“Yes, I’m related,” Abigail Disney told a room full of journalists in West L.A. on Wednesday, as she and her partners presented a vision for an equitable Hollywood company born from an attempt to buy Harvey Weinstein’s disgraced studio last fall.
Level Forward, funded in part by Walt Disney’s grandniece and run by CEO Adrienne Becker, is deploying the strategy it would have used for Weinstein’s assets: elevate stories from underrepresented groups like women and people of color, diversify with live events programming and invest back into the non-profits they’ll use to promote their content.
“I was filled with a lot of rage about it, I think a lot of women I knew were feeling like suddenly the world was paying attention to something that we’ve been trying to say for a hell of a long time,” Disney said of the Weinstein scandal and her subsequent bid.
The group withdrew their offer — a reported $500 million in cash and debt that included help from True North, a nonprofit supported in part by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s impact investing firm Omidyar Network — after Hollywood unknown Maria Contreras-Sweet came into the race with the help of Ron Burkle.
“It struck us that this was a process that was not going to be in good faith or legitimate,” Disney said.
Still, she “fell in love in with the beautiful symmetry and justice of the idea” of a group of women working to support abuse victims and contribute to wide calls for equitable workplaces in entertainment. They also want to make movies and television in a way that disrupts the current system’s risk aversion and greed, they said.
Oh, and take “raping and pillaging out of the business once and for all.”
Joining their flagship partner in Christine Vachon’s Killer Content (where Becker was formerly CEO) is a pact with producer and director Stephanie Allain (“Burning Sands,” “Hustle & Flow”) and Broadway producer Eva Price (“Dear Evan Hansen,” “Angels in America”).
They insisted these were not overall deals, but rather “producing pods.” Other producer partners include Refinery 29 for short-form and multiplatform content, longtime Weinstein collaborator Donna Gigliotti, and filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, who are expected to unveil a #MeToo documentary at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Level Forward also announced they’ve hired former MTV and Oprah Winfrey Network president Christina Norman as a creative advisor.
The company is developing a half-hour animated series with rocker Pat Benatar and producer Stephanie Laing (“Veep”), and is plotting a series of live events programming in the same vein of their scripted projects — this includes a hand in the Alanis Morissette jukebox musical “Jagged Little Pill” and an emotional interactive art installation “Unspoken.” The events are natural platforms to promote their scripted fare with similar themes, the partners said.
Other moves to diversify include coming on board as a founding investor to Rotten Apples — an IMDB-like database that tells you if people involved in film or TV shows have been accused of sexual harassment — as well as business-to-business products that improve on HR practices in a venture with Words With Friends founder Paul Bettner and wife Katy.
There was also an indication that Level Forward is not done shopping for a larger acquisition property or content library, as the women initially did with TWC, and that True North is still down to partner on such a purchase.
In addition to chair and co-founder Disney and CEO Becker, Level Forward counts Angie Wang and Rachel Gould as board members. Zahra Sherzad serves as visual arts lead and Christy Spitzer Thornton as creative lead.
For the record: A previous version of this post incorrectly described True North.