Out of work and newly wise to the state of content being distributed online, a group of professional writers is looking to start their own production and distribution company. Aaron Mendelsohn, writer of the Disney film Air Bud and an active WGA member, is captaining the efforts, and says he has gotten a group of “A-list” film and TV writers on the team. He’s also partnering with online community experts from Silicon Valley and raising “north of $30 million” in venture capital, with the idea of launching a company called Virtual Artists later this year.
Mendelsohn has his elevator pitch down cold: “We are a coalition of top film and television writers and top tech innovators who are dedicated to creating and delivering professionally made content directly to the end user, and who believe in the model of freedom and inclusiveness over the model of control that has been employed by the big media conglomerates for the past 100 years,” he told NewTeeVee this week.
The strike, Mendelsohn said, has been crucial to the project’s inspiration in more ways than one: “Otherwise we’re all just too damn busy rowing the boat.”
Virtual Artists will offer professional writers deals to develop and produce films, TV shows and shorts for a reduced fee but a larger ownership stake. It will also look to acquire content. Mendelsohn said he was primarily targeting the 12,000 members of the WGA, “But if there’s a great movie that’s created by some kid in Iowa or Beirut who has a real gift for storytelling, we’re definitely going to be looking for the gems out there.”
On the technology side, the company is looking to foster communities around its content and include viewers in the development process. Henri Poole of CivicActions and Brian Behlendorf of the Apache Project and CollabNet are serving as advisers.
As for the large amount of money he’s looking to raise, “Entertainment has not traditionally been a good investment,” Mendelsohn admitted. “You could burn $150 million on one Golden Compass and lose your shirt.” But this is going to be “lower budget” fare, he said, along the lines of Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office. “You don’t need to pour a sh–load of money into entertainment to find an audience,” he said.
Virtual Artists will not be alone in this space; there’s also 60Frames (our coverage), Blowtorch Entertainment (our coverage), and more; see this Los Angeles Times piece, which mentions another venture from striking writers called Hollywood Disrupted.