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Hollywood crowdfunding: how Legion M studio uses fans-turned-investors to make films

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William Shatner attends the William Shatner Handprint Ceremony hosted by Legion M during Comic-Con International 2022: San Diego at Theater Box on July 21, 2022 in San Diego, California.

Emma McIntyre | Getty Images

When Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison first envisioned their production studio, Legion M, they decided to build not just a business, but a community.

The movie studio behind buzzy names like “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” “Colossal” and the upcoming William Shatner documentary “You Can Call Me Bill” is part of a shift in Hollywood over the past decade towards a new crowdfunding model, allowing producers to solicit donations for film and television projects and reward investors with more than just limited edition merchandise.

Now fans can get a real return on their investment.

“I think a lot of people look at crowdfunding as a different way to raise money,” said Annison, co-founder and president of Legion M. “It’s a different way to fund your business, or a different way to fund your film. And we see it as a fundamentally different way of building a fundamentally different type of business.”

Legion M was launched in 2016 as a result of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act, which lowered the barriers to entry for raising capital and allowed businesses to access financing in a way that was previously prohibited due to securities regulations.

While crowdfunding isn’t a new concept, Legion M takes it a step further by giving everyday moviegoers a seat at the Hollywood table.

In less than a decade, the studio has worked with a number of Hollywood stars, including Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis on 2016’s “Colossal” and Simon Pegg and Minnie Driver in 2023’s “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose.”

The company also funded the recently released cryptocurrency documentary “This is Not Financial Advice.”

Risks and rewards

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo have long allowed creators to tap into their most ardent fan bases to create content.

In the past, Kickstarter backers have generated $3.1 million for Zach Braff’s film “Wish I Was Here” in 2014, $5.7 million for Rob Thomas’ film “Veronica Mars” in 2014 and a record $11.3 million for Critical Role’s animated film “Legend of Vox Machina.” series, which was later picked up by Amazon Main video.

However, Kickstarter does not allow campaign creators to offer financial returns to those who donate.

This is what sets Legion M apart. If a film or television project performs well at the box office or is purchased by a distributor, those who invested receive a cut.

“For the William Shatner documentary, we basically replaced the role of one financier writing that check with 1,200 smaller financiers writing smaller checks,” Annison said.

The minimum investment for the documentary was $100.

Investors can also purchase a stake in Legion M itself for just $40. The company claims to have more than 45,000 investors.

For Legion M’s “My Dead Friend Zoe,” the company raised money from Legion M investors and larger, more traditional Hollywood financiers, including Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce.

From left, Chris Temple, Glauber Contessoto, Zach Ingrasci and Rayz Rayl of “This Is Not Financial Advice” pose for a portrait during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at Spring Studio on June 10, 2023 in New York City.

Erik Tanner | Getty Images

Legion M offers creators access to its fan base, which independent filmmaker Chris Temple, co-director of “This is Not Financial Advice,” found compliments his documentary. His film focuses on several retail investors navigating the peaks and valleys of the crypto world.

He said working with Legion M “felt very natural from the first call.”

“This is a popular film about investors finally gaining access to markets they haven’t had access to and about people taking control of their own finances,” he said, noting the parallels with the work of Legion M.

The fans know best

Legion M is not alone in this space. Angel Studios made headlines after its “Sound of Freedom” funded by crowdfunding grossed around $250 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of just $14.5 million.

While Angel Studios bills itself as a production studio that brings “light” to entertainment, its primary goal is to elevate religious titles to the mainstream. Legion M’s focus is the Comic Con audience, although it diversifies its portfolio to include comedies, thrillers, murder mysteries, dramas, sci-fi action films and documentaries.

Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan attend the world premiere of “You Can Call Me Bill” during the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Paramount Theater on March 16, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Frazer Harrison | Getty Images

“The great thing about what Legion M does is we create a built-in audience,” said Scanlan, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

The company’s logo, an “M” topped with a bar representing the Roman numeral for one million, is a nod to Legion M’s goal of attracting one million fans as shareholders.

“Imagine an entertainment company or studio that has a million fans who are literally financially invested in the films they release, but are also emotionally invested in the films.” » Annison said. “Because they’ve been following us since day one and they’ve had a chance to go behind the scenes and hear the director articulate his story and his vision of what the film will be.”

One such fan is Matt Conkling, who made his first investment in the company in 2019, attracted by the way Legion M offered investors the opportunity to not only donate money, but also get involved in production.

Shortly after his first investment, Conkling saw a post from the company asking a number of accessories including neon signs and automobiles for his mystery thriller film “Archenemy,” which starred Joe Manganiello of “True Blood.”

“I raised my hand,” said Conkling, who offered his 1975 Chevrolet El Camino. Two days later, Conkling received a call to help him manage the car on set.

“So it went from, ‘Here are my keys,’ to a huge crash course in the film industry,” he said. “After that, I was hooked.”

Conkling had previously tried to get in on the ground floor of a film project from another production company he preferred not to name, but he failed to meet the minimum investment amount of $25. 000 $.

“How often do ordinary people have the opportunity to potentially invest in something for a small amount? ” he said.

For Conkling, Legion M has become more than a casual investment, it has become a career of sorts. While he continues to finance individual film projects that the company promotes – and has said he eventually wants to invest enough to own 1% of the company – by donating his car to a production, he has managed to find your place in Hollywood.

After “Archenemy,” Conkling was tapped to find the titular white van for Legion M’s “The Man in the White Van,” a crime thriller based on true events that occurred in the 1970s. That gig spawned one another on “The Long Game” by Dennis Quaid, filmed in Texas. And it didn’t stop there: Conkling can even be seen playing dead in the background of the Netflix movie “The Gray Man”.

“Legion M is the gift that keeps on giving,” Conkling said.

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