Legion M is a company name you may not recognize, but you may know of at least one of their projects on the way, not the least of which is Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which they had a hand in helping fund. So what sets these guys apart from everyone else?
If you go to their website, Legion M coins itself as the first fan-owned entertainment company…but what does that even mean? Upon hearing that, I can’t help but imagine a company that either takes the advice of thousands of fans or one that jumps into projects through a Kickstarter-like mean, but is that accurate?
While at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, I had a chance to meet up with co-founder Jeff Annison while at the Legion M lounge, and ask those very questions.
LRM Online: So Legion M, this is billed as sort of the first fan-owned entertainment company. Can you let me know or tell me what that means exactly?
Annison: Yeah, it’s a great question. We’re the first company that’s been built from day one to be owned by fans as opposed to like, corporate investors or Wall Street. And, the whole idea behind it is that as fans it’s our eyeballs and wallets that makes this entire multi-trillion dollar global industry go ’round and individually any one of us is just a consumer but when we unite we have this enormous power. And so, the idea was: what if everybody at Comic-Con pooled their money and said, “Let’s make an entertainment company of our own? And let’s finance projects and let’s invest in projects and develop projects that are literally owned by the fans.”
And it’s an amazingly powerful concept because then when your movie comes out, you’ve got a built-in audience that has been following along since day one, they’ve been involved with the process so you know they’re gonna come out opening night. They’re gonna bring their friends and family they’re gonna be talking about it on social media. And it creates the sort of grassroots buzz that a studio would kill for, but money can’t buy. And so, the idea is that our long-term goal, our Logos is an M with a bar over it, because our long term goal is to unite one million fans as shareholders of the company. And if we were to achieve that, we think we could literally be one of the most influential companies in Hollywood.
LRM Online: So is that what the M stands for? A million?
Annison: It’s the Roman numeral for a million. The M with a bar over it.
LRM Online: There you go. That’s a lost art, Roman numerals. I drop out after you get to 20 or so.
Annison: Yeah I know. Not many people know the M with the bar over it.
LRM Online: So, when it comes to funding different projects and all that, logistically, how does that work? When you say that, my mind just goes to Kickstarter type things and all that. What tools do you use to help make sure you don’t have to go to become the typical investor-focused company.
Annison: Yeah. It’s a great question. It’s something we tell people, it’s not a democracy. At the end of the day, we’re a company and there’s an art of Hollywood and a business of Hollywood. While I think that fans are the best resource on the planet to help us find content, evaluate content, make decisions about what people want to watch, the business of Hollywood is extremely complex. So, we an amazing advisory board with people that have centuries combined worth of experience in Hollywood navigating the business terms. But, everything that we do is driven by our community.
So, to give you an example, this year we went to Sundance to try and find a film that we could purchase the rights to. And normally when you got to Sundance there’s like 120 films there. They’re all new films like some of them are literally, there’s no trailer for it, there’s very little information but all of them have synopses, you can look up the cast and crew on IMDb, you can see what else they’ve done, and so what we did was we did the research to aggregate all the information for all… it was 119 films that we were considering. And we created a game that allowed our community to go in and rate and evaluate them and tell them, “What movie would you like to see?” You know? If these movies two movies were playing at the same time, which one would you choose to go see? And then we’d also ask them, “Which one do you think will be more successful commercially?”
And when we did this, we processed all of that data, and so when it comes time for us at the festival to choose what we wanna see, there’s already a watch list of, these are all the films that our community thinks are the most interesting. Then, at Sundance, we had probably, hundreds of Legion M people. We had a Legion M lounge, kind of like this, at Sundance. People could come out, you have to pay your own way to Sundance of course, but we had a place for you to hang out, we had a celebrity lounge, you know, all sorts of fun activities that were going on, and you could go see movies and provide your ratings and reviews.
Annison: And so, basically, traditionally, a Hollywood company at Sundance is going to make a decision based on a gut feel of one of two people. In our case, we had thousands of people participate. They cast 45,000 votes, and so it did two things. A, it gave our community a voice, like, we chose the film the film that we chose at Sundance because the community chose it, and B, it also allows us to leverage the wisdom of the crowd. We don’t have to get into an argument over, “What does your gut say, versus what my gut says,” we’ve got data from thousands of people’s guts. And so, it’s a totally different way to look at it and we like to talk about it because it’s a great way to illustrate, this is just one of the ways that we involve the community in what we do.
And so, we bought a film at Sundance, it’s a, it’s an amazing documentary, it’s called Memory: The Origin of Alien, it’s all about the making of the film, Alien, the impact that it had on pop culture and society, the roots, the mythology that inspired Alien. It’s amazing! It’s like, 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. We’ll be releasing it later this Fall and it was chosen by the Legion M community.
LRM Online: Wow, that’s really exciting! And I know also you’ve had a hand in movies like Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, which is actually at Hall H later today. What hand did you have in the making of that movie, or in the funding of that movie?
Annison: Yeah, so in that case, we got involved… We actually did, we have another one of our tools called “Impulse,” and this is a way that we regularly go out to the community and just ask questions. There’s some scout stuff in there, like, we’ll show trailers of films or we’ll have lists of log lines, and within all of those log lines and all those questions are, some of them are projects that we’re actually looking at. Some of them are just informational or control, that sort of thing.
