Documentary Plus Debuts, Featuring Films from Spike Jonze, Werner Herzog
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
A new billboard sloganeering "stranger than fiction" appeared on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake this week, one of several across Los Angeles advertising Documentary Plus (styled Documentary+), a new free streaming service that launched Thursday.
With already-released films from directors Spike Jonze, Kathryn Bigelow and Werner Herzog, Documentary Plus offers exactly what it sounds like, in both long- and short-form.
The new service is a joint venture between XTR, a Silver Lake-based non-fiction film studio, and the late Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos. Hsieh invested $17.5 million in October, a month before his untimely death.
And while there's no exclusive programming now, XTR founder Bryn Mooser, a two-time Academy Award-nominated filmmaker and entrepreneur, has big plans to compete in a market dominated by Netflix, Disney Plus and other heavy hitters.
Mooser wants XTR to be to documentaries what A24 is to indie film and Pixar is to animation. And it has some heavy hitters behind it, backed by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, television writer Norman Lear and former AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.
"I set out to build the best documentary studio in the world," he said. This year, XTR is sending eight films to the Sundance Film Festival – comprising 60% of the documentaries accepted into the U.S. competition.
He said XTR will be on the lookout for potential acquisitions for Documentary Plus at Sundance, which begins as a digital event on Thursday.
"Docs are driving cultural conversation," said Mooser, a fifth-generation Angeleno who previously founded RYOT, a Venice-based media company at the nexus of documentary film, VR and AR. "People are talking about 'The Last Dance' or 'Tiger King' or 'Heaven's Gate' or 'The Vow' more than they're talking about 'CSI: Miami.'"
The streaming service will be ad-supported and available on all streaming platforms, the web and mobile devices.
Mooser said he's enthused by the growing crop of documentary-makers empowered by the 4K and 8K smartphone super-cameras in their pockets.
"Technology has enabled a new generation of artists to become filmmakers," Mooser said.
Documentary Plus' initial library will also include features about icons including Michael Jordan, Janis Joplin and Neil Armstrong; and fare from lesser-knowns and of a more experimental variety.
Streaming is a crowded market. Beneath the big players waging the streaming war — such as Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and Peacock — numerous niche services are fighting for their patch. Mooser sees an opportunity in being the go-to destination for viewers in the mood for a doc.
"To me this is about building a culture," Mooser said. "It's about building a community and it's about really starting to build a brand around Documentary Plus that people love and want to be a part of."
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Ceres Group Holdings is becoming corporate America's biggest cannabis dealmaker out of its Century City offices.
The venture and private equity firm this week announced that its special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, would take Atlanta-based cannabis producer Parallel public in a merger that will value the Canadian-listed company at $1.88 billion.
Parallel has about 42 retail stores outside of California, but has big plans for a big expansion into L.A. sometime in the next year or two.
Joe Crouthers is the CEO of Ceres and head executive of the SPAC that bought Parallel.
As Thanksgiving approached, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti implored residents to stay home and halt all nonessential travel as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
But on Thanksgiving Day, Peter Pham, one of L.A.'s most prominent early-stage investors and the co-founder of Science Inc, a Santa Monica startup studio and early-stage venture fund that manages over $100 million and recently launched a $310.5 million SPAC, posted a selfie of himself atop Las Vegas' High Roller ferris wheel.
He was clutching a can of Liquid Death, the bad boy-themed canned water brand that has improbably become Science's buzziest startup. Pham guzzles six cans a day, because he says he does not trust municipal tap water.
"I'm not afraid of dying," Pham told me recently. "There's risk for everything and COVID is a risk that I feel very confident in my ability to deal with. I could be wrong and that's OK. I am OK if I fucked up and I die from it."