Selling independent films is a fraught business amid the chaos of the annual film festival circuit, but last year Legion M debuted an ace in its back pocket — hundreds of app users on smartphones, weighing on what titles were most likely to succeed.
That’s how Film Scout was born, the app that lets a mix of public and industry users on the ground at events like Sundance rate titles they’ve screened. In turn, its fan-owned parent company Legion M uses the insights to invest in acquisition titles and partner with filmmakers on future projects.
“It’s been fascinating because for the last two years, we look back at the data we have from thousands of people playing and voting on the platform, the predictions are pretty accurate to wide audience taste,” said Legion M Co-CEO Paul Scanlan.
His fellow Co-CEO Jeff Annison added that “our scores during Sundance are a very good indicator of what the Rotten Tomatoes scores of these films will ultimately will be, though those don’t come for a month or a year later.”
Having launched last year formally with a year prior in beta, Film Scout asks its users two important questions.
“The first is, ‘How excited are you to see this movie?’ That’s the part everyone can play. Basing those decisions on the same things you’d want scrolling through Netflix — description, cast, images,” said Scanlan. “The second is looking at, ‘What do you predict everybody else is going to want to see?”
The latter question offers something of a Rorschach test to festival goers, said Annison.
“The really interesting feedback reveals what we call the ‘traps’ — movies everybody thinks people want to see it, but nobody wants to watch. And then also hidden gems, that some are interested in but think no one else wants to think about.”
A “no-brainer” on their app this year, according to the pair said, was “CODA,” the Sian Heder-directed Sundance darling which rated high on Film Scout and eventually sold for an eye-popping $25 million to Apple Studios. The men were guarded on the films they’re still pursuing from this year’s selection, but have used their business model to succeed in past years.
Legion M has a community of 130,000 users with ownership from 25,000 “fan owners,” backing they’ve used to partner in productions including festival titles “Save Yourselves!” and Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis’ “Colossal.” They’ve also partnered on features like RLJE’s anti-superhero epic “Archenemy” with Joe Manganiello and Nicolas Cage’s “Mandy.”
The leaders hope to expand aggressively into film and television originals and also develop alternate revenue streams. They pointed to the recent consumer product integration for the Manganiello film, creating a run of boutique whiskey based off of a plot point in the film. Annison said it took one social media post from Legion M for the retailer to sell out.
“We’ve seen how effective this can be, literally giving our shareholders a voice in the projects we get involved with. We harness the wisdom of our community to make better decisions,” said Scanlan.
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