Crowdfunding Hollywood: How studio Legion M taps fans-turned-investors to make movies

William Shatner attends the William Shatner handprint ceremony hosted by Legion M during 2022 Comic-Con International: San Diego at Theatre Box on July 21, 2022 in San Diego, California.

Emma Mcintyre | Getty Images

When Paul Scanlan and Jeff Annison first dreamed up their production studio, Legion M, they set out to build not just a company, but a community.

The movie studio behind buzzy names like “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot,” “Colossal” and the upcoming William Shatner documentary “You Can Call Me Bill” is part of a shift in Hollywood over the last decade to a new crowdfunding model, allowing producers to solicit donations for film and television projects and reward investors with more than just a limited edition piece of merchandise.

Now, fans can get an actual return on their investment.

“I think a lot of people look at equity crowdfunding as a different way to raise money,” said Annison, cofounder and president of Legion M. “It’s a different way to fund your company, or a different way to fund your film. And we look at it as a fundamentally different way to build a fundamentally different type of business.”

Legion M launched in 2016 in the wake of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS, Act, which lowered barriers to entry for raising capital and allowed companies to access funding in ways that were previously barred due to securities regulations.

While crowdfunding is not a new concept, Legion M is taking it to the next level — giving ordinary moviegoers a seat at Hollywood’s table.

In less than a decade, the studio has worked with a number of Hollywood stars, including Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis on 2016’s “Colossal” and Simon Pegg and Minnie Driver in 2023’s “Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose.”

The company has also funded the recently released cryptocurrency documentary “This is Not Financial Advice.”

Risks and rewards

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Indiegogo have long allowed creators to tap into their most ardent fan bases to create content.

In the past, Kickstarter backers generated $3.1 million for Zach Braff’s 2014 film “Wish I Was Here,” $5.7 million for Rob Thomas’ 2014 “Veronica Mars” movie and a record-breaking $11.3 million for Critical Role’s “Legend of Vox Machina” animated series, which was later picked up by Amazon Prime Video.

However, Kickstarter does not allow campaign creators to offer those who donate any financial returns.

That’s what sets Legion M apart. If a film or television project performs well at the box office or is bought by a distributor, those who invested get a cut.

“For the William Shatner documentary, we basically replaced the role of a single financier writing that check with 1,200 small financiers that wrote smaller checks,” Annison said.

The minimum investment for the documentary was $100.

Investors can also buy a stake in Legion M itself for as little as $40. The company says it has more than 45,000 investors.

For Legion M’s “My Dead Friend Zoe,” the company collected funds from Legion M investors and from larger, more traditional Hollywood financiers, including Kansas City Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce.

Left to right, Chris Temple, Glauber Contessoto, Zach Ingrasci and Rayz Rayl of “This Is Not Financial Advice” pose for a portrait during the 2023 Tribeca Festival at Spring Studio on June 10, 2023 in New York City.

Erik Tanner | Getty Images

Legion M offers creators access to its fanbase, something that independent filmmaker Chris Temple, co-director of “This is Not Financial Advice” found complimented his documentary. His film centers on several retail investors navigating the peaks and valleys of the crypto world.

He said working with Legion M “felt very natural from the first call.”

“This is a grassroots film about investors who have finally gotten access into markets that they don’t have access into and people taking control of their own finances,” he said, noting the parallels with Legion M’s work.

Fans know best

Legion M is not alone in this space. Angel Studios made headlines after its crowdfunded “Sound of Freedom” secured around $250 million at the global box office on a budget of just $14.5 million.

While Angel Studios markets itself as a production studio that brings “light” to entertainment, much of its focus is on elevating religious titles to the mainstream. Legion M’s focus is the Comic Con crowd, though it’s diversifying its portfolio to include comedies, thrillers, murder mysteries, dramas, sci-fi action flicks and documentaries.

Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan attend the world premiere of “You Can Call Me Bill” at the 2023 SXSW Conference and Festivals at The Paramount Theater on March 16, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

Frazer Harrison | Getty Images

“What’s nice about what Legion M is doing is we’re creating a built-in audience,” said Scanlan, the company’s cofounder and CEO.

The company’s logo, an “M” with a bar over top representing the roman numeral for one million, is a nod to Legion M’s goal of drawing in one million fans as shareholders.

“Imagine an entertainment company or a studio that has a million fans that are literally financially invested in the films that they have coming out, but they’re also emotionally invested in the films,” Annison said. “Because they’ve been following around since day one and they got a chance to go behind the scenes and they’ve heard the director articulate his story and their vision for what the movie will be.”

One of those fans is Matt Conkling, who made his first investment in the company in 2019, drawn to how Legion M offered investors a chance not just to give money, but to be involved in productions, too.

Soon after his first investment, Conkling saw a post from the company requesting a number of props including neon signs and automobiles for its mystery-thriller film “Archenemy,” which starred Joe Manganiello of “True Blood.”

“I raised my hand,” Conkling said, who volunteered his 1975 Chevy El Camino. Two days later, Conkling got a call to help handle the car around set.

“So it went from, ‘Here’s my keys,’ to a huge crash course on the film industry,” he said. “After that, I got hooked.”

Conkling had previously tried to get in on the ground floor of a film project from a different production company he preferred not to name, but he wasn’t able to meet the minimum investment amount of $25,000.

“How often do regular everyday people get the chance to potentially invest in something at a low dollar amount?” he said.

For Conkling, Legion M has become more than a casual investment, it’s become a career, of sorts. While he continues to finance individual film projects the company is promoting — and said he ultimately wants to invest enough to own 1% of the company — by volunteering his car to one production, he’s managed to find his niche in Hollywood.

After “Archenemy,” Conkling was tapped to source the titular white van for Legion M’s “The Man in the White Van,” a crime thriller based on actual events that occurred the 1970s. That gig fostered another on Dennis Quaid’s “The Long Game,” which filmed in Texas. And it hasn’t stopped there: Conkling can even be spotted playing dead in the background of the Netflix film “The Grey Man.”

“Legion M is the gift that keeps giving,” Conkling said.