Legion M is the first fan-owned movie studio, and Terri Lubaroff is its Chief Operating Officer and Head of Content. She is one of only five full-time people, and the only lawyer, working for a company that is forcing the entertainment industry to reconsider some of its ideas about financing, marketing and distribution. She’s taking a break from her operational and business development duties this weekend, and leaning in to the some of the most fun aspects of her multi-hat role, when she moderates the panel “Legion M: How the Power of Fandom Is Changing Hollywood” at LA Comic-Con.
After seeing Terri at LA Comic-Con in 2017, I was eager to talk to her about Legion M, their recent success with the Nicolas Cage revenge flick, Mandy, and what it means to be one of the owners of a crowdfunded movie studio.
Leona Laurie: What brought you and Legion M together?
Terri Lubaroff: The way I came to Legion M was a culmination of what I had been doing and the type of work I had been performing my entire career. I’ve been working professionally in the entertainment industry, in one capacity or another, since I was 19.
I’ve been an actor; I’ve been a writer; I’ve been a producer; I’ve worked in talent representation; I’ve been an entertainment lawyer; I’ve consulted for tech companies. I’ve been an entrepreneur and started my own tech companies. I happen to have been running Meltdown Comics at the time. I started a tech incubator for the company, and they also had an entertainment arm that I was helping run. The founders of Legion M came in to consult with us as pop culture experts on an idea they had. I struck up a friendship, and a couple of months later called them to let them know that I had left Meltdown and was going to be consulting for tech companies that wanted to get into entertainment, or needed more information about entertainment, and they said, “Let us run an idea by you.” That was the birth of Legion M.
LL: I first learned about Legion M at last year’s LA Comic-Con, and I thought, “Well that just makes sense, and it’s about time.” Why did it take so long for someone to do something like this?
TL: We started the company in 2016 using new laws that weren’t in existence until May of 2016. Everything the company is doing, with crowdfunding specifically, are things that have not been done before.
Not only did we have to launch and let the entertainment industry know, “Hi we’re here, and we’re a legitimate company that you should want to work with,” but we also had to inform people about equity crowdfunding, how the company operates and why it’s so unique and important, and that took some time.
I think we’re finally at a point, two-and-a-half years in, where we’re not having to explain what the company is, and instead people are starting to understand that and they’re more interested in what kind of projects we’re doing.
LL: When people hear crowdfunding, they’re used to things like Kickstarter and paying $25 to to get a prize and see some product or project produced one time. You’re doing something longer-form. How does it work to be constantly crowdfunding a company?
TL: If you donate to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, you’re basically giving the company your money and expecting some sort of perk in return. Once that one project is over and you get that product, you’re done. In the case of Oculus VR, which launched in that fashion and then later sold for $2 Billion, the people who initially donated to that campaign got no benefit from the fact that they helped grow that company from zero. We think it’s unfair to ask people to support your company and your campaign and not get anything out of it long-term.
Everything our company does– if we go to a Comic-Con, if we go to Sundance— our investors are part of that. They’re part of the team; they’re invited to come be a guest or be a volunteer. We ask them for feedback constantly on our projects and what we’re looking at. We have all of these ways for people to get involved. So if the company grows, the stock grows, and their investment will grow, but they’re also being asked for their input, and that’s a unique situation.
LL: That’s so genius.
TL: Well, we had this hypothesis that if you owned the company you would support the company. I have stock in Apple, so all of my computers, and my phones, everything I own is Apple, because I want to support my investment. So we thought, “Oh, we hope that people will feel the same way about Legion M,” but we weren’t sure when we started the company. And I can tell you, it has far exceeded our wildest expectations.
Every time we put out a new movie, we have hundreds of volunteers all across the country who raise their hands and say, “I would like to host a meet-up at my local movie theater and invite other members of the public and my friends and family and Legion M members to come participate, hang out, and enjoy the movie together.” So it’s much more than an investment. It really is a community.
LL: And how big is that community now?
TL: We have about 10,000 investors and 40,000 members, so about 50,000 total. And we’re continually growing.
LL: And right now that community is helping generate buzz for Mandy, a movie that has miraculously rehabilitated Nicholas Cage. (I am a Nicolas Cage fan, and I did not know if that was possible, but here he is starring in a movie that’s the darling of festivals and making a profit.) I’ve seen Legion M described is as a “production partner” on this film. What does that mean?
TL: Every film we do, we have kind of a different relationship. We’re going through a phase right now testing where Legion M is most effective. Two of our early films, Colossal and Bad Samaritan, we invested in the print and advertising budget for those films.
In the case of Mandy we invested equity into the actual production, and we also invested in the soundtrack. The timing worked out where we could invest in the film after it had been shot. It was in editing when we ended up investing in it, which is kind of a different way to do it. We had read an early draft of the script and we loved it, but we were in the middle of one our financing rounds and got back to the producer and said, “We love this, would you hold a spot for us, and can we come back to you when we have money?” and they said: “Yes! We would love to have you involved,” and we came back when our financing closed and did make that deal.
Then in other cases, like Girl With No Name, it’s just a script right now. We have a director on it, we have some casting, but that’s it. It’s from the bottom up. We’re investing in the comic book and the development of the project, and we will be investing in the merchandise and maybe in the production of the film.
