Hollywood took another step closer to Silicon Valley today.
San Francisco-based venture capital firm Benchmark is investing a Series A round into a new "creative accelerator" founded by film and TV heavyweights Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
The Academy Award-winning duo founded Imagine Impact in September 2018 to bring new voices to an entertainment industry that can be difficult to break into.
"The old way of sourcing talent in the entertainment industry is based on who you know, which presents high barriers-to-entry for the fresh voices we need to hear from," Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley said in a statement. "Impact is knocking down these barriers through a marketplace model that reduces information asymmetry and levels the playing field. Ultimately this leads to more opportunities and better outcomes for everyone involved."
Modeled after influential Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator, the program takes applications and connects participants with mentors to develop their projects and conducts speaker series with the likes of JJ Abrams and Malcolm Gladwell.
Benchmark's investment, which is reportedly in the range of $10 - $20 million, will create a new standalone company called Impact Creative Systems ("Impact"). Tyler Mitchell will be its chief executive and Howard and Grazer will remain involved as founders.
On a panel Thursday hosted by TechCrunch featuring the three, Howard said Grazer developed the model for the accelerator based on his realization that creating a show or movie is much like developing a startup: it requires building a product, a team and finding a product-market fit.
Gurley, somewhat of a superstar in the venture world, was introduced to Grazer through Michael Lynton, former Sony Pictures chairman and chief executive and current chairman of Santa Monica-base Snap Inc. Gurley, who spearheaded the deal, will sit on Impact's board.
The accelerator evaluates about 2,000 applications a week with the help of technology, Mitchell said on the panel. It has also built out a "LinkedIn-meets-Slack" marketplace called Creative Network, which the company says is currently used by producers and executives from across the entertainment industry, including Amazon, Netflix, Warner Brothers and many others.
Having Gurley on board will help Impact to further build this marketplace out. Many of his investments at Benchmark have been in tech companies with a similar two-sided supply and demand component, including Uber, Ebay, OpenTable and Yelp.
"Sitting around a white board meeting with Bill Gurley talking about our business and where it could go as a central clearing house for jobs – it's exciting, it's creative; I find it really creatively stimulating," Howard said on the panel.
The Impact accelerator has developed 72 projects, 25 of which have gone on to major studios. One example is Tunga, an animated musical from Zimbabwean screenwriter Godwin Jagangwe, who was connected via the accelerator to Bojack Horseman creator Kate Purdy to develop the idea, Mitchell said.
Beyond embracing tech industry funding models and product development approaches, Howard and Grazer have turned to tech platforms to distribute their films and shows. The Impact accelerator has sold a project to Quibi, and Jax Media, another one of their companies, is doing projects with the L.A.-based short-form streaming app.
Impact also recently launched its own podcast, announced a deal with Netflix to source and develop content from across the world, and opened an accelerator program in Australia last month.
Grazer also said that he and Howard recently signed a deal with an unnamed celebrity to turn one of his Instagram Stories into a major motion picture. Grazer said the video he saw included a large man with two donkeys named Whiskey and Lulu. That description points pretty squarely to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"I think we're going through a creative renaissance," Grazer said, noting that media that has been disconnected from Hollywood — such as social platforms and podcasts — are becoming more ingrained in the entertainment landscape.