Legion M's Terri Lubaroff on Mandy, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot, and How "Fan-Owned" Entertainment Works

Legion M, the fan-owned creative studio with movie, TV, and comics projects in development, is probably best known for their investment in Mandy, last year's instant cult classic starring Nicolas Cage. They are also putting some of their muscle behind Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, and were well-represented at Comic Con International in San Diego last month as a result. The group also backs Girl With No Name, an upcoming, female-led Western comic book based on an unproduced, award-winning screenplay. The comics is being used both as its own project and, as with so many other independently-published comics in today's market, as a pitch document to finally get the movie made.

Legion M chief operating officer and head of content Terri Lubaroff joined ComicBook.com at Comic Con International in San Diego last month to discuss the organization, what's on the horizon for them, and how they work with fans to decide what projects they should pursue.

I think a lot of people became aware of Legion M with Mandy. How long have you been developing this before you kind of broke into the geek-sphere's consciousness?

Jeff and Paul, our co-founders, also founded a company called MOBITV back in like 1999. MOBITV was the first company to ever put live streaming television on your cell phone. Back when the phones were like one inch by one inch black and white, they went into every board room in Hollywood and said, “We have this crazy idea that people should be watching TV on their phones,” and everybody laughed them out of every boardroom. And they ignored it all and went and developed the technology and sure enough, I watched Stranger Things on my phone this morning.

So, they're entrepreneurs, but when they were starting that company, all of their friends and family were like, “This is a great idea, can we please give you money to get started?” And what they discovered through that process was if that you are an unaccredited investor, you were literally not allowed to take someone's money to help finance a startup. And that was what the law was back then. And then in 2012, the government changed the law and said, “We are now going to allow unaccredited investors to invest in startups.” And Jeff and Paul, whose family was left out of this humongous growth of MOBITV and they always felt bad about it, were tracking that law the whole time and trying to brainstorm, “Okay, if we're going to equity crowdfund a company,” which is what this law allows you to do, “what would we do?” It took four years for the government to put it into effect, but Jeff and Paul were there the whole time tracking and figuring out what to do. So when it went into effect in May of 2016, we had formed Legion M three months prior and we were ready to go.

You can also be a free member. We don't want anyone to feel left out. If you can invest, that's amazing, and we would love to have people be an investor and be a part of the financial upside. But if you can't be a part of that, we still want people to be part of the emotional upside of being a member of Legion M.

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(Photo: RLJE Films)

You're doing Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, you did Mandy, but what do you guys do kind of the rest of the time?

We see ourselves as a mini studio. We finance, we produce, we develop, we're distributing now. And it's TV, it's film, we just did our first comic book, we've done virtual reality, we do a lot of live events. So, we spend a lot of time on the content side, but we spend just as much time developing technology to help interact and engage with our members and investors so they can have a direct say in the content that we're producing.

For example, if I can go down a little bit of a rabbit hole, we developed this piece of technology called Film Scout. It gamified a voting system where our members and investors can go online. We did this for Sundance, and we put in all 120-some movies into this program. We had the log line, and sometimes there was a trailer, we had a list of cast and maybe a still picture. And we asked all of our members to vote on which movies they wanted us to look at at Sundance, to [possibly] acquire. And they voted, over 45,000 votes. It was amazing. I think it was two weeks. We got that data, and then we also had about 200 film scouts from the Legion who made their way to Sundance who wanted to be part of it. On the ground, watching the movies, and telling us directly, “Okay, I saw this movie, and it's legit amazing.”

Shockingly -- I never would have guessed this -- everybody identified this documentary called Memory: The Origins of Alien as something they wanted us to go after. Never in a million years would I have guessed that the Legion would say, “Go do a documentary!” But I felt like that was our marching order. So that's what we went and did and we were able to develop this amazing relationship with the filmmaker and we had a partner in Screen Media who was willing to come along the ride with us, and we acquired it. But it was because our members said "We want you to do that.”

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(Photo: Legion M/Kickstarter)

Can we talk a little bit about Girl With No Name? What made you guys want to get into the comics side of things?

Comics are such a great tool though to engage a grassroots audience, and to kind of figure out what works and what doesn't work in a future film or a television show. Whether it's character, or you're storyboarding what a scene might look like. The challenge with Girl With No Name is that it's a feature film script. It won Slamdance ten years ago. Tanya Wexler, who directed Hysteria, is on board to direct, and her producing partner Laura Ivy. It's a female lead, and on the page it looks like a Western, and those are notoriously hard to get financed.

