Conskipper may be brand new, but our journalists have been covering the world of pop culture conventions for years. The following interview was originally conducted by John Evans as a freelancer on October 6th, 2019.
Crowdfunding has become an ever-increasing element of creative projects over the last half decade, and with the continued success of the “direct to consumer/fan” approach, it was only a matter of time before a company emerged as the first fan-owned entertainment company in the world: the aptly-named Legion M. With a slate of unique genre-bending offerings such as Colossal, Mandy, and the just released Memory: The Origin of Alien documentary, David Baxter- the VP of Development for Legion M- took some time to speak to us at New York Comic Con 2019 about the documentary and how his company is forging a new way of doing business in Hollywood.
What is your role in Legion M, and how did the company get started?
David Baxter: I’m Vice President of Development with Legion M. I’ve been with the company since the day it opened. Along with our COO Terri Lubaroff, the two of us are the Hollywood end of the company. Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan, the president and CEO, they’re the Silocon Valley side. We are a hybrid company of Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Terri and I have been in the industry for 25 years each. I’m a member of the Writer’s Guild. I’m a comic book writer for Image Comics. So, we have a long history in the traditional entertainment world, where Jeff and Paul were the people who started MobiTV. Back in the 2000s, when the first people put television onto flip phones, everyone said, “You’re crazy! Who would ever want to watch a movie on a phone?” And, in fact, a lot of people wanted to. The most important thing about them doing that company is that it was a traditional startup. They had friends and family who gave them money to get started. But the problem was, back in the 2000s- they weren’t even aware of this- it was not legal to take money from people who were not accredited investors. To be an accredited investor, you had to have a million dollars in the bank not including your house. When they started making money, they hired an SEC lawyer. They said, “You have to give all of those people their money back!” The people who were the accredited investors made huge amounts of money, and their friends and family who supported them were not able to participate.
When the JOBS Act came into existence- it was passed in 2012 but didn’t go into effect until March 16th, 2016- we literally started our company on that day. The JOBS Act was the first time that you didn’t have to be a millionaire to actually own stock in a startup before it went public. Now, regular people could get the same kinds of shares that venture capitalists could get and could have the potential same upside. Now, of course, in any startup probability states it will fail. It’s highly risky, but because we live in a time where information can be disseminated people can go into it with eyes wide open. Terri and I met Jeff and Paul and we were like, “This was a totally new kind of business plan: building an entertainment company that is optimized to be owned by the fans who consume entertainment.” This could cure the problems that we saw with the studio system.
What kinds of problems did you see with the studio system?
Baxter: The old studio system, they make something, they throw money at it, and they hope the consumers will come in. Our world is totally different now. Everything is segmented. It was risky, but we ended up being the number one crowd equity, high end company in America, and every year we have doubled in size. So, it’s working and the investors found each other. I remember being at New York Comic Con three years ago, and I was invited to meet with people who bought stock at seven dollars a share. They were all creatives, and they were all excited, and they were generating community without our having to do anything. People were getting tattoos of our logo before we even had a copyright. So we knew something was working.
We’re called Legion M. It’s actually an M with a bar over it. That’s the Roman symbol for One Million. The idea was: if we could get to a million investors who were both financially and emotionally invested, we would have essentially a movable fan base- a grassroots one- that would give us a competitive advantage in Hollywood. We’re not trying to destroy the studio system. We’re only disruptive in a sense that we’re organizing fandom and letting fans own a piece of Hollywood… letting them have a say. Obviously art’s not made by committee, and there are many times when we are looking at different projects, we’re not legally allowed to talk to investors. But what we can do, is we have the world’s greatest focus group. We could put log lines down. We could tap into what they’re interested in.
Legion M’s early offerings have an emphasis in the horror genre. Was this a conscious decision?
Baxter: When we got started, we started with some things that would definitely fit into the horror genre. I don’t know if Colossal was necessarily horror, but it certainly was a monster movie, although the question in that film was if the monster was really the monster. Who was the real monster in the movie?
We also did the anthology series, The Field Guide to Evil. That was fascinating. And that was entirely crowd-funded. It was the second project that we invested in. The cool thing about it- and I still think there might be a series there- is that we went around the world and got the best horror directors from different countries and explored the myth of evil in each of their countries. It’s a history lesson and it’s horror… educational horror. And I just think, man that’s cool. If you’ve got something new to explore, now’s the time to do it. The other horror thing we did was Bad Samaritan, which is the serial killer movie with David Tennant, and Robert Sheehan is now in The Umbrella Academy. What a great, great actor.
The reason that horror plays a big part of what we’re doing is that when we first started the company, we asked ourselves, “Who are the most passionate fans? Who are the people who absolutely most relish their fandom?” And it’s sci-fi and horror and fantasy. And that’s where we built the core members and investors. Now it’s grown. There are companies like Blumhouse. We don’t find ourselves specializing only in horror. What we want is elevated genre. And Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal– that was his first English language film- that was a unique story. And that’s what drew us to it. I mean, Anne Hathaway controlling a kaiju? Jason Sudeikis is probably the real monster.
