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Legion M Transforms the Face of Media Start-Ups

Variety logo Variety 7/18/2017 Michael Tedder

When Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison, two of the Emmy winning founders of MobiTV, discovered that Stan Lee had never been honored with an imprint ceremony at the storied TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, they decided to make it happen.

It all started in 2016 when the pair launched Legion M, the industry’s first fan-owned media start-up, its name a nod to the Marvel Comics antihero. Unlike other media companies with its purse strings controlled by studios, Legion M is funded and owned by enthusiastic, dedicated fans of the comic-book genre and Marvel universe. Legion M fans — “artists, dreamers and doers,” they like to call themselves — invest in film and TV series, pay the subscription fees and decide what and who they want to watch on the big and small screens. It’s an innovative and savvy business model, say Legion M co-founders Scanlan and Annison, CEO and president of the company respectively.

Legion M boasts a community of roughly 12,000 members and its long-term goal is to attract 1 million fans as shareholders of the company. Advisors of the company include Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (“Robot Chicken,” “Supermansion”), Neon’s Tim League, president of Legendary Digital Networks Adam Rymer and head of comedy TV at Sony Scott Landsman.

Scanlan and Annison are in contact with the Legion M community every day through Facebook and other social-media platforms. While fans don’t get direct say in how the projects turn out and can’t give director’s notes — “Great art isn’t made by committee,” says Annison — they are closely attuned to their shareholders’ tastes.

“We’re all familiar with Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and those things have been phenomenal for backing projects and getting people involved, but the missing component was that it was never legally allowed to sell shares in the company,” says Scanlan. “A lot of backers would get a coffee mug or a T-shirt, but they wouldn’t get shares, and they wouldn’t have an ongoing vested interest in that project being successful. So literally on day one, when that option became available, we were ready.”

Thus far, Legion M has developed a slate of genre-focused television and film projects, including Nacho Vigalondo’s Anne Hathaway-starring monster comedy “Colossal” and the horror anthology “Field Guide to Evil.” Per Annison, Legion M focused its efforts on two main audiences: people that attend the Sundance Film Festival and San Diego’s Comic-Con Intl.

“Those are the most passionate and enthusiastic fans in the world,” he says. “We said if we want to build an entertainment company owned by fans, that’s where we want to start.”

Another recent Legion M project is “Icons: Face to Face,” a 3-D, virtual-reality interview series in which Lee was interviewed by filmmaker Kevin Smith.

It was while working with Lee that Scanlan and Annison learned he’d never had left his hands and feet imprinted in the Chinese Theatre’s forecourt.

“Studios have the power and the means to make those happen,” says Scanlan. “But we’re a legion of fans, and we want to make our mark. So we rallied fans to give Stan this great honor this year.”

And fans are going above and beyond. Not only will Lee be honored with an imprint ceremony on July 18 — an event funded by Legion M — but they are also feting the iconic comic writer that same day with an epic after-party celebrating two monumental milestone events: Lee’s 95th birthday and his 78th year working in the comic book industry.

The party will take place at a 9,000 sq.-ft. Hollywood Hills residence renamed “Stark Mansion” where fans — many of them costumed as their favorite Lee superhero no doubt — will enjoy tunes spun by DJ Quickpheet, food and live entertainment, as well as a chance to take a giant group photo with Lee.

“It’s coming together better than we would have ever imagined,” says Scanlan. “We’ve had to expand the after-party to accommodate the interest.”

The party is another example of Legion M’s primary focus: to involve fans in all aspects of creating superhero magic. One of its most popular fan-oriented projects is the digital series “Pitch Elevator,” in which fans who attended last year’s Comic-Con were able to pitch their ideas for movies and TV shows. Legion M investors helped narrow 400 submissions down to 10 finalists. These finalists will get to pitch to a board of executives. The winner of the series will get a development deal with Legion M.

“It’s part of our promise not to just own a piece of Hollywood,” Scanlan says, “but to open the gates to Hollywood.”

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