When Kathleen Grace first came on board as chief creative officer at New Form Digital last April, she had some advice for her new bosses. She told them that in the digital space, they couldn’t linger in development, Hollywood-style. They needed to move fast.
Having spent 3 years as head of creative development for YouTube Space LA, Grace had the experience to back her words. But New Form’s owners – which include Imagine Entertainment’s Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and Discovery Communications – know a thing or two about the business themselves.
“Luckily, my very intelligent backers said, ‘Great. Here’s some money – go!'” recalls Grace.
And go they did. In October, New Form debuted 14 digital shorts from top YouTube creators, two of which – Oscar’s Hotel by PJ Liguori and Parallax by Sawyer Hartman – were recently picked up as series by Vimeo On Demand. It also teamed with students at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts on a year-long program to develop and produce short-form series.
Earlier this week, it was announced that New Form would fund 10 more digital shorts from top YouTubers, with an eye towards spinning them off as online series.
Grace sat down with StreamDaily to talk about how Tinseltown and tech are coming together, and how the future of entertainment might just rest with some kid in Iowa.
Hollywood suits like to use data to justify their actions and cover their butts, but they really haven’t embraced it to the extent that Silicon Valley has. Where does New Form fall on that spectrum?
I worked at YouTube/Google for 3 years and really saw how a tech company solves problems. We use data to determine not our entire creative decision, but to give us a direction (regarding) which talent we work with and what topics we’re interested in, in terms of series. It’s not us just saying, “This YouTuber has this many subscribers.” It’s also, “What do other people want to know about them and how do they find out?”
The thing that changes the game is usually the thing that nobody sees coming. For instance, gaming play-through videos didn’t become huge because someone in a boardroom thought they were a good idea. It just happened. Do you worry about over-engineering the creative process?
I think we walk a fine line. We really are dedicated to high-quality, scripted, cinematic stories that are told in a way that the social media generation will consume them. That is our gut check. Someone could come in and pitch something that ticks all the data marks, but if we don’t think it’s for millennials and younger, it’s probably not going to be something we pursue. Also, if we think that the story isn’t quite all there, if there isn’t an emotional resonance in the plot, we’re probably not going to do it. So we’re probably not going to make videogame play-throughs anytime soon.
What do you think Hollywood needs to learn from Silicon Valley?
I think Hollywood has to be ready for change and embrace new business models. I think there’s a lot of resistance to the digital world because the business model isn’t clear. And they’re unwilling to take risks – even small ones. I’m not saying go and digitally distribute Guardians of the Galaxy first window. But I think they aren’t taking the risks they could be on smaller projects that would teach them how the business model could work for some of their bigger projects. And I know that’s an easy thing for me to say on the outside, but I think they should have a fund where they’re trying to do different digital features or transactional VOD models.
Conversely, what does Silicon Valley need to learn from Hollywood?
Hollywood does a really good job of selling the story before the story has even started. In Silicon Valley, there’s this sense the audience will just come when something gets uploaded to a platform, and sometimes they don’t know how to even market things on their own platform. I think they depend too much on algorithms and search and social to surface the right thing. Algorithms do a great job, and obviously the recommendation engine on Netflix is phenomenal. But Netflix is probably one of the few companies in that space that I’ve seen really also embrace marketing and championing great creative, in addition to the amazing algorithms they built. More of the platforms need to understand that everyone’s got to have a little skin in the game. You can’t count on the creator to deliver everything.
New Form’s focus is on “short-form.” But you’ve said that’s really just code for “mobile-friendly.” Does the delivery device change your story beats and the way you shoot – more close-ups, a different cutting style?
It’s less about pacing and framing. It’s more about, “Do you have enough stuff going on in that frame?” That doesn’t mean a ton of jump cuts, necessarily. If you look at Michael Stevens on the Vsauce YouTube channel, he doesn’t cut that often. He does long monologs, but it’s jam-packed full of really engaging information, because this audience has a very sophisticated mind when it comes to consuming content, both visual and interactive. If you don’t satisfy that in them, they’re not going to stick around. I don’t think it’s (a matter of them having a) short attention span. I think what’s well-shot will play well on any device. The more important thing is, is this story compelling enough?
Mobile is the viewing platform of the future. Where are we going on the production side?
The production technologies are getting smaller, faster, cheaper with higher quality images. I’m competing with a kid in Iowa with an iPhone, and I do not underestimate his ability to make a great movie.