And he plays a character who is the complete opposite of any other character he’s ever played!
Baxter: And guess what? There were people who couldn’t deal with it because they love Jason so much, but there was such male toxicity in that role! It was our first film that we got involved with. What we did really made me believe this was a great idea. Originally, Neon was distributing it. There was one theater in L.A. and one theater in New York. They sold out completely. Then they added a second theater in L.A. and that sold out. In other words, the people who invested felt so proud. They had the pride of ownership. They could actually say, “I helped make that movie!” We’re living in Instagram world. People are going up to the tallest mountains pushing each other so they can get their selfie. To me, it’s insane. But loving the movies that you love, that’s a great thing to be doing. This has been a wild ride. It’s been three years since we started, and now we’ve got Memory: The Origins of Alien, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and of course we have Mandy.
How did Legion M get involved in Mandy?
Baxter: That was the project that I championed. When I read that script, I was blown away. I knew Panos Cosmatos’ work, and I knew Panos’ father, George Cosmatos, had done Cobra, Rambo II, and Tombstone, which is one of my favorite films. I knew this was going to be an homage to 80s revenge fantasy. But with Panos, it’s like if Stanley Kubrick had done that. Because every single still of it was a painting. I had known Nic (Cage) over the years. People think of him as this crazy, eccentric guy. He can be all of those things, but he is a consummate professional. When he does a movie, he memorizes everybody else’s lines too. He’s that thorough. And I knew that he would take that role and do something special with it. We loved Elijah Wood’s company, SpectreVision, and they were trying really different kind of things. We had the opportunity to get involved before they shot anything, but it was a risky movie. It’s a very slow picture at the beginning and then it moves very, very quickly. But once we saw the footage, everyone was on board. And we leaned in hard. And we asked for merchandising rights. They didn’t think it would be something anyone would care about. But it’s become totally popular cosplay. It’s like, we’re selling The Beast! We’ve got a whole side business now of collectibles thanks to Mandy. That’s a movie that keeps on giving. And I think it’s one of Nic Cage’s best performances since Adaptation. That was definitely what I think made people think, “they make horror pictures.” Although I wouldn’t even define that necessarily as a horror picture. It’s genre bending.
How did you know that Memory: The Origins of Alien was the right kind of project for Legion M?
Baxter: At this past Sundance, we took every log line of every film that was at Sundance, and we put it into a database, and we asked two questions: “What do you want to see and what do you think is gonna do well?” We came back with a list of the top ten things- the ones at the very top of the list had already been acquired- but there was one film called Memory: The Origins of Alien by Alexandre Philippe who had done Doc of the Dead, and The People vs George Lucas. And I knew that was the film we wanted to go after. We already knew that our community would get behind it. I saw it and I loved it. I mean, I was fifteen when I saw Alien, and a kid two seats down from me projectile vomited during the chestburster scene, and it was burned into my memory! That film changed the way people thought about science fiction. So, I went to the screening and I saw Tom Skerritt. He was from Detroit, and I’m from Detroit. I went up to him and said, “Hey! I’m from Detroit! How are ya doing? Can you introduce me to the director?” And he did, and we ended up acquiring it with Screen Media, and now as of tomorrow (Friday, October 4th) we are a distribution company. Memory is going to be playing in theaters around the country. We’re super excited about it.
There’s so much out there about the making of Alien. There have been tons of books documentaries and interviews published over the years. What did you see in Memory that made you feel like this one stands out from the rest?
Baxter: All of the documentation on Alien was just sort of… factual. There weren’t any deep dives into the combination that allowed that thing to happen. Because there were other directors involved in it originally. And what were the unconscious things that were happening on that film? Memory delves into art, mythology, parasites. I mean, Dan O’Bannon was very ill when he wrote the film. He had a terrible intestinal disease, and he was impacted by many different things in his childhood. H.R. Giger was at a particular point, a perfect time in his career. And both Giger and O’Bannon were coming off of the failed attempt at Dune. I studied art history, I studied mythology. So, for me, it was like I had to immediately go watch Alien again because all of my assumptions were thrown out the window once I looked at it from this new lens. I think with Alexandre Philippe, that’s his whole thing. He’s always trying to find a different lens. None of his documentaries are the same. His new one is about William Friedkin and The Exorcist. And it’s only William Friedkin. There isn’t anyone else in it! I think when he started Memory, at first he thought it was going to be like his Hitchcock film where he would deconstruct the chestburster scene. But it became very clear there was much, much, much, more work. He went after experts on mythology. He went after art historians. He wasn’t trying to get the whole cast of Alien for his film. I mean, it would have been nice if Ridley or some of the other actors got in it, but it might have also been a distraction. The moment you’ve got Sigourney or Ridley, people’s focus shifts and it becomes just about them. Memory is about a cultural moment. When I saw that chestburster scene for the first time, there was just something about that moment. There had never been a movie about the future where I thought that was what the future was gonna be. I mean, I loved Star Trek; but did I believe that was the future? No! What I believed was that the people in the corporation are gonna be pooping on the people down in the maintenance wings of the ship, and they’re gonna be arguing about shares, and it was gonna be dirty and messy.