But, um, we asked, one of the questions was, “If you could work with any director, who would it be?” And there were names like Guillermo del Toro and J.J. Abrams, and Kevin Smith was at the top of that list, he was one of the best… you know, the best ranked people on that list.
And so, we went out. We were talking with them about Jay and Silent Bob. We knew our community would be very open to it because of the “Impulse,” so we invested in that film. So, if you invest in Legion M, you literally own a stake in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, along with, oh sorry, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, along with Memory: the Origin of Alien and all the projects that are on our slate.
Because we invested early in that one, so, the Alien documentary, we bought that when, after it was already a completed film. In the course of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, we invested early which meant we got to have people go on the set to be in there for production. We actually gave away some set visits to Legion M members and when they flew out there, Kevin surprised them and gave them a walk on role in the film, so they actually made it in the film.
We also worked with their team for casting of extras. They had some Comicon scenes, they needed a massive amount of extras, and so we got priority for Legion M investors and members of the community to be a part, to actually be in the film. And when it releases later in this, ah, I think it releases in October, we’ll be working with them. It’s going to be going on tour around the country and we’re going to have some cool stuff going on with them as well.
LRM Online: How does one become a Legion M investor?
Annison: So, first of all, you don’t have to invest in the company. You can join for free, there’s no cost, there’s no obligation, you just sign up on the website and that gets you into the community. And actually makes you eligible for a lot of the Legion M perks, like coming to this lounge, and you know, coming to Sundance. There’s some stuff that’s reserved only for our investors, but a lot of it is available to members as well.
If you choose to invest, which you’re welcome to, you don’t have to invest! Like I said, you can be a free member forever, but if you want to invest, right now it’s a minimum a hundred dollar investment and it’s, you just go to our website, there’s a link there, there’s a platform right now called Wefunder, which is kind of like a Kickstarter for equity crowdfunded companies like ours. It’s important, a lot of people don’t necessarily realize this but, when you back a product on Kickstarter, it’s not an investment, right? You’re backing it. It’s effectively a donation in exchange for a presale of the product, and you know, a t-shirt or a mug, or your name in the credits, or whatever perk level you get. With Legion M, you’re actually investing. You’re buying stock in the company, so we tell people it’s like investing in Disney back when they were just getting off the ground with Walt and Roy.
So, obviously, our hope is that we could be, I mean, shoot, we don’t have to be… If we had a fraction, a tiny fraction of the success of Disney, our investors would do really, really well. You actually own a piece of it so it’s really cool. It’s this wonderful virtuous cycle that where… because of the fact that you own a piece of Jay and Silent Bob, it’s exciting! Our goal is to open the gates of Hollywood and let you be a part of it, bring you along for the ride. And the wonderful thing is you’re supporting the movie. If the movie goes on to be successful, that’s valuable for you as a shareholder in the company.
LRM Online: Last question, apart from the movies we’ve just discussed, is there anything out there that you’re really excited to talk about that maybe is coming this year or next year, or down the line that you can say stuff about?
Annison: We’ve got a very full slate. A lot of projects. There’s a couple we haven’t announced yet, but there’s another really good one that I’ll mention which is called Girl with No Name. It’s a… the way to think of it is it’s a, um, think of the storyline of True Grit, but with a protagonist that’s like Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games, or Ripley from Alien. Like this badass female protagonist that doesn’t need the men to solve all the problems.
It takes place in the Old West, but it’s shot in the style of, think of like, 300. This highly visually stylized, almost like a comic book, turned into a movie sort of this with a driving hip-hop soundtrack that goes with it. That’s kind of the vision for the movie and what we decided to do, we partnered up with the producers for this and we decided to start with a comic book for two reasons. One is, it’s a great way to develop traction for the IP so that when you try and sell it to a studio or get financiers and investors to produce the film, if you’ve go traction behind it and a fan base, it helps, you know? The other thing is, we thought it was a wonderful opportunity to basically bring the community into the development process.
Because if you think about it, a comic book is a lot like storyboards for a movie. And so, by publishing the storyboards for the movie, we’re putting those out to the public, we’re soliciting feedback from all of the readers and for all the people that backed the project. So, it’s a great way to get feedback from people about, “What do you think about this?” One of the things we did, we had three separate covers from two different artists and you go to choose your cover of the comic book. And so the one that won that had the most people chose it, that became the cover for the comic book. The other two became exclusives to the Kickstarter campaign that we used to launch it.
But again, that data that we got showed us that, okay, these were three great images. It doesn’t matter what you like better or what I like better, this is what all the people like better. We’re doing development meetings with all the people that back it… We launched it on Kickstarter, we went in thinking we might raise, like, 6 grand, which is kind of like the average for a comic book on Kickstarter. We ended with over $135,000 worth of pre-sales, which again, considering this wasn’t an established fan base, wasn’t an established IP, we were starting from scratch, it’s really remarkable.
So when we go now, we’re working to package it and pitch it to Netflix or studios and it’s a great story. So we hope to have… the comic book will be coming out any day now and really though, the goal is to launch the film and so we hope to have news about that, but we’ll see.
LRM Online: Awesome, well I forward to hearing all about this, it’s really interesting talking to you. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to join me.
Annison: Thank you for having me on your show!
LRM Online: Absolutely!
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