LL: Now that Mandy is out, and has been super well received at Sundance and well scored on Rotten Tomatoes, what do you guys get to do? What is the fun part of making the movie once you get through the hard part and the creative part and the expensive part?
TL: The most fun part of this film is that we were able to bring our Legion along for the entire ride. Last year we decided we were going to do a lounge at Sundance and invite our Legion M investors and members to be our VIP guests. They could come and get free pizza and beer and go hobnob at Sundance, which is a bucket list item for most people who are in entertainment, and for a lot of people who aren’t.
After we decided to do that lounge, we closed the deal on Mandy, and after that we discovered that Mandy got into Sundance. So from the very beginning, we were able to tell our Legion M members: “Not only are you going to get to go to Sundance, but you have a movie at Sundance. It’s your movie!”
We were also able to host the first party at Sundance for Mandy. We had a media lounge and the entire production crew from Elijah Wood‘s company, SpectreVision, came to be interviewed by us, and Nicolas Cage crashed the interview and brought Vince Neil form Mötley Crüe. Our Legion M members were in the front row watching all of this and knowing that they are part of this movie happening and why it’s at Sundance. It was great!
We had so much fun at Sundance, we had 100 people running around talking about Mandy, and then that kind of ramped up at Cannes. Having the film do well at Cannes and then San Diego Comic-Con… it was amazing. We’ve been traveling with the props and educating people about the film and filmmaking.
Mandy’s distributor, RLJ, decided to do a “day and date” release (releasing the film in theatres and on VOD at the same time), and a lot of people were disappointed. They came out in droves anyway to the theater, to the point where Business Insider wrote an article talking about how RLJ had to rethink their distribution strategy on this film. It ended up adding theaters, which is highly unusual.
LL: You have done something disruptive. You’re literally changing the relationship between the audience and the movies. Invested people will want to go to the theater and invite their friends to see the thing they helped make.
TL: Even with day and date, we have a program called our Meet-Up program, where if it’s being released theatrically, we know X amount of people are going to go out. When we did Bad Samaritan, we had 130 meet-ups in one weekend all over the country, which helped drive a significant portion of that movie’s box office.
When RLJ said Mandy would also going to be on Video on Demand, we sat down and said, “How can we support that? And how can we still make it a community event and something fun for our members and investors? And also a lot of people who aren’t members and investors to discover the film on their own?” This is all about engagement, right?
So we put together these Mandy “Party in a Box” sets. It has a collectable mac-and-cheese box, and a little beanie with the Cheddar Goblin on it, coasters that are branded with the film and fun facts about the film and drink recipes…. If you’re going to invite people over to watch an awesome movie like Mandy, they’re kind of fun to have. It’s all about engagement, and doing something that makes it fun. What’s entertainment if you’re not having fun?
LL: And this is all basically what you’ll be covering in your panel this weekend, right?
TL: Yeah. I will be moderating, (Legion M founders) Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan will both be on the panel, and all of our TV writers are participating. Evan Wasserstrom will be there; he’s writing Malice for us. We have Adam Beason and Jed Rigney, who are writing Airship Cowboys for us. We have Perry Covington and Erik Figi who are writing Evermor for us, and Andrew Cosby— and then we have a special announcement involving Andrew.
LL: That’s awesome. And also, Legion M is going to have another experience for members and investors at LA Comic-Con, right?
TL: Yeah, the Legion M Fan Oasis, which is what we’re calling our booth, is the experience for members and investors. We’re working with the Scum and Villainy Cantina to bring a piece of the Cantina to the floor of LA Comic-Con. We’re working with a very well known Hollywood costumer who’s bringing costumes. We have several other people who will be in our space, including Stargate Command and Transference, which is a new VR game that Company X produced. We’ll be selling merch, and we’ll have our little stage where we’ll have workshops on everything from how to do your own cosplay costume to how to craft your pitch for the screen.
LL: So, if I am not a member today, and this all sounds so great that I want to go and be part of it at LA Comic-Con this weekend, if I join as a free member right now, will I be eligible to come in?
TL: You don’t even have to join! You just need a ticket to LA Comic-Con. Our booth is open to the public. You don’t have to be a member to participate. This is for everyone. Fans of all ages.
LL: Great! Any parting words of wisdom?
TL: You know, one thing that people often ask is, “Will you read my script?”
Our answer is usually no. We’re not open for unsolicited submissions. But once I get to know someone, it’s no longer unsolicited. So you know, if someone is curious how they can get involved with Legion M, whether it’s, “Will you read my script?” or “Will you hire me to do some extra work?” or “Will you hire me to put together some graphic design for you?” or “Can I just get involved and volunteer and help you whenever you need it?”
People don’t quite know how to go about that, and we’re a super open and friendly company. We want to meet everyone; we want to hear what they want. We encourage people to come out and meet us, and talk to us and introduce themselves, so we can get to know them for those reasons.
Meet Terri and other Legion M luminaries at LA Comic-Con this weekend in the Legion M Fan Oasis, and check out the panel “Legion M: How the Power of Fandom Is Changing Hollywood” Saturday at noon in room 403-A. You can visit Legion M online at https://legionm.com.