Next to the wax figures of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, and across from the replica DeLorean, a man dressed like Han Solo’s techie cousin explains the future of entertainment to a young woman in a Poison Ivy costume in his booth at the Silicon Valley Comic Con.
“Why is Hollywood such an insider thing?” Paul Scanlan asks her. “Content without fans is nothing.”
That is one of the core principles of Legion M, the entertainment studio Scanlan founded with his long-time business partner Jeff Annison. Their goal with Legion M is to establish the first-ever crowdfunded movie studio that is owned by its fans, rather than profit-driven Hollywood executives.
Scanlan and Annison share a long history working on projects that are disruptive to entertainment industry paradigms. Their first big achievement together was MobiTV, an early innovator of digital and mobile television services. Next came the New York Rock exchange, a platform the two created to let fans purchase and own shares of song copyrights and become more attached to their music.
When they arrived at SVCC to promote Legion M and meet potential investors, the company had not yet finished its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. They had just made their official announcement a week earlier and begun to let early investors reserve stock ahead of the company’s initial public offering, or IPO, which is planned for this summer.
As an Emperor Palpatine cosplayer hammered away at the TRON arcade cabinet in Legion M’s booth, its two founders sat down for an interview, both of them dressed as Silicon Valley analogs of “Star Wars” characters.
“The timing is now, it’s a revolutionary moment,” Annison said, pulling on a brown Jedi cloak over his blue jeans and red T-shirt. “People always say, ‘Why hasn’t anyone done this before? It’s such a no-brainer idea’, and the answer is they couldn’t.”
Legion M is one of many companies taking advantage of new investment rules created by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, act after its passage in 2013. The JOBS act modernized many of the SEC’s regulations to make it easier for companies like Legion M to complete an IPO and start growing with a crowdfunded business model.
Scanlan and Annison are aware that there is risk involved with any investment and have done their best to create a unique investment structure that will suit the needs of their target audience. The investment minimum will be around $100 so it’s easy for average fans to get involved and the company will also enforce an investment cap to avoid big Wall Street firms from pushing out smaller investors.
The underlying hope of Legion M’s unique structure is that it will encourage creative new approaches to content that might change some of the most commonly criticized aspects of Hollywood, including the constant rehashing of old content and the lack of diversity among actors.
“Hollywood’s gotten very risk-averse and become very conservative,” Scanlan said. “We want to create new franchises.”
Scanlan said they plan to work on a mixture of new and old franchises based on what the studio’s investors want to see in the future.
In Annison’s eyes, these problems with Hollywood are simply products of the way it evolved over the years. Hollywood has become a very insular industry, a sort of, “old boy’s club,” as Annison put it.
Their main goal, as reflected in the motto on Legion M’s website, is to open the gates of Hollywood by letting fans become more directly involved with the studio process. Investors will be consulted on certain casting decisions or asked to vote on new projects, and Legion M will continue to develop involvement methods as the company grows.
Every aspect of Legion M’s branding is reflective of this fancentric ideal. Even the “M” in their logo is significant, representing the Roman numeral for one million and the company’s goal of attracting that same number of fans.
Even when choosing creative partners for this venture, Annison and Scanlan kept this in mind. So far, Legion M has partnered with Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, creators of Robot Chicken, and Meltdown Comics, an influential LA-based comic store, as well as 42 Entertainment and Animal Repair Shop, an entertainment studio focused on immersive augmented reality experiences.
“We’re all fan-oriented in our own way,” said Alex Lieu, 42 Entertainment’s chief creative officer, after Legion M’s panel discussion at SVCC.
Scanlan and Annison have received praise for their idea, both from fans interested in investing and from entertainment industry professionals. According to Annison, the cultural, legal and technological factors we currently see have aligned perfectly for a studio like Legion M to not only be successful but revolutionize what has become a relatively stagnant industry.