There’s a new company on the block, and it means business — fun, fan-fueled business, that is.
Since launching in 2016, Legion M has been harnessing the collective power and energy of its fans to push a diverse range of projects and change the face of entertainment as we know it. From movies to events and even a new, original comic book, the company is slowly but surely turning the industry on its head.
If that sounds lofty and hyperbolic, it’s not. While most of the entertainment industry is owned by corporate entities and Wall Street, Legion M is different. Founded by Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan, Legion M is the first company designed from day one to be owned by fans, made possible thanks to 2012’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which eased many of the U.S.’ securities regulations and made it easier for people like you and I to invest in startups.
Fans Have the Power
More than 16,000 investors — the overwhelming majority of whom are fans — currently own Legion M, which recently finished its fourth round of investing, bringing the new company’s grand investment total to about $7 million. But why fans? Why switch it up in this way, handing the power over to everyday people with plenty of experience consuming media, but arguably not much running it?
“At the end of the day, fans are the ones that drive the entire multi-trillion-dollar entertainment industry,” Annison says. “We’re the ones that buy the tickets and pay the subscription fees and decide what we’re going to watch, and while individually any one of us is just a consumer, when we unite, we have this incredible power.”
While offering more power to the fans who support the industry may seem like an obvious thing to do, it’s been revolutionary, giving Legion M what its founders believe is a fundamental competitive advantage and a built-in, loyal support system.
“When our new movie comes out, we know that there’s a legion of people who are going to come out and see it opening night,” Annison says. “They’re going to bring their friends and family and talk about it on social media.”
More than just welcoming a new kind of shareholder, the founders’ vision for the new company and dedication to its fan mission is coded right into the name. They like the meaning of “legion,” sure — a vast host, multitude, or number of people or things — but the “M” is just as telling.
“If you look at our logo, our ‘M’ has a bar over it, which is the Roman numeral for 1 million,” Scanlan says. “That’s our kind of Easter egg for our long-term objective and what we have set out to do, which is to unite 1 million entertainment fans together and have a positive impact on the industry that we love. Some people might call that disrupting an industry, but we really think of it as kind of reshaping an industry, opening the gates to Hollywood, and allowing fans to have a voice in the process.”
This resonates with so many fans that Legion M’s last two investment rounds have sold out. The next round is expected to open on wefunder.com, an equity crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter or GoFundMe, any day now. Keeping ownership within the reach of all fans is important to Scanlan and Annison, who said that they try to keep the minimum investment to $100.
The importance of community for Legion M is twofold. Building support is particularly essential for a newer, standard-challenging company, and this one defines community as a combination of both investors and members who have joined the legion online but don’t hold shares. The company obviously relies on investments for survival, but the co-founders are adamant that fellowship comes first, and members — the tally of whom currently hovers around 100,000 — are just as essential as investors.
“At the end of the day, we see the company first and foremost as a community,” Scanlan says. “That’s what it is. It’s a community before it’s anything else, and that community comes together when we support our projects.”
“What’s really cool about it is that because people who are part of the legion have a stake, they’ve got a connection, they’re part of these movies. It’s really kind of fun because when these movies come out, this was literally our movie coming out,” Annison says. “There’s something very cool about going to see your movie, a movie that you’ve been involved with, come to the big screen.”
Being a part of the community and having a stake goes beyond simply investing or signing up online, though — we live in an über digital age, after all. Part two involves Legion M working hard to earn fans’ support by fostering events and experiences IRL, too.
Meetups play a big role. Recently, Legion M and Fox Searchlight Pictures joined forces for the biopic Tolkien. Released in early May, the film starred Nicholas Hoult as the famed, titular author, alongside Lily Collins. (Read our spoiler-free review here.)
To support the film’s release, Legion M provided tools and infrastructure for the more than 140 member-hosted meetups, during which fans attended screenings and received limited-edition, collectible enamel pins.
“It’s an opportunity for fans to get together,” Annison says. ”I think one of the things that’s really interesting is, in this day and age when we’re surrounded by media all the time — I mean, my kids are more likely to watch a movie on their phones than they are to go into a movie theater and see it — kind of making it an event and really recognizing that these entertainment experiences can be so much more powerful when they’re shared and when they’re done as part of a community.”
In addition to the meetups, the company also offers events and opportunities around production, such as fostering behind-the-scenes visits and livestreams and helping members get cast as extras in Legion M films.
“It’s really kind of fundamentally part of our DNA that we’re always, in addition to looking at the bottom line, … looking for other opportunities that a Wall Street investor isn’t going to care about, but our legion of fan investors, to them, that can be just as important as the financial return,” Annison adds.
Speaking of meaningful, non-financial opportunities, at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con in 2016, the company set up a Pitch Elevator, inviting fans into a full-size elevator set to pitch their original ideas for a movie or TV show — in just two minutes.
