Legion M, the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary—and it’s a happy occasion indeed. The brand’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric, as co-founders Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison have created a company where the fans hold the power.
Fans of TV, movies and digital content have been able to become Legion M investors and be welcomed into a family that’s working tirelessly to shake up the entertainment space. Where other platforms stick to crowdfunding, Legion M makes the crowd part of the creative team. What does the company look like five years on? And what’s made them so successful?
Hidden Remote sat down with Jeff and Paul to look back at the start of this unique organization and discuss what continues to make it a trailblazer in entertainment. For even more info, you can visit the Legion M website.
Hidden Remote: What does it mean to you that Legion M has reached five years in the entertainment business?
Jeff Annison: It’s so amazing when you just take a moment and look back at all of the things that we’ve done, and think back to like what it was when we first started off and all of our big dreams. I feel like, to be honest, if you go back in time and tell 2016 Paul and Jeff where we’d be today, we would be like, “Holy cow. That’s incredible.”
Paul Scanlan: One of the things we remarked the most on is how much younger we looked. So five years in startup life is like dog years. (laughs) It’s incredible, but one of the things that we really feel is a huge part of what we’ve done, isn’t just what we’re able to accomplish. It’s what our community has been able to do. That’s why we wanted to celebrate it with our community because that’s the thing that fuels us and powers us and with that army kind of behind us, we’ve been able to do a lot.
And at the same time, we feel like the things that we’re looking out at, that we’ve got in front of us, are even bigger and better. So it’s pretty exciting. We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we’re even more excited about the challenges and the opportunities in front of us.
HR: When you look back on those 2016 goals compared to where Legion M is now, is there anything that you’ve done that has exceeded those aspirations, or where you’ve just gotten surprised at where you’ve ended up?
PS: One of the projects that we’re most excited about right now, when we look forward, is a big ambitious project that we’re doing, and it came to us from our Legion. I would say in the earliest days, we probably wouldn’t have predicted that we would be doing a movie at this level and with this subject matter. But one of the things that’s so remarkable about this model is that it organically comes from our community. We’re able to watch what they’re asking for and then what everybody else responds to.
It’s called Defiant. It’s a true story of Captain Robert Smalls. This was a project that came into our community, into our Facebook group, as a meme that was going around the Internet saying, “There’s been this many ‘Fast and Furious’ movies and this many sequels and reboots, but why has no one told this remarkable, true story about Captain Robert Smalls?” Who was an enslaved man working on a Confederate warship in Charleston during the Civil War, and in this incredibly intelligent heist, stole the ship.
Filled it with his friends and family, other enslaved members of his family and his community, and sailed it to freedom through the blockade and surrendered it to the North. Met with President Lincoln at the time. Convinced Lincoln to help, to consider letting blacks fight in the Civil War. Lincoln made him a captain of that same ship that he stole. He fought in 17 battles. Moved back to Charleston, became one of the first black Congressmen, bought his former slave master’s plantation, took care of his slave master’s wife until she passed away, helped start some of the first compulsory public schools.
You can’t write a better story of heroic and audacious heist experience, and yet this is from our history and no one’s ever told this story before. And so that was a calling for us. When our community saw that they said, “Is there anything Legion M could do about this?” Everyone started piling on, saying oh my gosh, this would be a dream come true. And it’s a departure, I would say. It’s an action movie and it’s a heist movie, but it’s also historical about a real person, and I don’t know that we would have immediately said, “Oh, that should be one of our biggest projects five years from now.” But it is. And we couldn’t be more excited about it and our community couldn’t be more excited about it either.
HR: You’re known for putting on great events especially at conventions, which have gone by the wayside with the COVID-19 pandemic. How has Legion M pivoted in the face of current events?
JA: For us, like with everyone, it’s trying to take the lemons and make lemonade. The great news is that while it’s been impossible to get together in person, the barriers that used to exist that made it difficult to get online together have gone way down. Even my grandparents have Zoom and they know how to do Zoom. We really leaned into doing stuff on Twitch. We’ve got a Legion M Twitch channel where we’ve done a bunch of amazing events and live streams with directors, and storytellers, and people from Hollywood, and Legion M folks, and game nights and all that sort of stuff, and really focused on how we can kind of open the gates of Hollywood in that way.
We’ve also done some really cool events. We did a premiere for our film Archenemy with Joe Mangianello that came out in November, and we did that online on this platform called Gather that allows you to basically assume the identity of a little eight-bit avatar. It’s kind of like you’re playing old school eight-bit Zelda, and you walk around in this little map, and if you walk up to somebody else, a little video window pops up and now you’re in video chat. If somebody else comes up, now their window pops up and all three of you are in video chat and you can interact with the space. We had puzzles, and games, and secret rooms and all that sort of stuff. A lot of the cast was there, and the producers of the film, and it was just a really fun, special experience.
Obviously we’re chomping at the bit to get back to actual cons and seeing people in person, but the silver lining of this cloud is we’ve developed all new ways to connect with our shareholders and try and open the gates of Hollywood that I think we weren’t really focused on prior to the pandemic and I think will serve us well.
HR: More TV and film companies have leaned into crowdfunding and crowd involvement in the last five years, but Legion M has really been the most successful in terms of actually having the fan involvement and seeing it pay off. Why do you think you’ve succeeded so well?
PS: Just being genuine about it. I think there’s a lot of people that might sort of give lip service to wanting the community and liking the idea of it, but not necessarily willing to put in the hard work that it takes to truly do that. Early on when we were talking about what we wanted to do, one of the most common refrains was, “Oh, I bet you just get the money and do your own thing, and we won’t have a voice.” Jeff and I, we genuinely believe that the voice and the input that we get from our community is probably as important, if not more important than the finance that we’ve raised from them.
It’d be very short-sighted for us to just see the community as a way to raise finance and then go do projects. And so we’ve spent the time and the energy to build the tools like Film Scout and M-Pulse so that we truly can harness not just the power of that community to back projects, but the wisdom of that community to help us choose projects and to be better at decision-making. It also helps because it’ll settle the debates, because Jeff and I could never agree on what project to do anyway. Now we can just push it to the community. (laughs)
But honestly, it is really nice to have the community. We all have our opinions, but frankly, our opinion is only as valuable as anyone else’s in the community, and we really do genuinely look at the collective opinion to make sure that we’re doing what the community wants and that those projects are going to have the most potential for success if we’re doing it right.
Learn more about Legion M and join the Legion at their official website.