putting out clean comedy into the world, and crowdfunding has enabled us to make the show we want to make and directly connect our fans to it.
DN: What does the crowdfunding process look like and how did you raise $1 million in one month?
NM: It was crazy. ... It just goes to show how much people really wanted to see more of the show. It was an exciting and humbling experience for sure.
We worked with Angel Studios closely on it. We would do weekly livestreams where we hop on and have people hop on with us and interact with us, answer questions, talk about what we wanted to make. There was all sorts of online strategy there. But it really was just activating that fan base we built for a while. That was really the biggest play.
DN: Now that Season 2 is finished and out there, what experiences, memories or challenges stand out?
NM: This is my favorite time of the show — when everything’s out — and you can just go and binge it.
Definitely, filming and creating in the middle of a pandemic has very unique challenges that I don’t think anyone has ever really had to navigate before. It was testing, masks and trying to keep everyone healthy and safe. But at the same time, we’re filming in this tiny little house, and there’s all this crew and all these people. So just trying to keep everyone healthy and safe was a unique stressor.
It was also important to us that we get those episodes out within a year of funding. We wanted those investors to see the fruits of their investment quickly. We didn’t want to crowdfund and say, “OK, that will probably come out in a couple of years.” We wanted to show people what we could do.
With eight episodes, each about 20-30 minutes long, we basically made two movies in a year, which is a lot of work. But we’re always up for a challenge and we love working together as a creative group. Even though it was a challenge, we also recognize it’s such a blessing to be able to even do it. So it was a ton of work, but a ton of fun, for sure.
DN: You are a mother as well as an executive producer. How many children do you have?
NM: I have three, ages 9, 7 and 4. I had them all during my “Studio C” time. So every once in a while when you are watching “Studio C” episodes, I change all shapes and sizes, because I had three pregnancies on the show. It’s actually pretty fun to look back. My kids are getting into old “Studio C” sketches, which has been fun. It’s been fun to say, “Oh yeah, you were in my tummy. I was really sick on set that day because I was pregnant with you.” It’s been fun to have everything documented.
DN: What’s next for “Freelancers”? Will there be a third season and if so, will you continue to crowdfund with Angel Studios?
NM: Now that Season 2 is out, we’re looking to grow that audience and get it onto more platforms, see who else we can reach who hasn’t heard of us before.
Then of course, we would love to do at least one more season. Ideally, we would love to do two more seasons and maybe even a movie with these characters in the future. We’re hoping to just keep growing and growing. For now, it’s out and we want to get it in front of more eyeballs.
Crowdfunding for Season 3 is definitely a possibility. We’ll see how Season 2 goes. This is kind of uncharted territory for us. This is the first time we have ever crowdfunded, so we will see how things go.
DN: How has the cast changed since the days of “Studio C”?
NM: I think we have all grown as creators. We’re all still very much in each other’s lives. We see each other all the time. We’re always talking ideas and writing.
We also have different side projects going on. Mallory Everton, Whitney (Call) Meek and Stephen Meek made a movie last year. A couple of us just finished a screenplay. Adam Berg wrote a couple of books. So we’re all exploring different creative projects but at the same time we have this baseline of getting together at least yearly to create something. So it’s been fun to see us all kind of spread our creative wings a little bit. We’re just hoping to grow and expand, and we’ll always do stuff together. It’s a huge blessing to have a creative team that you know, love and trust. The plan is just to keep making stuff together forever.