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After a COLOSSAL First Year, Legion M Looks to the Future

When you talk with Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison, they don’t sound like they’re disturbing an $11 billion status quo. They have the calm, affable voices of two guys trying to sell organic honey at a farmer’s market, not the car salesman bluster you might expect from businessmen hoping to build “one of the most powerful new companies in Hollywood.”

Scanlan is CEO and Annison is President of Legion M, a fan-owned film company that launched last year after the tongue-twister Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (or JOBS Act for sanity) opened the doors for companies to use crowdfunding to find shareholders. That also means normal people who aren’t millionaire angel investors can invest their money with emergent companies who aren’t on the stock market in hopes of getting a return. Think of it as Kickstarter, except instead of a T-shirt and a digital copy of the movie project you donated to, you get the possibility of a return on your investment.

“The company is a little over a year old, it’s not like we’re throwing around massive amounts of money, but we are batting way out of our league when it comes to projects,” Annison says.

The biggest outing in its short history is the Nacho Vigalondo alcoholism/monster parable Colossal, which it helped produce alongside several other indie outfits. The company is looking to make more like it. Uninterested in placing a single, big budget egg in their basket, they’re also set to launch a virtual reality interview series with Kevin Smith and Stan Lee called Icons: Face to Face, the horror anthology The Field Guide to Evil, and the Project Greenlight-esque Pitch Elevator, which features 2-minute creative proposals from people vying for the opportunity to pitch to production company execs.

Legion M is also looking to get into the bidding fun at future film festivals like Fantastic Fest, Sundance, and SXSW to buy promising projects to distribute alongside partners like Drafthouse Films’ Tim League. [Note: Executives from Nerdist and its parent company Legendary are on Legion M’s advisory board.]

If you invest in Legion M—which you can do now through August 25th—or if you join the group for free, Scanlan and Annison hope to give you something more.

“We work hard to find ways to involve fans in the process,” Annison says. “For example, having a large legion of fans is hugely beneficial when it comes to finding new talent. We’ve got a legion of people who we can ask, ‘Whose voice needs to be heard?'”

Investor fans and free members also got a chance to attend the Colossal red carpet premiere, and they have access to an online community where fandom and creators overlap. Undoubtedly, Legion M is hoping that talent pool may result in a future hit.

Yet balancing the expectation of fans who are also investors must be slightly tricky. Legion M seeks to use its community’s voice as a kind of giant focus group, but Annison also makes it plain that fans own the content—they aren’t the ones making it. “You don’t make great art by committee,” he says, repeating one of Legion M’s mantras. “So, it’s not like the fans are directly involved in the creation of the content except when the creator sees an opportunity. It’s not like we’re all voting on storylines or plot points. At the end of the day, as fans, we’re not trying to create the content. We want to find the creator and turn them loose to do their thing.”

Since the beginning, Legion M’s ultimate goal has been to get one million investors (it’s right there in their name). “The average investor puts in about $500-600,” Scanlan says. “We’re very clear that we don’t want your life savings. Many people put in $100. When we reach our goal of having a million, and if that average investment stays true, we’ll have $500-600m to invest in projects, and a million people emotionally and financially invested in them. We feel like we can be successful at many points along that path, but that’s our North Star.”

It’s an audacious goal, and Legion M has a long way to go (they current have a little under 8,000 investors), but the company is young and already making a fundraising mark. The key is that Legion M is attempting to sell itself to potential partners as a source of money with a bonus, built-in audience.

“When Colossal came out we organized meet-ups, so we have people coming out, spreading the words, posting on social media,” Annison says. “And of course they’re going to show up. It’s their movie.”

To that, Scanlan adds, “Because we represent an investment that comes with a community attached to it, there are projects we can invest in that oftentimes don’t need money, but who want us to invest. We can negotiate positive terms for ourselves in projects that we believe in, even if those projects are actively looking for money. We approach them and say, ‘We know you’re not looking for investors, but we believe in this project. We want to be behind it.'”

Legion M isn’t quite a studio just yet; they’re a Brinks truck with millions of dollars being driven by Scanlan and Annison toward projects they feel will be both creatively and financially compelling. So, since we’re in the most fan-driven, nerd-friendly era of mainstream entertainment ever, why is an outfit like Legion M necessary?

“If you look at the fact that so many movies today are based on superheroes, they’re big IPs, they’re reboots, they’re sequels, that’s the studios response,” Annison explains. “It’s the way they de-risk the movies. They know if they make another Superman movie, there’s a big group of people who will go see it, but if they make a movie about a giant kaiju monster that’s remote controlled by Anne Hathaway, that’s a huge risk. We’ve got fans that are baked into our process from the beginning, which gives us a lot more latitude to think differently, be original, and take risks that wouldn’t necessarily bring a return on investment for a studio. But for a studio owned by fans, it makes sense for us.”

If it isn’t clear by now, Legion M has a metric ton of faith in the power, taste, and loyalty of fans.

“We want to be one of the most influential new companies in Hollywood, and with that, we see ourselves not just being powerful, in a sense, but having a positive impact,” Scanlan concludes. “We can get behind projects, we can take bigger risks, we can make a Colossal, we can make more original projects that aren’t traditionally marketable, because we have fans at our backs.”

In other words, if you’re impressed by what they’ve done while human-sized, they want you to imagine what they can do when they’re towering over high-rise buildings, punching robots, and doing the cabbage patch.

Images: Legion M

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