First Look Media Launches as Visual Storytelling Destination (Exclusive)

Alvaro Dominguez

The website will serve as the direct-to-consumer arm of First Look's recently rebranded studio, Topic, and will feature a mix of shortform videos, photo essays and illustrations.

First Look Media is looking to follow up early successes in filmmaking and podcasting with a new digital venture. 

The Pierre Omidyar-founded media and entertainment organization has quietly launched the website as a hub for shortform video and other visual storytelling. Topic — which takes its name from First Look Media’s recently rebranded studio and will serve as the direct-to-consumer arm of the company behind the film Spotlight and the podcast Missing Richard Simmons — will be organized around monthly “issues” that have been designed as digital magazines. 

Topic’s first issue, titled “State of the Union,” launched Tuesday, June 26. It features a collection of photo essays, videos, illustrations and visual elements all centered around the theme of life in America today. The issue is anchored by a series of three short films from director Jim Cummings that look at the American existence through the stories of three different people. 

Other elements of “State of the Union” include a photo essay on the career government workers who spend years behind the scenes while politicians set the agenda, and a series of illustrations from Julia Rothman that depict the ethnic enclaves of American cities.  

Topic editor Anna Holmes, a Jezebel founder who joined First Look in 2016 as senior vp editorial, writes in Topic’s first letter-from-the-editor that the site is focused on visual stories “because, for one thing, some of us are tired of words typed angrily and quickly into a void.” In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she explains that the goal was to create evergreen stories that weren’t tied to the day’s news. “There was a lot of digital media out there about being reactive to news cycles,” she says, adding that by collaborating with filmmakers, photographers and other visual storytellers, the goal was to give the artists “a little more time to say what they wanted to get across.” 

While is the home for each new issue, First Look is also planning to distribute the shorts and photos it has commissioned across social media. The brand, which is also releasing an email newsletter, will exist on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Vimeo and YouTube. Excerpts from photo essays could be posted on Instagram, for example, and some of the short films could be teased on Facebook. 

There will also be an opportunity for the work highlighted on Topic to find its way into theaters or onto television screens through the studio, which co-financed 2016 Oscar best picture winner Spotlight and recently came on board to co-finance and co-produce Dan Gilroy’s Denzel Washington starrer. First Look, which rebranded its studio as Topic in March, recently hired television veterans Jason Fisher and Ryan Heller to build up its film, television and digital slate. It has drama Brotherhood of the Bomb in the works and has signed on to co-produce and finance war correspondent film On the Other Side starring Carey Mulligan. Topic executive vp programming Adam Pincus notes that Topic wants to both help up-and-coming filmmakers incubate projects and provide more established filmmakers with a platform to try out new ideas. “This should be a virtuous studio,” he says. 

Topic will not be First Look's first foray into digital. The company also owns Glenn Greenwald's news outlet The Intercept and animated comedy site The Nib. It will enter a space already crowded with digital video upstarts, companies like ATTN and Ozy Media and Mic that are politically minded and issue-driven. But Holmes and Pincus say they haven't seen another outlet focused on the same topical yet evergreen content. "I don't think there's a meaningful way" to compete in the daily news space, adds Holmes. "We should compete in the digitally native, evergreen storytelling but relevant to contemporary culture space." 

The next issue of Topic, which will come out in August, is centered on the theme “Female Trouble” and will feature digital series Everything Is OK from Cirocco Dunlap, which Pincus describes as “a young, comedic Black Mirror.” September’s issue, “Rashomon,” will feature Death in the Terminal, a documentary that Topic acquired in May from directors Tali Shemesh and Asaf Sudry and executive producers Megan Ellison and Mark Boal. 

The issue structure, notes Holmes, provides a framework through which Topic can organize the many different projects that it commissions or acquires each month. Adds Pincus: “It is a little bit of an import from the good old days of magazines, but in the digital world where you’re going to access this probably through social media, one story at a time, if you understand that there’s a framework for it, hopefully it gives a bit more meaning and a bit more coherence to a wide range of people’s perspectives.”