At New York Comic Con this year, I had the privilege to sit down with Jeff Annison, co-founder and president of Legion M.
Michael – What exactly is Legion M?
Jeff – We are the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company. We’re using brand new equity crowdfunding laws (that just went into effect a couple of years ago) to effectively crowdfund an entertainment company that produces film and television projects. I say crowdfunding but its actuality equity crowdfunding. So, everyone is familiar with Kickstarter, which is great, but when you back a Kickstarter, you’re donating in exchange for a presale product, perk or your name in the credits. With equity crowdfunding, you’re actually investing to own stock in Legion M.
We like to say it’s like going back in time and investing in Walt Disney Studios when it was just Walt and Roy when they were just making black and white cartoons.
The name of our company is Legion M and the “M” with the bar over it is the Roman Numeral for 1 million because our long term goal is to unite 1 million fans as shareholders in the company.
The fundamental premise is that an entertainment company that’s owned by fans has fundamental competitive advantages against those that are owned by Wall Street and corporate conglomerates.
Michael – Like the solely business-minded people?
Jeff – Exactly. What it really comes down to is we are trying to build a studio that when we release a film, we know that there is a legion of people who are going to see it opening night. They’re going to bring their friends and family they’re gonna talk about it on social media because it’s their movie that they’ve been following since day one.
We believe that if we can achieve a million shareholders or even a decent fraction of that, we can bitterly become one of the most influential companies in Hollywood.
It has been designed from the ground up so this was never possible until about three years ago and some of these securities laws changed to enable equity crowdfunding. Because it has been designed to be owned by the fans, we operate fundamentally different than a lot of other entertainment companies.
Our focus is how can we tap this amazing resource that we have which is over 20k investors?
Also, you don’t have to invest to be a part of Legion M.
You can join for free and our overall communities have over 100k of the most passionate fans on the planet.
Michael – You mentioned film is a big part of this, do you mean feature films or straight to video releases?
Jeff – Both. The films that we’ve been involved with so far the first one is COLOSSAL with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis from 2016. It was an independent film and shown in about 2k theaters. The second one was BAD SAMARITAN with David Tennant and that came out in about 2k theaters around the country. The third was the Nicolas Cage movie MANDY with a theatrical and On-Demand release. The forth was A FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL. It was a small, independent horror anthology that had a small theatrical and on-demand release.
Then we did TOLKIEN that was a partnership with FOX Searchlight with a typical theatrical release.
Our next two are MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN which is a documentary of the making of ALIEN, the mythological underpinnings, the collaboration between Dan O’Bannon the screenwriter and Ridley Scott, and H.R. Giger who designed the iconic aliens. That’s a day and date so it’s playing in 20 theaters and on-demand at the same time. Then there’s the JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT from Kevin Smith. That will have a theatrical release.
We also have television projects in development, we have a virtual reality project with Stan Lee so we are all over the map.
For us, it’s not about the medium because we did a comic book with The Girl with No Name. So, it’s what is the best way we can harness the resource of fans. There’s a lot of really interesting ways that you can apply that across almost any of the business models and the release models that are in the industry today.
Michael – There is no media that you guys aren’t into? You’re just looking to reach as many people as you can?
Jeff – Literally, the way I would think of it is like this: you have a fan-owned entertainment company, you have this much in the bank, you’ve got a 100k people…what do you want to do?
Paul Scanlon and I are the cofounders of the company. We come from a Silicon Valley background and back in 1999, we started a company along with one other guy with 3 guys working in a spare room so it’s the typical Silicon Valley story. In 2003 we launched live TV on cell phones. These were old school flip phones back when cameras on a phone were a novelty and we launched a service that had 14 channels of live, streaming tv…it was terrible.
People said that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. No one is going to watch TV on a cellphone but 2-3 years later, we won an Emmy for Innovation in Television because of what we had done. We had offices around the world with 300-400 employees and we were literally the worldwide leader in streaming because if you think back to those days, the only place people watched TV was on a TV, not a computer. We were the first ones to effectively stream outside of the home.
It was challenging because we would go to these cable companies and they would be like “this sounds interesting but we don’t have the rights in the contracts because it wasn’t thought of to put in there.” We had The Discovery Channel, ABC News, and a music video channel.
Paul and I have deep Silicone Valley roots and the philosophy there is all about experimenting and trying to fail fast. Don’t spend all your time trying to architect the ultimate solution and unveil it but, instead, get something out there and get feedback to see if it works. If it does, go on to version 2, if it doesn’t then punt it.
That’s the philosophy that we take and we so we try to stay focused because people are investing in us.
Michael – Are there places where the company wouldn’t?
Jeff – I don’t think we would invest in ballet because that seems tangential but we would do gaming. Gaming makes more money than the film industry these days and I think that just because you’re a film fan doesn’t mean you don’t play games on your cell phone, right? There’s really a large latitude and a lot of what we do it all comes down to what -I said at the beginning: where does having a legion of fans make a difference?
