Crowdfunding Hollywood: Legion M Empowers Fans-Turned-Investors to Shape Movies

When Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison initially conceived their production studio, Legion M, their vision extended beyond mere corporate structure; they aspired to foster a sense of community.

The film studio responsible for notable titles such as “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” “Colossal,” and the forthcoming William Shatner documentary “You Can Call Me Bill” represents a facet of Hollywood’s evolving landscape over the past decade toward a fresh crowdfunding paradigm. This model enables producers to seek financial support for film and television ventures, offering investors more than just exclusive merchandise.

Now, supporters stand to gain a tangible return on their investments.

“I think a lot of people view equity crowdfunding as an alternative method of fundraising,” remarked Annison, serving as both cofounder and president of Legion M. “It’s a distinct approach to financing your company or your film. And we see it as a fundamentally different strategy for cultivating a fundamentally different kind of business.”

Legion M debuted in 2016 following the enactment of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which dismantled barriers to capital acquisition, granting companies access to funding avenues previously inaccessible due to regulatory constraints.

While crowdfunding itself is not novel, Legion M is pushing its boundaries, affording everyday movie enthusiasts a stake in Hollywood’s affairs.

In under a decade, the studio has collaborated with numerous Hollywood luminaries, including Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis for the 2016 film “Colossal,” and Simon Pegg alongside Minnie Driver in 2023’s “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose.” Moreover, the company has backed the recently premiered cryptocurrency documentary “This is Not Financial Advice.”

Sound of freedom
Angel Studios’ “Sound of Freedom” grossed $250M globally on a $14.5M budget. (Credits: Angel Studios)

Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo have long provided creators with the means to harness the support of their most dedicated fan bases to bring their visions to life.

Historically, Kickstarter backers have contributed substantial sums, including $3.1 million for Zach Braff’s 2014 film “Wish I Was Here,” $5.7 million for Rob Thomas’ 2014 “Veronica Mars” movie, and an impressive $11.3 million for Critical Role’s “Legend of Vox Machina” animated series, later acquired by Amazon Prime Video. However, Kickstarter’s model does not allow campaign creators to offer financial returns to their backers. This is where Legion M distinguishes itself. In the event of a successful theatrical run or acquisition by a distributor, investors in Legion M-backed film or television projects stand to profit.

“For the William Shatner documentary, we essentially replaced the traditional single financier with 1,200 smaller investors,” explained Annison. The minimum investment required for the documentary was $100. Additionally, investors have the opportunity to acquire a stake in Legion M itself for as little as $40, with the company boasting over 45,000 investors.

In the case of “My Dead Friend Zoe,” Legion M combined funds from its investors with contributions from more established Hollywood financiers, including Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce. Legion M also offers creators access to its substantial fanbase, a feature that independent filmmaker Chris Temple, co-director of “This is Not Financial Advice,” found to be a valuable asset. Temple’s documentary delves into the experiences of retail investors navigating the volatile world of cryptocurrency.

Temple expressed that collaborating with Legion M felt like a natural fit from the outset. “This is a grassroots film about investors gaining entry into previously inaccessible markets and individuals taking control of their financial destinies,” he remarked, drawing parallels with the ethos of Legion M’s endeavors.

Legion M isn’t the only player in this arena. Angel Studios made waves with its crowdfunded film “Sound of Freedom,” raking in approximately $250 million worldwide on a budget of just $14.5 million.

While Angel Studios positions itself as a beacon of “light” in the entertainment industry, its primary focus lies in bringing religious-themed content into the mainstream. Conversely, Legion M targets the Comic-Con demographic, although it’s expanding its repertoire to encompass comedies, thrillers, murder mysteries, dramas, sci-fi action films, and documentaries.

William Shatner attends the William Shatner handprint ceremony hosted by Legion M during 2022 Comic-Con International: San Diego at Theatre Box on July 21, 2022 in San Diego, California.
Matt Conkling found a Hollywood career via Legion M investments and volunteering opportunities. (Credits: CNBC News)

“What’s particularly appealing about Legion M’s approach is that we’re cultivating a built-in audience,” emphasized Scanlan, the company’s co-founder and CEO. The company’s logo, featuring an “M” with a bar overhead symbolizing the Roman numeral for one million, epitomizes Legion M’s aspiration to attract one million fans as shareholders.

“Picture an entertainment company or studio with a million fans who not only have a financial stake in the films they release but are also emotionally invested,” elaborated Annison. “They’ve been with us since day one, have had behind-the-scenes access, and have heard the director’s vision firsthand.” One such enthusiast is Matt Conkling, who made his inaugural investment in the company in 2019, enticed by Legion M’s unique offering that allowed investors to not only contribute financially but also participate in productions.

Shortly after his initial investment, Conkling spotted a post from the company seeking various props, including neon signs and vehicles, for its mystery-thriller “Archenemy,” starring Joe Manganiello of “True Blood” fame. “I volunteered my 1975 Chevy El Camino,” Conkling recalled. “Two days later, I received a call to assist with handling the car on set.”

“It transitioned from handing over my keys to receiving a crash course in the film industry,” he continued. “After that experience, I was hooked.” Previously, Conkling had attempted to get involved in a film project with another production company, though he couldn’t meet the hefty $25,000 minimum investment requirement. “How often do ordinary people get the opportunity to potentially invest in something with such a low entry point?” he mused.

For Conkling, Legion M has evolved from a casual investment into a quasi-career. While he continues to financially support individual film projects promoted by the company—with aspirations to eventually own 1% of the company—he has carved out his niche in Hollywood by volunteering his car for one production, leading to subsequent roles in sourcing props for other films, including “The Man in the White Van” and “The Long Game,” and even appearing as a background actor in Netflix’s “The Grey Man.”

“Legion M is a continual source of opportunities,” Conkling remarked.

Michael Manua
Michael Manua
Michael, a seasoned market news expert with 29 years of experience, offers unparalleled insights into financial markets. At 61, he has a track record of providing accurate, impactful analyses, making him a trusted voice in financial journalism.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x