On a Friday evening in October, a lively group of 40 or so people gathered on the lower level of Manhattan’s Javits Center for a New York Comic Con panel. Matching red and black hats, t-shirts, and pins spattered the crowd. A petite brunette woman in the front row donned a temporary tattoo of Nicolas Cage’s bloody face on her left cheek. The volume of the applause at the start of the session belied their numbers.
The fans weren’t there to geek out over a treasured artist, author, or franchises like Harry Potter, Star Wars, or the Avengers. They were there to learn about a new, wholly original work from a creator half the people in the room might not have heard of before. The panel—one of the last in a long day of sessions—introduced a new project from Legion M, a two-year-old entertainment company focused on investing in original movies, TV shows, and other projects.
Legion M is crowdfunded by fans. It was formed in 2016 to take advantage of a new US Securities and Exchange Commission rule change that allowed regular people—not just the wealthy—to invest in startups. Founded by Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison, who also created MobiTV to put TV shows on smartphones, Legion M wanted to give fans a say in the kinds of projects its entertainment company made. The idea was that, if people are emotionally and financially invested in Legion M, they’d be more likely to support its projects, even if it’s not making superhero movies, Eighties revivals, or TV reboots.
The company wasn’t interested in the prequels, sequels, or spinoffs that Hollywood was churning out. Not to say it would never do one, but it wanted to build fanbases around the original material that has become rarer on the big screen.
“To spread a virus, you need patient zero,” Scanlan told Quartz. “You need someone infected to walk through a crowded airport. If you have a lot of people doing that right out of the gate, then you have a better opportunity.”