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If you were to start a film studio in the age of the Internet and YouTube, what would it look like?
That’s the question that digital veterans Max Benator and Marc Hustvedt asked prior to the founding of their new film studio, Supergravity Pictures. The duo tell The Hollywood Reporter that they are planning to finance, produce, market and distribute between three and five full-length films and specials a year through Supergravity and have started with thriller The Chosen.
Chosen, which is currently in production in Los Angeles, stars YouTube creator Kian Lawley as Cameron, a 19-year-old who must defeat a demon named Lilith to save his niece, Angie. Elizabeth Keener (The L Word) and former Extra host Dayna Devon co-star. Ben Jehoshua is directing from an original screenplay by Barry Jay Stich.
The project is being produced in partnership with Sunrise Pictures’ Terror Films. Peter Schafer, Hustvedt and Benator are executive producing and Terror’s Joe Dain, Jim Klock and Miles Fineburg are producing.
Benator says Chosen represents the type of film that Supergravity is looking to produce: low budget but with potential to capture a passionate and engaged audience. “Thrillers are a big category for youthful moviegoing audiences that are Internet-connected,” he adds. “We want people to talk about it, join the community and eventually go see it in theaters.”
It helps that Supergravity has tapped Lawley for the starring role. As one fifth of YouTube super group Our Second Life, Lawley has become one of the rising stars on the platform, with more than 2.8 million subscribers on his YouTube channels. But Hustvedt notes that casting YouTube stars is not Supergravity’s focus.
“It’s not about stunt casting a digital media star,” he says. “It’s about partnering with the right talent.”
Hustvedt, an executive producer of the Streamy Awards, knows a thing or two about helping YouTube stars expand beyond short-form. He executive produced the film Camp Takota, which starred comedians Grace Helbig, Mamrie Hart and Hannah Hart. Benator, formerly head of production and development at Collective Digital Studio, serves as manager to The Fine Brothers and helped them take their React series to Nickelodeon.
A key component of Supergravity, which is billed as a data-driven, Internet-first studio, will be the marketing of the films, which will take advantage of the viral nature of digital media. People interested in Chosen, for example, can already sign up to receive information about the project and even buy branded merchandise.
Chosen is slated for a 2015 release. Benator and Hustvedt say that the thriller and subsequent films will not adhere to standard windowing, but could find their way into theaters.
“We want to make films available wherever the audience is,” Benator adds. “That includes the theatrical experience, but also includes other forms of digital distribution. We want to be direct-to-consumers as much as we can be.”
Supergravity’s film slate financing was structured by American Entertainment Investors. Phil Daniels of Ginsburg Daniels handled entertainment legal and Donald Lee of LKP Global Law handled corporate legal.