Blog Post

Striking Writers to Launch Online Video Co., Seeking $30M+

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. [digg=]

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.

47 Responses to “Striking Writers to Launch Online Video Co., Seeking $30M+”

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  2. Hey everyone,

    I am an American expat in Madrid, Spain. I run an English language online magazine here and work in video production. We have a really cool WEB TV show related to travel curiosities hosted by a well known video blogger.

    We have the pilot and are looking for some funding. Is anyone out there interested in checking it out? Please email me at business (at)


    PS: We are also about to shoot a European wine show pilot and perhaps an international beer show. If you are looking for fully-equipped American video journalists in Europe with awesome presenters, shoot me an email. You can also check out my video production Web site at

    Viva WEB TV!

  3. Ian Shelby

    Many TV Stations just re-run old re-runs ans sell advertising spots – They won’t pay for better programs that people like, some produce cheap realit TV (BS) so it will backfire on them and give producers/writers to deliver directly to the people. It will only work if we all have superfast broadband networks at a reasonable price. If not, then the ISPs will kill it. Under the present system of free enterprise and economic models, there will always be someone who will want to milk it for all the money they can, and deliver as little as possible. They say ‘Greed is Good’ but only for a select few. (And their Bankster friends)

  4. I think this is a great opportunity for all of us creatives to continue perfecting the craft and taking control of the situation.

    I’ve found another site for writers & filmmakers, ADOOGA.COM, that lists hundreds of major brand contests with huge cash rewards $$$ (Chevy, Nabisco, Casio, POM, PeptoBismol, Gibson,…)

    I’ve entered three contests in the last month with potential rewards of $50,000 and various other prizes

  5. The production of TV and Film around the world faces exactly the same mass media economic problem.

    The current model is simple. Studios take the risk. They scout for and fund the investment and reap the majority of the reward through distribution. The talent is paid a little, with a select few receiving much, much more than others. Basically though, the Studio owns it all.

    Off the back of the WGA strike, talent is looking at new ways to create content and keep most of the ownership.

    “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.”

    This is one example of many groups of talent coming together to seek VC investment; Virtual Artists, Hollywood Disrupted and 60 Frames.

    The problem is that these new firms are simply replicating the same mass media economic model, the model they have been institutionalised into. If you think about it, these new firms are simply playing the role of the Studio, but on a smaller scale. They face the same transaction costs to find talent and create new programming that the studios do.

    My question. When these new ventures grow, will the TV/Film world look any different? The economics are exactly the same, just spread out over more small/niche/focussed Studios. A bigger pack of wolves, different clothing.

    Right now, their offering is to ask the talent to take the risk (reduced fees) and in reward be given a larger share of revenues. Who’s the real winner here?

    The new wolves…, and they will have the same problems the studios face. They will not be able to scale investment, production and output. They will have to control tightly what is invested in and what isn’t. They will become the new bottlenecks for talent.

  6. How do I get involved? How do I invest, and how do I apply for a job with this group? This idea, right here, defines what the web is evolving to next, and exemplifies the economic and business-model changes that are around the corner.

    I want in.

    • jL louie Partida

      Love it!

      Okay so lets talk about my film Chubby Chasers currently in development to shoot in Dallas
      with Bruce Vilanch attached.

      I’m thrilled to be associated with providing me with the savings on camera, lighting gear I need to produce this and my special effects and animation company.

      Although the 19K budget which Paranoia Activity was produced for seems like a good start, our locations would not support this so our current budget is $350,000

      Lets talk !


  7. I blogged about this today. I love the enthusiasm and excitement, you get the sense they really believe people are going to care, that they’re bringing something to the table, etc. But, they’re not the first credentialed entertainment people to try to give it a go with a video startup, and anybody experienced in internet business will tell you a list of credentials (unless they’re internet specific) and a pile of money guarantees nothing in internet business.

    There is and will be a market for professionally produced internet video content, but it’s early. No amount of money or talent will make something mature any faster than its on course to mature. At least not to pay writers and directors nice fat salaries :)

    Welcome to startup world, boys. :)

  8. oh now look, i’ve gone and wet myself!

    come on, $30 million for a bunch of writers? does anyone have business experience? is Air Bud going to be their mascot?

    My god if that’s the best they can do they should be a hell of a lot more quiet with their ideas.

  9. Studios know that they are going to be toast on the Internet

    I think that the big studios in all categories of media know that their days of controlling media are counted. With such disruptive platforms as Youtube, BitTorrent, DivX, $200 HD camcorders, Miro, Video-blogging, it’s just a matter of time before the cool writers and composers get directly together with the cool performers and producers and decide to release the shows directly to the viewers without any need of big media moguls interfeering and taking the largest part of the revenue and destroying a lot of the creativity in the process.

    $100 video-on-demand set-top-boxes, cheap, open and unrestricted portable media players (700mhz, WiFi, WiMax and HSDPA) and other open on-demand Internet access hardware will make it completely user-friendly for everyone to get those independant shows delivered instantly over the Internet from the show creators themselves.

    In France once the parliamentarians suggested to pay the artists through taxes, such a thing as a $5 tax on average per citizen was suggested, which could fund much more than what all artists combined are paid today. Thus providing a system for many more talents to express themselves and create even higher quality content with complete creative freedom.

    The quality and popularity of the shows being measured very precisely through the Internet connected on-demand system and through social networking tools and some popularity and quality measurement tools provided by the state which also neutrally redistributes the culture tax money directly to all the artists who deserve it.

    Anyways, it’s not I guess useful to think about this right now, cause all those shows have to stay on media giant tv channel networks for now, but I would guess everyone should prepare themselves for this probable media revolution coming up. Especially a new administration such as when Al Gore “invented the Internet”, probably could set the reform agenda on the table which would take away the control on the media from the established studios (that is, unless all the candidates are corrupt or media conservatives).

  10. Yeah, the guy who is famous for the Air Bud franchise is spearheading this? Yeah the investors will just line up. Was he gainfully employed before the strike? Or is he just using it to feather his own nest.

    I won’t watch his work on TV or in a theater, what makes him think anyone will watch his work online.