The project gave fans an opportunity to get their ideas in front of people who can make them happen. After starting with more than 10 hours worth of pitches, fellow fans and member judges have finally whittled it down to just 33 pitches.
“We’re starting with the community to generate ideas and to create the content, then we’re leveraging the community again to do the really hard work of rating and evaluating all of these pitches and kind of leveraging their combined insight and the wisdom of the crowd … to narrow it down to the best of the best,” Annison says. “If we’re able to actually get that film produced or the TV show or whatever it is, I think that will be a truly special moment because it’ll be — from start to finish — all about the Legion M community.”
A New Media Landscape
It’s through initiatives like Pitch Elevator that Legion M delivers on its promise to open up the gates of Hollywood, but the company’s new Scout program takes it even further. The program rolled out just before this year’s Sundance Film Festival, held from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3 in Park City, Utah.
Through Scout, community members can vote on which movies they think Legion M should add to its slate based on cast, description, and whatever other information is available, ensuring that the community is invested — literally — in films it finds interesting and commercially viable.
“This is data that literally nobody else at Sundance has,” Scanlan says. “All of the other distributors are buying projects and making million-dollar commitments to things with really, like, an embarrassingly low amount of data. They all go on gut instinct — and some of them are better than others at it.”
“We find that we have what we call a virtuous cycle where our community wants to have a vote,” he adds. “We’re not asking them to do something they don’t want to do; we’re delivering on a promise we made to them.”
The Scout data prompted Scanlan and Annison to throw Legion M’s support behind Memory, a documentary on the origin of the classic film Alien. They plan to release more details at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), but for now the duo just thanks the community for guiding them toward the Dan O’Bannon-written documentary.
“Leading into that, we may have said, ‘look, I don’t know if our community is supportive of documentaries,’” Scanlan says. “It’s great to know that information. What’s really nice about it is that we don’t have to guess what they want because they tell us.”
Legion M also taps into the wisdom of the hive for other projects, via M-Pulse, which enables the company to literally take the pulse of members by asking them a variety of questions about any and everything, offering them yet another way to use their voices to influence content decisions. In fact, the company is invested in an upcoming Jay & Silent Bob reboot (slated for release this year) because members expressed an overwhelming interest in Kevin Smith.
Legion M asked the M-Pulse community members which Hollywood director was their favorite, and Smith was at the top of the list.
Whether or not the members are getting precisely what they want, Scanlan says they are pretty trusting and open-minded when it comes to projects.
“We don’t expect people in our community to like every project that we do,” Scanlan says. “I think what we’ve learned is that we’ve got latitude from them, and that’s an ongoing thing.”
“It’s in their best interest to be supportive; although, we do hear from them if there’s something they don’t like. And we’re sensitive to that, too,” he adds.
Memory and the Jay & Silent Bob reboot are far from the only projects in the Legion M pipeline. The company is also working on Girl with No Name, in conjunction with Co-Op Entertainment, a feature film set in the 1869-era Wild West. The film boasts an all-female creative team and will be produced by Laura Ivey and directed Tanya Wexler.
Wanting to tackle the visual imagery in a different way, the team decided to create a comic book instead of a more traditional storyboard. Wexler joins Tula Lotay, Dani Strips, and Dave Elliott on the comic book, which, like the movie, tells the story of the mysterious, gunslinging heroine, Girl. Think Western meets badass feminist.
“As we developed the comic book, we of course told everyone we were doing this, and then when we put it up into Kickstarter to see how many we should print, for publishing, and to do some rewards based on it, I think we guessed that we would get $10,000-20,000 worth of comic presales,” Scanlan says. “We ended up with more than $130,000 in presales.”
“For a comic book to sell that many comics of a brand-new title that no one has ever heard of is actually kind of unheard of,” he adds. “But at the same time, it’s giving them exclusive access to something and an opportunity to interact and have a voice with the director.”
Fueling the Fandoms
At the end of the day, it all comes back to fans, including Legion M’s co-founders.
Scanlan is a Guillermo del Toro superfan. While he leans toward independent films in general — unsurprising considering he studied film in college — he counts del Toro among his film heroes and is lowkey obsessed in the best, geekiest way.
“I would say, if I have a strong fandom, it’s Guillermo,” he says. “I just think he’s amazing; I love everything he’s done. His first film, Cronos, solidified my love of entertainment early. He’s just got a heart of gold and is the most generous person. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Guillermo, but I would say we have a special affinity for him, or I do, anyway — a man crush if you will.”
“Those were the three properties that I really, really loved growing up and have a special place in my heart,” Annison says. “So it was really special and very cool for me to be involved in this Tolkien project and to learn more about the author.”
“So I’ve got one down; now we’ve just got to do something with Star Wars and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I can die a happy man,” he adds.
Be on the lookout, kids.
Photos: Legion M
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Summer 2019 Issue No. 4, click here to read more!