A great example is the MEMORY documentary. We bought that at Sundance. Sundance is a place for people to watch films but it’s also a marketplace where distributors go to acquire films. We wanted to acquire a film but there were 119 films on our radar. Most of them had never played before, there’s no actual information about them. You would hear rumors but how do you figure out what to watch? You can only watch about 8 while there.
We crowdsourced it and created a game that allowed anyone in the Legion to drop in to rate and evaluate all the films. We aggregated the information with the synopsis, interviews, YouTube videos, and whatever else that was useful. At the end of the day, we ended up with 40k votes from around the world.
We went to Sundance with a watch list with not just a few people’s opinions, we have thousands. At Sundance, we have a lounge that we host there every year so it’s a great opportunity for anyone who’s ever wanted to go to Sundance. We said to come to Sundance but don’t just come as a fan but come as a Legion M film scout.
Celebrities come through as a part of their press junket. While we were there with MANDY, we hosted the premiere party for the film and Nicolas Cage was there; and his plus one was Vince Neil from Motley Crue.
So this is what we do so come to Sundance and hang out. While there, here’s the watchlist and go watch these movies.
The boots on the ground in Park City are there to let us know whether a movie is good or not.
Deciding a movie based on who’s in it and the synopsis is very similar to like how people choose what they’re going to watch. You have to choose a book by its cover because you just don’t know. The boots on the ground are people who say it’s good or bad.
We partnered with Screen Media and bought the North American distribution rights when this film comes out, this film is the first time that the fans united to find a film at Sundance and it’s the fan’s money to purchase the rights. That works because the fans give us a competitive advantage. The thousands of film scouts that participated is wonderful because it gives you the investor a voice in what your company is doing.
It also allows us to synthesize the wisdom of the crowd that allows us to make better decisions as a company. It’s a very virtuous cycle with the more you contribute to the company, the more likely the company succeeds and you get to share the rewards.
Michael – How would someone join the Legion? Is there an app?
Jeff – We don’t have an app yet but you can go to www.LegionM.com to invest. You don’t have to invest to be a part of it. We realize asking fans to invest a lot upfront is a big ask. You can join for free, get to know us & the community, and get invited to the Facebook groups.
If you invest in Legion M, the most likely outcome is that you will lose your investment. We are a startup company and that’s just the honest truth. The startups that succeed go on to change the world. So we invite you to come along and let’s change the world.
Michael – What is the minimum investment?
Jeff – $100 is the minimum and right now the average investment is $400 to $500. For us, it’s all about the number of people involved.
Michael – Are the people who can be involved able to share their opinions on a higher level?
Jeff – That’s a great question. I think the answer is that this isn’t a democracy that everyone can’t vote on everything because that would be a disaster.
The way that I would put it is this: We believe that a legion of passionate fans is the greatest asset we could find to help us evaluate the art of Hollywood. We are constantly creating ways like Scout that taps into that. We have another tool called Impulse that we send things out frequently for the people to vote on what is a good idea or bad. At the end of the day, I’m management of the company. I work for the shareholders and so our job is to make sure that our shareholder base is happy. It literally is the foundation of everything that we do: what does the community think of this?
That said, there is a whole other side of Hollywood and that’s the business side of Hollywood. That is just as important for the long term success of the company as the art of Hollywood. It has a long history of taking money from starry-eyed investors who want to be a part of it and close to the glow so, we have worked really hard to establish an advisory board.
We have an amazing board with executives from LucasFilm, Sony, Netflix, Alamo Draft House, Stupid Buddies Studio, and people who have (combined) centuries worth of experience in Hollywood. When it comes to the business side, by and large, the fans don’t have the background or have access to the confidential information. Honestly, you need people to tell you who the sharks are like “don’t deal with this person” because you can’t trust them. We look at it like this: on one hand, we get the wisdom of the crowd combined with, on the other hand, the people who know Hollywood.
With MEMORY, we were coming up with poster design and, as always happens, there are different opinions on the final product. So we said let’s have the Legion decide and we ended up using 2 different designs because the voting was so close. One became the key art and the other became a limited edition exclusive that you can get if you see it opening weekend.
We are always trying to find new and novel ways to tap into our community to give them a voice and at the same time make it fun. Back to the Scout example, rating and evaluating 119 films can be fun but it can also be a draining experience so we built a game to make to fun for people. Playing the game, we would show you two films and you rate them 1-5. We also made you choose that if 2 films were playing at the same time, which would you see? We also asked what do you predict that the other scouts will choose to see?
We used a leader board to show how good at predicting what other Legion members will choose. The top 75 people got a special pin that’s an Elite Scout pin. When we get opportunities to evaluate films, we can share screeners with a few of the Elite Scout. This shows us the people who have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening and we can have them go to the events.
The fact that you’ve got a legion of people to come out to see a movie means that we can take bigger risks and do things that are different. We don’t want to extend existing franchises, we want to create our own. The fact that we are owned by fans gives us a leg up.
I want to thank both Jeff and Legion M for speaking with me about the company. It shed a lot of light on what they do and how they get the Legion Involved.