Multi-Platform Film Company Blowtorch Gets $50 Million First Round

Blowtorch Entertainment, a film company seeking to bridge professional and user-generated content, has raised a big $50 million as part of a first round financing led by Ignition. Blowtorch, which is currently operating out of San Francisco and Los Angeles, plans to use the proceeds to acquire, produce and promote films for online, theatrical and mobile distribution. Secondly, the company expects to raise another $100 million within the next 12- to 18 months.

This is certainly a big gamble, in the face of fierce competition from a slew of other such firms, so we did an interview with Kelly Rodriques, Blowtorch’s CEO and founder, to find out more. He said this current funding is composed mostly of equity and some debt. The equity part was raised from Ignition, with a structured finance component raised by unidentified hedge funds. Rodriques, a former CEO of business services company Totality, helped found Ogilvy & Mather’s interactive marketing group. Lots more after the jump, including a short interview…

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After leaving Totality in March 2006, nearly a year after it was sold to Verizon, (NYSE: VZ) he sought to focus more directly on digital media and content creation and took a post as an operating partner at Ignition. Rodriques got the idea for Blowtorch last year, while on a research assignment for Ignition in China, looking in some digital entertainment prospects. “I was spun around by what I saw,” he said. “Companies were marrying TV and short form content with entertainment at level that was leap-frogging over some of the traditional channels that I’ve seen evolving here. So I thought, instead of trying to build the next YouTube or trying to monetize some premium video content play, which I had seen the likes of Crackle and developing, why wouldn’t someone try to combine a traditional paid content model around film with other paid models that was also digital and user-generated. I wrote the plan about a year ago and started funding it in June.”

Rodriques offered other views of how he plans to position the company.

The Current Plan: Next spring, Blowtorch will release its first theatrical film, You Are Here, which was produced by filmmaker Paul Schiff, who is also an early advisor to Blowtorch. The film is aimed at the 18- to 24-year-old college-age demo, which is Blowtorch’s primary target audience. Over the next three years, Blowtorch plans to distribute or acquire 18 films. The work will be submitted by users to its website, with Blowtorch’s audience voting on whether the films will receive greater distribution or not. It is in negotiations with major theater chains, including Regal, AMC and Landmark. At the moment, the company has a deal with Vivendi (EPA: VIV) Visual Entertainment to distribute Blowtorch films on DVD.

Advertising Component: One of Rodriques’ other early advisors has been Renetta McCann, the global CEO of Publicis Groupe media agency Starcom MediaVest Group. While not ready to discuss who the site’s sponsors will be, and whether there will be a relationship with Starcom, Rodriques did say that product placement will have a significant role in the many of its projects. In particular, marketers will be integrated with the Blowtorch’s channels. “A company like Nike SB could underwrite a skateboard channel that features users’ movies around that theme,” he said. “The idea is to integrate the user-gen stuff with the professionally produced stuff and promote it around marketers who are interested in segmenting video. Marketers are not getting that high-quality user-gen video on YouTube or anywhere else.”

Three Years From Now: “I see Blowtorch evolving into something that resembles the content distribution and targeted media company of the future. I’m combining those two models because I think the world is still trying to figure out whether or not people are going to pay for content, or if advertising is to be the main means of support. I believe it needs to be a combination of both. In order to achieve success in both model, you have to have dependable distribution for the paid content side and the audience acquisition and loyalty in order to be regarded by advertisers as valuable.”