On May 11 Netflix released the teen dramedy “The Kissing Booth” just as the school year was wrapping up for teens across the country.
By June, the company had a smash hit among the tweenage set, and Wattpad, the company which owned the rights to the The Kissing Booth, had its first true breakout vehicle. The story, written on Wattpad’s publishing platform by Beth Reekles, was a proof point for the company’s thesis pitching a new twist on the old model of discovering stories and creative talent for the entertainment industry.
Behind the success of the film is a nascent movement among startup companies that are trying to open the doors of Hollywood’s dream factory to a broader group of creative professionals by riding the wave of fan fiction and user generated content all the way to the Paramount lot (or the Disney lot, or Sony Studios).
“In this obvious period of disruption in the entertainment industry how we’re finding stories is evolving,” said Wattpad Studios chief Aron Levitz.
YouTube, the short-lived Vine app, and Instagram have all created new platforms for discovering potential on-camera talent, and Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instagram (again), Netflix, and YouTube (again) have smashed the distribution system for television and movies. But these platforms and the traditional studios they’d like to supplant have a voracious appetite for stories to tell and (many) are reluctant to risk millions of dollars behind something unproven.
Hollywood has always borrowed (or stolen) from other media to entertain the masses, but it seems like the fields it’s foraging in for new stories have narrowed to a few serialized playgrounds (comic books, old television shows and movies, and wildly successful young adult genre fiction).
While there are thousands of flowers to be found there, new tech-enabled companies are suggesting there might be other patches where new talent can be discovered, harvested and leveraged for corporate gain and viewer delight.
Startups like Wattpad and Tongal (for directors and cinematographers), and new financing platforms like Legion M (for producing features) are aiming to elevate new talent and provide what the companies hope will be built-in audiences for successful new programming on platforms like Netflix, Apple, and others — and the hundreds of networks that are vying for attention in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.