New Form Digital chief creative officer Kathleen Grace remembers the anxiety she felt when she presented the start-up’s first slate of 14 pilots in the screening room at Creative Artists Agency (CAA) headquarters in Century City, Ca., back in Oct. 2014.
The screening’s success wasn’t merely riding on whether or not the pilots entertained. It was a larger test of an experimental concept, conducted in front of a mix of friends, family, distributors and brand reps, along with some of the traditional media heavy-hitters who co-founded the company, including filmmaker and Imagine Films chairman Ron Howard, whose pedigree added an extra layer of high expectations.
On top of that, Grace had to get up in front of the crowd to introduce the pilots, adding public speaking to her list of stressors.
“We really believe in the filmmakers we work with, so you want them to succeed and you want everyone to love their work, so of course I was nervous,” Grace told VideoInk. “Now, I think we’re more confident when we go out into the marketplace and talk about our work, because we feel like the filmmakers have proven to the world that they can do this, and we have helped them do that.”
In the 14 months since the screening, New Form Digital has churned out 11 additional pilots, sold 18 series and released four, including PJ Ligouri’s “Oscar’s Hotel for Fantastical Creatures,” which set a single day sales record on Vimeo On Demand when it debuted in September. At the same time, its number of employees has grown from just four to 22.
New Form Digital was launched in the spring of 2014 as an independent venture backed by Discovery Communications, Howard’s fellow Imagine Films chairman Brian Grazer and co-chairman Michael Rosenberg, attorney Craig Jacobson, former Tribune Broadcasting president Ed Wilson, former William Morris chief Jim Wiatt and CAA.
As its name suggests, the company’s mandate is to do something different — not make content that mimics the best of YouTube or aspires to be broadcast TV, but rather create high-quality, scripted, cinematic stories for the social media generation and the platforms they favor.
“I think if they wanted to do more of the same, it would’ve been a different company… maybe part of Imagine or a different scenario,” explained Grace (pictured), who came to New Form Digital following a three-year stint as head of creative development for YouTube Space LA. “They wanted us to have a flexibility and freedom to go produce in new ways and work with new kinds of talent, because it’s a whole new medium in the sense that it’s distributed on phones, on desk tops… through OTT apps, subscription platforms or VOD.”
New Form Digital is also promoting the content in ways that, if not new, are at least different than those typically used for traditional TV and film projects.
For “The Fourth Door,” its 12-part sci fi series that debuted in October on Verizon’s new Go90 mobile platform, New Form sent a customized trailer outfitted with a small theater on a tour of college campuses in cities such as Phoenix, Austin and Nashville. It played clips from “The Fourth Door,” introduced by a live actor in character as ghostly crooner Gabriel (played by co-creator Jarrett Sleeper in the series).
“The Fourth Door” was also promoted with a series of vlogs by its co-creator/director Tony E. Valenzuela on his YouTube channel BlackBoxTV. Titled “Letters from Limbo,” they follow Valenzuela’s emotional journey making the series with Sleeper, with behind the scenes footage and appearances by cast members including Joey Graceffa.
“It was great way to get that audience who is already following all those folks on social excited about the fact that the show is coming out and that they’ll be able to see it on a new platform like Go90,” said Jodi Flicker, VP and head of marketing for New Form Digital.
New Form’s 2016 slate includes the Lisa Schwartz comedy series “Party Girl,” produced in partnership with Maker Studios, and an additional five shows for Go90, including “Replay,” co-written by Grace and Shawn Dempewolff.
“Every time we make a show, we learn more about how to tell a mobile-friendly story,” Grace said. “What is the right length? What is the right pacing? So, in some ways, each show is pushing it in a direction where we’re going to hopefully find the sweet spot for that kind of story.”