Strong writing can determine whether a Hollywood show turns out like Game of Thrones or Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure. That’s why Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment has opened an incubator for writers called Imagine Impact.
The film and TV industries employ 2.6 million people in the U.S. alone, and those businesses generate $177 billion a year in wages. But surfacing new writers can be a haphazard process.
Imagine Impact, the division of a film production company with dozens of Oscar-nominated films, wants to create a pipeline of strong writers. It uses machine learning to sort through a flood of undiscovered talent to find the storytellers and scriptwriters with the best potential. Survivors go through a boot camp to refine their scripts, and then Hollywood directors and producers sift through an app to staff their projects or find a new script that could be the next gold mine.
You can think of it as a factory for entertainment writers. Entrepreneur and producer Tyler Mitchell, former executive vice president of motion pictures at Imagine Entertainment, helped model Imagine Impact after Silicon Valley-style incubators. Of 44 graduates, roughly half have sold their projects to date.
“We are a content accelerator that was cofounded by myself with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment,” Mitchell said in an interview with VentureBeat. “Our mission is to find, identify, and sign the most talented writers in the world — people who don’t have access to the entertainment industry. We want to democratize access.”
They hope to create a frictionless way for studios, agents, and screenwriters to identify and sign creators and their projects.
Vetting over 2,000 submissions per week, thanks to a combination of seasoned veterans and advanced machine learning, Imagine Impact has created a results-oriented business solution that can identify talent and rapidly generate content at scale.
“The demand for content has been exploding over the last 10 years, with the market cap of media companies going to nearly $4 trillion,” Mitchell said. “Spending on content will double over the next five years. But there are not enough great writers and generators of the material to meet that demand. And so we took principles from Y Combinator and combined them with Ron and Brian’s 35 years of experience and knowledge to create a powerful system that leverages technology to identify talent at scale. Then we put them through a structured program to create their projects. And we bring them to the marketplace, both here in Hollywood and globally, through this first-of-its-kind mobile app marketplace.”
Scripts usually take months or years to come to fruition. But Imagine Impact tries to expedite the process by 50%, using a mobile app and partnering creators with “shapers” — established producers, writers, and showrunners such as Doug Ellin (Entourage), Sascha Penn (Power, Creed II) and Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) to help bring story concepts to market.
The sifting process
Since the program’s inception last year, 11,000 creators from 80-plus countries have applied and submitted their scripts. Only 44 final applicants were selected for Impact’s first two classes and enrolled in an intensive eight-week boot camp. The latest camp will culminate in a final pitch day on November 12 in front of top-tier studio executives and agents, with actionable next steps. Already, the program has resulted in 44 developed projects and 22 projects sold, with major attachments to Netflix, Amblin, and Village Roadshow, among others.
Mitchell himself is a successful maker, overseeing live-action projects that include Fantasy Camp, starring Mark Wahlberg and LeBron James; The Girl Before, based on the bestselling novel of the same name; and reboots of Fear and Friday Night Lights.
Impact’s mobile app offers a visually driven experience that highlights the information busy decision makers need to know — loglines, writer bios, representation contact info, and more. The seekers can view video pitches that ensure the writer’s original voice, energy, and charisma are not lost in translation.
The producers and directors can instantly request and receive materials — from a script to a bible or treatment. And they can sift through the candidates knowing that Imagine Impact has curated thousands of applications to find a handful with real promise. Those who make it through do so because they have strong voices, Mitchell said.
“Our people are being hired by companies like Marvel, Netflix, and Amazon,” Mitchell said. “We’re proving our system works.”
Changing writers’ lives
The program is turning up people like Justin Calen-Chenn, who was abandoned by his family as a teenager. He was homeless and turned to gangs and organized crime in Los Angeles to survive. After seeing his best friend decapitated (less than two years ago), Calen-Chenn knew he had to get out.
He decided to become a writer and applied to Impact and got in — his natural talent and raw, distinct voice leapt off the page. He wrote an original movie from scratch in eight weeks — an urban heist thriller based on elements of his life. Imagine bought it, he was signed at CAA and Grandview, and he recently sold a new pitch to eOne.
Another graduate, Elizabeth Stamp, was a freelance journalist from West Virginia and wrote for online publications like Buzzfeed and the Onion. She applied to Impact with an idea for a half-hour comedy series set in a post-apocalyptic doomsday bunker. She wrote the script and developed the series in eight weeks under the guidance of Saladin Patterson. She was signed by CAA and Lit Entertainment Group and Stampede Ventures was attached to produce. Barry Safchick and Michael Platt (Grace and Frankie) are on board as showrunners and are taking the show to buyers.
A lot of similar stories have emerged from the incubator, which has been operating for about a year. Writers like Malcolm Gladwell have come through to teach and mentor students.
“To integrate the best practices of the startup world into content creation, you need someone who can speak both languages and connect the two worlds. Tyler is incredibly passionate about storytelling and working with talent, but is also very entrepreneurial and business-minded. We’re incredibly excited to have him leading this new venture,” said Grazer and Howard in a statement.
Imagine Impact is a fully funded global content accelerator program that will operate in the U.S., Latin America, the United Kingdom, the Middle East, and China. Imagine Impact makes money in a few ways, including taking a stake in every project that goes through the accelerator. There are bonuses for key milestones, like when a TV shows gets made. And the company gets a percentage of profits, as well.
Howard (filmmaker and former Happy Days star) and Grazer started Imagine Entertainment in 1986. They have more than 60 awards between them, including 43 Academy Award nominations.
Past productions from the duo include the Academy Award Best Picture winner A Beautiful Mind, as well as Grammy Award Best Film winner The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring Years.
Mitchell said the company has been approached by video game companies, but for now its focus is on scaling the current model.
“Established writers like JJ Abrams get $500 million deals because there’s a belief there is a limited pool of talent out there,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to expand that talent pool, and we’ve created a system with machine learning that lets us go through 2,000 submissions per week. We want to scale that to about 5,000 per week.”