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Wondery wants to become Hollywoods podcast dream factory

Charmaine Blake

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When Hernan Lopez, the former chief executive of Fox International, started the podcast network Wondery roughly two years ago with a seed investment from his former bosses at Fox Networks Group, podcasting was still emerging as a media platform.

Now, with voice ascendant, and podcasting proving to be a breeding ground for new narratives that other storytelling mediums can latch onto — the move into the reinvention of radio for the 21st century seems prescient.

It’s not just Fox that is now backing the podcast business; new investors led by storied venture capital and private equity investor Alan Patricof’s Greycroft Partners are coming aboard with a $5 million commitment to expand the scope of Wondery’s wonder factory. Additional investors include Lerer Hippeau Ventures and Advancit Capital — the investment vehicle for Shari Redstone (daughter of billionaire media mogul Sumner Redstone).

Previous investors BAM Ventures, Watertower Ventures, Fox Networks Group and BDMI also participated in the round.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Wondery intends to add new shows to its stable, including American Innovations, Dr. Death and I, Survivor, and has optioned Sward and Scale and Tides of History as projects for movies and television.

While traditional media companies are being forced to join forces and combine assets to protect their market from new competitors like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix coming from the tech industry, new media platforms like podcasting are opening up opportunities for different kinds of studios to emerge. 

“I believe there’s a huge opportunity in audio,” Lopez says. “There isn’t anywhere close to enough quality audio content being produced.”

On average, the modern consumer listens to four hours of audio per day, according to Lopez. Even though most of that is music, an increasing number of Americans are turning to podcasts as a new form of entertainment. And podcasts are beginning to attract more advertising dollars.

“In the podcast world the ads seem to work. They’re native, they’re integrated into the shows. The listeners are welcoming,” says Wondery’s chief executive. That in itself would be a welcome change for media companies hungry for new ways to maintain their ad-supported business models. 

Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have trained a generation of consumers on subscription models that eschew advertising altogether — but podcasts still hold out promise, says Lopez.

Demographics are another key reason that advertisers are moving to podcasts, he says, and Comscore research (funded by Wondery) seems to back up his assertions.

According to Comscore, nearly one in five Americans aged 18-49 said they’d listened to podcasts at least once a month — a number that increases when it’s restricted to the highly coveted demographic of men between the ages of 18 and 34, while nearly one in three men 18-34 do so. Podcast listeners are also more likely to have a college degree, make more than $100,000 and be early adopters of electronics, consumer goods and entertainment.

Advertisers are beginning to take notice, with $119 million spent on podcast advertising in 2016 and an estimated $220 million spent on podcast ads last year (according to estimated figures in a survey underwritten by major podcast networks).

Some of Wondery’s podcasts have already racked up impressive numbers. Dirty John has been dowloaded more than 20 million times; American History Tellers has been downloaded more than 3 million times; and Business Wars more than 2 million times, says Lopez. 

Wondery is also bucking the media trend of serving up micro-content to audiences.

“We don’t produce much micro-content — if any,” says Lopez. “The stories that we tend to gravitate towards tend to work better in long-form. We have to keep their attention for as long as possible.”

Lopez’s Wondery isn’t the only company to rake in money from institutional investors for building a podcasting empire.

On the other side of the country in the borough of Brooklyn stands Gimlet Media, the $20 million king of the podcast market these days. Gimlet raised from a slew of investors, including WPP, Betaworks, Stripes Group, Lowercase Capital, LionTree Parters, Emerson Collective, Cross Culture Ventures and music manager turned investor Troy Carter.

Success among podcasts is also translating into options in other formats. As The New York Times noted yesterday, podcasts are getting “the Hollywood treatment.”

Wondery’s own “Dirty John” is being turned into a series for two networks — true crime stories on Oxygen and as the basis for a scripted series on Bravo. Meanwhile, “Welcome to Night Vale,” “Alice Isn’t Dead,” “Up and Vanished” and “Crimetown” are all being turned into series by different production companies.