The other thing is Ridley Scott was a commercial director and this was his second film. He came at things from a purely visual standpoint. So, to be able to take a deep dive into that was interesting. Like, what was the water doing in a space ship, coming down with the chains? It looks good! Memory was such a natural film. It was wonderful that we had the community telling us that we should get that film. But, I wanted it badly as well! I’m a huge Alien fan.
Legion M is known for unique promotional events. How are you going to promote Memory at New York Comic Con?
Baxter: We’re going to be doing a panel with Adam Savage tomorrow. And one other really interesting thing came about with regard to Alien. This is a documentary about Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Giger, and Ridley Scott. We heard about the kids in North Bergen, New Jersey, who put on the Alien play. And we were like, “that’s amazing!” So Alexandre Philippe and we went out to New Jersey and we made a mini documentary about the kids. And Sigourney Weaver went to see the kids. We’re going to show a clip that no one’s seen yet on the Syfy Wire stage with Adam Savage. And Adam is in it. Adam is really concerned about the maker movement, and these kids made their costumes from scratch.
What makes New York Comic Con such a great location for this kind of event?
Baxter: Whenever we’re at San Diego or New York, it always feels like we’re at home. All of our constituents are here. For me, this is the time that I can connect with pop culture. I’m usually in cosplay, it’s just my thing. Hence, today’s Jim Hopper costume. “Three inches!”
What is Legion M’s game plan moving forward?
Baxter: We’re gonna consciously look for films that somehow shake the tree. And we’re gonna get behind people like Nacho, Panos, and Alexandre. You want to find talent that the studios wouldn’t necessarily immediately pick up. I mean, look at Taika Waititi. Him directing Thor was like the most insane thing in the world. But Kevin Feige- the smart man that he is- realized that based on the stuff he’s done, he can do Thor. And he’s still gonna do the personal films. We’re always searching for new talent to work with. At the Saturn Awards, we actually sponsored the Breakthrough Directing Award and Ari Astor won. We got to meet Lee Cronin. It’s pretty cool! What we want to be able to do is leverage the power having a grassroots group of people who are going to get behind the work that we do.
There’s a project that we have called Girl With No Name. It’s an homage to spaghetti westerns. It’s very stylized like 300 or Kingsman. It started out as an award-winning script at Slamdance. I knew Tanya Wexler, the director. And she came to us and we decided to do a comic book. We assembled an all-woman team and we decided to do a Kickstarter to sort of do a proof of concept. We thought it would cost about six grand to get made, and we expected to maybe get about ten. We raised $135,000! We’re selling merch on a project that hasn’t even come out yet! And that will become a proof of concept anywhere we go with it. Let’s see if we could get Millie Bobby Brown! Let’s get her on that! That’s the point: we’re always looking at it from a perspective of, “How do we tap into the power of the crowd?” If there’s a book that we option, how do we get them to bump up the ratings on Amazon by doing a book club? You’ve got the consumer. You’ve got the producer. What we’re trying to do is bring them together so there’s not so many intermediaries between them. And listen to what fans have to say. They’ll tell you what they want.
Can you tell us about any other projects you’re currently working on?
Baxter: There are a number of projects we’re working on. We’ve got a steampunk adventure series called Evermore. It’s really more like a new version of Sliders. It’s sort of like Sliders with Man in the High Castle. So you’ve got an alternate timeline. It’s a different world, and Evermore is moving between them. We have a traditional sort of thriller called Malice, which takes place in Philadelphia. It asks, “What if Romeo and Juliet both survived and had to contend with their two powerful families?” We have a very interesting project that we’re going to be announcing. I don’t think I could talk about it, but I’ll say this: it’s a true story about the most audacious heist of all time. We love this project and we’re keeping it on the down low because we’re taking it to some very big people to get it made. We’ve got a lot of stuff coming in and getting put in front of us. And obviously we have relationships with the people we’ve already worked with, and we’re always keying in on new stuff we could work together on. Nic is coming out with Color Out of Space. When I read that script I was just like, wow! Richard Stanley did it, and it’s the first one done right. We’re on the prowl for all those kinds of things.
What should fans consider if they’re thinking about participating in Legion M?
Baxter: We have a round open right now. So if people want to invest, they can. At least for the next couple of weeks. When we started, our stocks were $7 per share. Now they’re going for $10 a share, and minimum investments are $100. If you bought stocks at $7 and sell them, that’s a 30% return! But no one’s selling them now. It’s the community that makes this fun. Where else can you get a walk on role in Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. We gave away 200 tickets to the premiere of Tolkien. Fox Searchlight came to us to promote the film. They were like, “We want your community to get behind it.” And we had George R.R. Martin do the Q&A. That was nuts!
Nick Banks contributed to this interview.