Studio of the Future Operates Across Divisions to Create IP that Travels Across Media as “Organically Multiplatform”
Skybound Entertainment is the studio of the future — a self-sustained business that develops, produces and distributes projects across nearly every form of media. From comic books, to television and film, over to virtual reality and back to table top and video games and merchandise, Skybound is creating IP, including digital natives “Scare PewDiePie” (YouTube Red), Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison’s “Turning Point” and “Gone” (Samsung Gear VR), that is breaking down the silos that have existed in Hollywood for decades. Some of that IP Skybound Entertainment is showcased this past weekend at Comic Con in San Diego this weekend.
And according to the company’s co-founder David Alpert, who also Executive Produced “The Walking Dead” with creator Robert Kirkman, breaking down the silos of Hollywood presents an opportunity to tell great stories across a variety of platforms, whichever is best suited. For Skybound Entertainment, the various departments at the company are encouraged to identify the best home for the creative, rather than try to back into traditional distribution models.
“The big pitfall our competitors sometimes face is they’ll look at a comic book idea and they’ll think ‘Oh, this is a great way to back door into a movie or a television show,” Alpert told VideoInk in an interview. “We’re a creator driven entertainment company,” as opposed to a television or film company, said David Alpert. “[We look at] what’s the best medium to express this story. We’ll do a creative evaluation or technical evaluation to say [to the creator] why this should be a TV show or a video game.”
And it’s a culture that Kirkman and Alpert have worked to foster across the company, which now employs a few dozen full time.
“As a company, culturally we’re empowered to try things first, we’re a fearless company. We’re empowered to try things and to go for it,” said Director of Media Development Rachel Skidmore.
Co-President of Television & Film Bryan Furst echoes Skidmore and Alpert noting how the team is focused on the creator when planning distribution and development. “What I think is unique about Skybound is we’re very organically multi-platform so it allows us to take a creators vision and express it in a unique variety of ways. We’re involved in everything from traditional film and TV to digital to podcasts to the written word.”
For most entertainment executives, this opportunity screams “money, money, money” and an obvious route for exploiting IP across every platform possible. Skybound’s approach couldn’t be farther from this mentality, though. While each division isn’t responsible for its own P+L, the various department heads are incentivized to find authentic ways to collaborate and build robust IP that can travel across platforms, but it’s not a requisite for greenlighting a project.
“It’s not quid pro quo that if something lands as a comic book that it’s going to land in another spoke on the wheel here. There has to be buy in from every head of the department for it to take root,” said Sean Furst, Co-President of Television & Film and the other half of the “Furst Brother” duo.
So while Skybound has broken down the creative silos that traditionally exist in film and television, departing from the economics in Hollywood as digital distribution models disrupt the industry is an ongoing conversation for the team. And, given development times for most linear distribution platforms can be “glacial”, as the team describes, it’s not uncommon that the landscape has changed by the time the project is ready for premiere.
“We don’t just look at film or TV or animation, we discuss it as content. We bring ideas to the table. We rely on each other’s context and expertise in digging into the idea. And, we want the content to go to the best platform where it will find the best audience,” added Skidmore.
That also means reevaluating the traditional set-in-stone formats of 17’s, 22’s or 10×10’s in an effort to reimagine the future of great storytelling media.
“The thing that bonds us like glue across departments is that we have a high bar of quality, whether it’s going to be digital or traditional. That’s something we achieve through the sharing of our resources and the sharing of our creative opinions,” said Genevieve Jones, Manager of Production and Digital Development.
And perhaps this is the secret sauce in the Skybound recipe for success and what has enabled the company to recirculate revenue back into the business as an independent production company.
An Early Mover in Virtual Reality Creative Innovation
Gaming and game-like environments fare extremely well in virtual reality. And for the creative team at Skybound, which has a strong market position and creative expertise for the genre, venturing into virtual reality in 2013 was an obvious and exciting move. But moreover, VR is a business the company is committed to despite a slowing economy for viewership and device development.
“For us, we are going to double, triple, quadruple down in the VR space,” said Alpert, who added that once the team saw what was possible with the format, they were excited about the scale of possibilities from a creative standpoint.
It’s flagship project with Samsung VR “Gone” that allowed the team to be “more fluid and creative” with VR, says Skidmore, noting that the company prides itself on the project as an example of flipping the usual production script — instead of building the creative to fit the tech, Samsung was collaborative in building the tech to fit the creative vision. And it worked. “Gone” climbed to the highest viewed series on Samsung’s VR platform, then called “Milk VR” and since bundled with Samsung Gear VR.
“The form of storytelling in VR is evolving so much right now and we’re trying to figure out what it is thats exciting about storytelling in VR — is it environmental, object storytelling or narrative driven, dialogue driven,” said Jones. “Something that draws us to VR projects is sometimes more the creator themselves versus the content on the page,” like the company’s forthcoming thriller project “Delusion: Lies Within” with stuntman-writer-director Jon Braver (“The Dark Knight Rises”, “Iron Man”).
Jones admits finding the right projects for VR or knowing which are ideal for the medium is often the toughest question, the company is leaning into genres that crossover well — like gaming or interactive theatre. And while the economics haven’t caught up to the excitement that creatives have for VR, brand appetite is high, they say, and brand-led funding for projects in VR is still viable.
But with or without VR on the docket, Skybound Entertainment is building slow and steady, with measured gain across all areas of the entertainment industry, sourcing ideas from inbound pitches and its various comic book deals. And with a handful of projects in the pipeline, Skybound Entertainment’s team is skipping the Old Hollywood playbook and re-writing a new school model for genre programming.
“The landscape has changed dramatically,” added Alpert. “Look at the proliferation of not just outlets but also ways in which people consume content. There’s an arms race going on…and simultaneously [people think] that there’s a gold mine to be discovered and that we’re in a bubble economy. Theres’ excitement and despair around every corner.”