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Producer Mark Ciardi, whose specialty has been inspirational sports dramas like The Rookie and Million Dollar Arm, is joining forces with Tom Duterme, who has worked in development at both Google and YouTube, and venture capitalists William Chang and Ash Vasudevan to form a new production company called Aspire Entertainment.
Ciardi had been partnered with Gordon Gray in Mayhem Pictures, which has had a first-look deal at Disney since 2002, but the two recently parted ways.
Aspire will be involved in film production but is also looking to create both scripted and unscripted content for a wide variety of distribution platforms. Its mission is to create inspirational stories about characters who overcome adversity.
“I’ve been concentrating on film for the past 12, 14 years, but about a year ago, my eyes were opened to the big sea change that is going on,” Ciardi said of his decision. “You keep hearing the words ‘premium content across all platforms,’ and I realized the brand I had helped build in sports but also inspirational stories could lend itself well to this new company. Storytelling now isn’t just about film. It’s everything from two minutes to two hours. I want to continue in film, but looking at other forms of original content is exciting. I want to build a broader company that can be very robust and not pointing toward just one direction.”
Describing the split with Gray as “very amicable,” he said he’s discussing moving some projects he has developed from Mayhem to Aspire, which will be based in Los Angeles. Sports stories will be a big part of the new company, but, he added, “we won’t be limited to that. Aspirational and inspirational are the key words. I love true stories, whether they are on or off the playing field. There are a lot of stories that don’t have anything to do with sports, but feel like sports stories.”
Chang and Vasudevan created The Million Dollar Arm, a reality show in India that sought out talented athletes who could be turned into major-league-caliber baseball players. It was the inspiration for the recent Disney film Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm, which Mayhem produced. Chang and Vasudevan, who were portrayed in the film, developed a close relationship with Ciardi on the set of the movie, and that led to discussions about launching a new content company.
Ciardi will serve as Aspire’s co-founder, president and CEO. A former professional baseball player with the Milwaukee Brewers before he entered the film business, he also has produced such films as Miracle and Secretariat as well as the upcoming McFarland USA, starring Kevin Costner, and Fallen.
Chang, who is taking on the role of co-founder and chairman, is chairman of Westlake International Group, a privately held investment company. He also serves as the co-owner and general partner of the professional soccer club D.C. United, and is on the executive committee of the San Francisco Giants. He invests in tech companies through Edge Venture Capital Fund, of which Vasudevan is a managing partner. Vesudevan, who will be a co-founder of Aspire, is also the founding director of ReQall and co-creator of Gigante, a documentary about Major League Baseball player Andres Torres.
Duterme, who will be co-founder and founding advisor at Aspire, will focus on the new company’s digital media strategy, partnerships and investments, drawing upon his experience working on strategy and corporate development for YouTube as well as his stints in both corporate development and business development positions at Google and Groupon.
In a statement, Duterme, Chang and Vesudevan said: “We are thrilled and fortunate to be launching Aspire with Mark at a time when the creation, consumption and distribution of stories is undergoing a significant transformation. We believe Mark’s incredible breadth of experience will enable us to be at the forefront of producing original, premium content that brings to life some of the most inspiring, aspirational stories of our time to a global audience.”
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