Fourth Wall Studios has landed an initial investment of $15 million from one of Los Angeles' wealthiest individuals to develop and create digital entertainment "experiences" that cross various media platforms.
Patrick Soon-Shiong, a biotech billionaire who has never before invested in the entertainment business, is also giving the Culver City-based studio access to a fund of $200 million as needed for its productions.
The founders of Fourth Wall are pioneers in so-called "transmedia" entertainment through which a single narrative crosses multiple forms of media. Transmedia has become both a buzz word and an important business trend in Hollywood as studios and networks seek to expand valuable franchises beyond the media in which they originate. For instance, movies such as Disney's recent "Tron: Legacy" also exist as games, websites and mobile applications.
Launched in 2007, Fourth Wall has created so-called "alternate reality games" that cross from the Web to the outside world as part of the marketing campaign for films such as the 2008 thriller "Eagle Eye" and the 2009 comic book adapataion "Watchmen." Founders Elan Lee, Sean Stewart and Jim Stewartson previously helped start 42 Entertainment, one of the first firms to create such games.
The trio have been wanting to focus exclusively on original productions instead of marketing campaigns and said the new funds from Soon-Shiong will enable them to do so.
"If you look at the amazing adoption of social gaming and the fact that so many movies and television shows have these kind of extensions, I think the consumer is there," said Stewartson, chief executive of Fourth Wall. "We're 100% confident that people want this kind of entertainment."
Fourth Wall is building out its own studio space in Culver City and plans to double its staff of 16 by the end of the year, as well as hire contractors for specific projects. Stewartson said four of the company's initial projects, which he declined to discuss in detail, are original properties while four others are being done in partnership with other media companies.
All eight, he said, are being developed to initially take place on the Web, cell phones, e-mail and other commonly used digital platforms. Fourth Wall is developing technology to allow the experiences to occur on those devices, he noted.
The properties would then be integrated with Web browsing "so that the entire Internet is a game space," Stewartson explained. Finally, the experiences would have elements that take place in the real world, such as scavenger hunts.
Fourth Wall is looking to make money on its productions through sponsorships and "microtransactions," in which avid users pay for additional content.
Stewartson said the company's first property would launch later this year.
While Fourth Wall now has generous funding to create its own works, Stewartson noted that the company will also partner with other entertainment firms, particularly for distribution and marketing.
"We're looking to build iconic experiences that show where entertainment is going, but underneath that all we're doing a lot of work in building technology platforms and creating business partnerships," he said.
Soon-Shiong, who is serving as Fourth Wall's chairman, declined to discuss his investment in the company. He is a well-known philanthropist who has become a controversial figure in Los Angeles' Brentwood neighborhood, where he has bought nearly three acres of land for a mysterious large construction project.
"As I work with new technologies for health care and medicine, I see more and more parallels with what's happening in entertainment -- for example, the rapidly accelerating use of mobile devices and social media platforms," Soon-Shiong said in a prepared statement. "Fourth Wall Studios is the ideal team to help take advantage of these synergies through the development of augmented reality."
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Photo: Fourth Wall logo. Credit: Fourth Wall.