“In the last year or so, podcasts have been the thing,” Matt Tarses, the creator of “Alex, Inc.” (a new ABC show based off of Gimlet Media’s “Startup” podcast) told The New York Times.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/29/wondery-wants-to-become-hollywoods-podcast-dream-factory/

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How we made The Blair Witch Project

Charmaine Blake

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We were listed as deceased on IMDb. Our parents started getting condolence calls

Daniel Myrick, co-director

“I had this idea of a stick figure hanging from a tree the Blair Witch symbol

I grew up around the woods and swamps of Florida. For a long time, I had this idea of seeing a stick figure hanging from a tree and it creeped the hell out of me. Ed Snchez, a friend from university who ended up co-directing, helped me work this into a 35-page treatment about three students who go missing after heading out into the Maryland woods to make a documentary about a legendary witch. The idea was that this film was put together later, using the footage they shot. In the late 90s, with digital coming into its own, it was only a matter of time before someone made this kind of first-person movie.

The treatment covered what happens, but it had no dialogue we wanted it all improvised. The original plan was for it to be three guys, but we had to cast Heather Donahue after what happened during her audition. We asked actors to pretend to be at a parole hearing and explain why they should be released. She said: I probably shouldnt be released.

We set up a base at a house in Germantown, Maryland, that Ed shared with his girlfriend. There were 10 to 15 of us there for six weeks, sleeping on couches and on the floor. The shoot took eight days and was a 24/7 operation. It wasnt like a normal film: the actors would work the cameras, filming each other all the time. Using GPS, we directed them to locations marked with flags or milk crates, where theyd leave their footage and pick up food and our directing notes.

Watch a trailer for The Blair Witch Project

These would say things like: Heather, youre absolutely sure that to get out of this mess you go south. Dont take no for an answer. Or: Josh, somewhere along the way today, youve had it with this bullshit. They had the freedom to decide how to play it: we only intervened if…”

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/may/21/how-we-made-the-blair-witch-project

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Margot Kidder Beyond Lois Lane

Charmaine Blake

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Margot Kidder flanked by fans at WonderCon in Anaheim, 2015

Image: Araya Diaz/WireImage

“It is no small legacy for an actor to become so entwined with a character in the popular imagination that no one can ever replace them. Such was the fate of Margot Kidder, who passed away in Montana on Monday at the still-too-young age of 69.

Many brilliant actors have taken on the role of Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane, whom Kidder portrayed in Superman I, II and III. Teri Hatcher played her for years in Lois and Clark; Amy Adams is the current Lois of record in DC movies.

Neither could hold a candle to Kidder, who became the essential, irreplaceable Lois just as her co-star Christopher Reeve became the archetypal Clark Kent/Superman.

Her Lois was effortlessly empowered and brooked no nonsense in or out of the newsroom. She fizzed and crackled with intelligence and energy; she was devoted to getting the story even in the midst of a date with an alien superbeing.

It’s no exaggeration to say that she inspired a generation of women and men to enter journalism as much as her real-world counterparts Woodward and Bernstein.

Margot Kidder at the 1983 Academy Awards.

Image: Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Even as Kidder portrayed a strong feminist icon in an otherwise…”

Read more: https://mashable.com/2018/05/14/margot-kidder-lois-lane/

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Gabrielle Union Should Be a Bigger Star. Why Does Hollywood Underestimate Her?

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“‘You and me both!’ Gabrielle Union utters this halfway through Breaking In, as shes cornered by one of the men who has broken into her house and held her family hostage, in response to him saying, I underestimated you.

The line feels incredibly meta, considering Union has also been underestimated by Hollywood. In part because Hollywood underestimates black women. Two years ago when Viola Davis won her Emmy for her role in How to Get Away with Murder, Union was one of the actresses she shouted out in her speech: The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity, Davis said. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So heres to all the writers, the awesome people that are Ben Sherwood, Paul Lee, Peter Nowalk, Shonda Rhimes, people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black. And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line.

Two years later, Union attended the Emmys for the first time. Last September before the ceremony, she tweeted: Ive been doing TV since 1995. This will be my 1st time going to the Emmys & Im presenting an award! 22 yrs later. #OvernightSuccess. Its evidence that the Emmys never paid much attention to black actresses before Davis win, or before Kerry Washington became the first black female lead on a drama in decades with Scandal. Union starred on BETs Being Mary Jane for five years but Mara Brock Akils fantastic and critically lauded show never got the awards recognition it deserved for the barriers it broke.

So when Union demands respect from her assailants in Breaking In, shes definitely talking to Hollywood. Shes a recognizable name in the black community but why isnt she a bigger star? Perhaps because her shows have all been made by and geared toward black people. Being Mary Jane at its best was a portrayal of a black woman with a messy interior life unlike anything that had ever been…”

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/gabrielle-union-should-be-a-bigger-star-why-does-hollywood-underestimate-her

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