So, my background is in film and TV, but also in comic books. And they came to us and said, “What do you think? Should we do a comic book on this?” And we kind of figured out a way to do it that made financial sense, but also would allow an audience to find it. To find this universe of the girl, and we put it all together. It's an all-female artist team, which I'm incredibly proud of. We did a Kickstarter for it, to gauge pre-sales. How interested are people in this book? Because we didn't want to over-publish. So, our goal was $6,000 on Kickstarter, and we sold, including, a Backerkit after, over $135,000 of comic books. So there is an audience out there.

Now we can take that data and that comic book and go to financiers and say, “No really, this is a real project that you guys should take a look at.” But what was most exciting about it for me, because we did it through Kickstarter, everyone who participated in the Kickstarter, even if it was for a dollar, gets to be part of the development process. So, the director, the producer, Legion M, we're going to open up the process and allow them to have a say in how we produce this feature film, and that's amazing. As a fan myself, I would've died for this opportunity when I was not in the industry.

In a world where there are things like Veronica Mars and Firefly, and these things where the fans are like “Let us give you money!,” how hard is it for you guys trying to balance pursuing existing IP versus developing new things? Of course, then you own it outright, but also you have to develop the fan base.

It's definitely a push-pull, and I would say probably the number one most requested franchise that people want us to go after is Firefly. And if I knew Joss Whedon, I would pick up the phone and say, "Hey, what do you think?" But I don't. Do you? [Laughs]

Fans who want to bring something back, we do listen, and like I said, we were always asking our members and investors what they want to see. For Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, we had put a poll out to all of our members and said, “Okay, of these directors, who do you want us to try to work with?” We put Kevin Smith on there because we have a great relationship with him, but we had J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro. It came back, like, “We wanna work with Kevin Smith.” So, when we heard that they were going to do Reboot, we were like, “Whatever you need from us, we're in.” It is a balance though because the whole idea of Legion M is, if we have a million investors behind every single project we do, instead of rebooting and remaking old franchises, we can create new ones. That's where we eventually want to get to, but we're just starting out. To use a baseball analogy, we're in our first inning.

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(Photo: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot)

A lot of people -- Smith included -- in the genre business tend to talk about 10 projects for every 3 that get made. Do you have to ask sometimes, “Which of these might actually happen, so we can get in on it?”

Always. And we're always meeting with people. And I think on a weekly basis we probably talk about, probably 30 different projects, and I would say on a monthly basis one of those might move forward. It's a volume game when you think of it that way, and we have a very small staff so we have to be highly selective. And what we like to do is find fresh and exciting and new filmmakers that are doing things differently. We think with the Legion standing behind us, we can bring those to the marketplace in a really exciting way that allows them to launch -- which is what we did with Mandy.

Everything that you've done so far really leans genre. Is that just a matter of it being easy to motivate those fans, or do you guys look specifically for the kind of genre stuff?

It's our fans telling us what they want. I mean we do a lot of activations at Comic Cons and film festivals, and the people that we tend to talk to are people who love entertainment and love movies, and they happen to be genre fans. So again, we poll them and we say, “What do you want?” And they come back, and they're like, “Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, action, comedy.” So, yeah.

Is it tough, because obviously two-thirds of what you just listed is incredibly expensive?

It is incredibly expensive. Because we're so new, we only want to work with partners who have some experience. Because we are running a business, and we need to make sure that we are earning money for our investors. So we partner with amazing people all the time. SpectreVision is a perfect example of that. They're amazing partners who have done some very unique films, but they have all been financially successful. So we felt that that bet was a safe bet because we knew what we were getting into. Kevin and Jason and their team around them, and Saban of course is distributing -- same thing. We were like, “You know what you're doing, we'll do what we do well, and we'll all work together to make this an amazing film.”

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Something that occurred to me while we were talking is that, if I was talking to someone from a big studio, and they said "investors" 23 times in an interview, the fans would be like, “eff that guy.” Do you think that the populist nature of what you're doing allows you to be a little more frank with people?

It's our fans! Our investors are our fans. And the whole idea of Legion M is pulling back the curtain and opening the gates to Hollywood, and everything we do we try to be really transparent. So even when people come on our website and they're thinking about investing, we have a video it says, “Watch before investing”. And we basically say, "This is a risky investment. Like, you could lose your money, but we're going to have a damn good time, and you're going to have a damn good time being part of Hollywood if you do." Because that's statistically what happens with startups. We don't feel like we're building a company that could lose. We really feel strongly that we're building a company that could be worth billions some day. But it's going to take a long time to get there. So when I say investors, it's synonymous for us, with fans, because that's who it is.