So have you heard of Legion M? If not, you must have at least seen their logo. It’s the big red M with the bar on top. They are the fan-owned company that connects the audience with the creators by getting them to literally invest in projects. It’s genius honestly, and something that wasn’t really possible until 2016 when new federal laws finally allowed regular people to invest modest amounts of money into companies. It was this key moment, in fact, when co-founder and president Jeff Annison started the company with fellow co-founder and CEO Paul Scanlan.
Now, after a few years, they have a few key examples that point to this model working. Last year a little film starring Nicholas Cage a revenge-fueled fever dream ended up taking the horror and thriller world by storm thanks. While not the producers of the film, they got MANDY enough exposure and attention that it found its audience and earned substantial returns.
HorrorBuzz was invited to stop by the Legion M booth to chat with Jeff Annison and COO and head of content Terri Lubaroff about the company, upcoming projects that would interest horror fans, and pretty much anything else. As we approached an effervescent Lubaroff, donning custom Legion M Chucks, welcomed me and waved Jeff over to introduce him.
HorrorBuzz: Tell me what Legion M is, for the people that don’t know.
Jeff Annison: We are the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company. We produce movies, T.V. shows, and virtual reality and comic books now with a company that was built, from the ground up, to be owned by fans.
HorrorBuzz: What advantage does that give fans?
Terri Lubaroff: They have a say in what we do. It’s not a democracy where we say ‘Do we do this project or this project?’ because that’s not fair to filmmakers. We are building technology and finding ways to involve our fans and to get their feedback early on in our process.
So we had two great examples that we launched at Sundance. One was the Scout Program and that was a piece of technology that Jeff did that allowed our investors to go online and look at all of the Sundance movies and tell us what they wanted us to focus on as executives when we were out looking for a project to acquire. That was one way that they told us, ‘We are interested in these types of movies.’ and we went out and did that.
We had a similar thing we did with our comic book, GIRL WITH NO NAME which is in resales on Kickstarter. The great thing about doing it that way is we can get people involved in the process. For example, there are three covers. Whichever cover is the most popular by fan choice is the one that we will go with. We are also doing development meetings for feature films. So, anyone that got involved with the Kickstarter gets to be involved in those development meetings with the director and the writer and the producers of the movie and give us some direct feedback on what we did with the book and where we could do better with the characters or casting ideas. It’s a unique model.
HorrorBuzz: It is certainly some new ground. With the digital age, you can easily connect with the fans.
Jeff: Yeah, and you were asking ‘What’s in it for the fans?’ We think this makes it more fun and interesting to have a say in the way things are run. But the other part of it is that it’s really good for the business because we get to leverage the wisdom of the crowd and get the collective-passion insight of all of our shareholders. We have a community of over 85,000 people. It’s nice when we have decisions like, ‘What are we going to invest in at Sundance?’ it’s not just my opinion or Terri’s opinion, we have thousands of people that are sharing their opinions that we think helps us make better decisions as a company.
HorrorBuzz: What are some of the success stories from the business model so far?
Terri: I think MANDY is a perfect example of a success story. We invested in MANDY early on, they premiered at Sundance. They didn’t have a lot of money to market the film. RLJ had a backstop deal and they were releasing the film day and date and, traditionally, those types of films are released and they sizzle with a little fanfare then they go away quickly. But we worked on MANDY from Sundance to release. We took it to ComicCon, we promoted in LA and New York and San Diego. We did all kinds of activations for it, we did the meet-ups that encouraged people to go out and see it in theaters. I think from a grassroots point of view it made it the success that it was.
Jeff: We can’t make a bad movie good, but we can make a good movie potentially become a hit and find its audience. That’s the power of having a legion of fans behind you on these projects.
Terri: Another thing that we never mention is this; We are a fan-owned company. If the company does well, their investment will do well. So there’s a financial advantage too potentially.
Jeff: Yeah, We’re a startup so it’s kind of like investing in the company when it was just Walter and Roy. We tell people, “It’s a start-up company. It’s very high risk.” Frankly, the most likely scenario, if you invest in a start-up, is you lose money because most start-ups fail. That was true for Disney, that was true for Zuckerberg as a college dropout, but the start-ups that succeed can go on and change the world. If you can get in at the start of that it is a really special opportunity.
HorrorBuzz: How are you trying to avoid being a statistic?
Terri: (Laughter) That’s a great question!
Jeff: Well, you know, Paul and I are the two co-founders. This is actually our third start-up. We’ve kind of been to this rodeo before. In a sense, it is great because we have learned from the mistakes at our last two start-ups. Our first one was really successful. We started that as three guys, Paul, myself, and one other guy working out of a spare room in a house. We ended up being the first people to put live television on a cell phone back in 2003 if you can imagine. We took it to Hollywood and people told us, “This is the dumbest thing we’ve ever seen. Nobody’s gonna watch TV on their cell phone.” Today, obviously everybody does. We won an Emmy Award for innovation in television. We grew that to the worldwide leader in streaming television back in its day. So we have kind of been through this before. I think what’s exciting is that Legion M is such a powerful idea. When you tell people the whole idea behind Legion M the ask, “well why didn’t somebody do this 50 years ago?” It wasn’t possible because the laws didn’t allow it. When the laws went into effect we were the first ones to use it when we launched. We can’t really take credit for the idea, but we can take credit for being lucky enough to be there at the right time when it became possible.
HorrorBuzz: How do fans get involved?
Terri: There are SO MANY ways for fans to get involved. Nobody has to invest before they become a member of Legion M. We encourage people to become members before investing. You know, come in and kick the tires and feel it out and see what it’s like. There are many different ways to get involved like, being a volunteer at ComicCon or being a VIP guest at the Sundance Lounge. There are so many ways to get involved whether it’s going to a premiere or voting online to tell us what they want to see.
Jeff: It all starts with becoming a member. It’s 100% free. We only raise money in discreet rounds. Everything we do is regulated by the SEC. If someday you want to invest in it, great! It’s our eyeballs and wallets that fuel the entire multi-trillion dollar industry. Individually, each one of us is just a consumer, but when we band together we have incredible power. If you believe in this idea of fan ownership, come, join for free and see what it’s like. Help us change the world.