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Meet the Startup That Wants to Turn Social Creators Into Movie Stars

·4 min read

There are hundreds of social-media stars, each with millions of fans. Now a new startup, Creator Plus, is launching a studio and a streaming service to give big-name creators a platform for feature films.

The company was founded by Benjamin Grubbs, former global head of top creator partnerships at YouTube, and Silicon Valley tech investor and entrepreneur Jonathan Shambroom (who was once GM of the Crackle streaming service).

The duo say Creator Plus (creatorplus.com) has raised $12 million in funding from Malaysia-based investment firm Petra Group and Freestyle Capital, as well as entrepreneurial creators Jake Roper, Peter Hollens, Wendy Ayche (aka Wengie), tech veterans including Selina Tobaccowala, and strategic business partners including Jazwares CEO Judd Zebersky.

Films produced by Creator Plus — it’s using the trendy “plus” that’s flooded the streaming sector — will premiere on the company’s proprietary platform across web, mobile and connected-TV devices in a premium video-on-demand (PVOD) window (it’s not a subscription or ad-based platform). Creators who team with the company will have “transparent backend revenue participation,” according to Grubbs, and will get audience metrics and ownership rights uncommon with other streaming platforms.

The company plans to greenlight at least six film projects this year and expects to premiere them starting in early 2022. Grubbs and Shambroom said they already have tentative pacts with a few creators but they declined to identify them.

“We believe the next generation of great storytellers are digital natives who don’t just want to tell stories in short-form bursts, but rather inspire and impact their audience with compelling feature-length films,” said Shambroom, CEO of Creator Plus.

Movies built on digital stars aren’t a new thing, of course. Hugely popular TikTok creator Addison Rae, for example, is set to star in a remake of “She’s All That.” It’s a trend that goes back to “Camp Takota,” the 2014 film starring YouTubers Grace Helbig, Hannah Hart and Mamrie Hart. Studios including Awesomeness, Fullscreen and Lionsgate also have launched films in the space.

The fact is, there haven’t been major crossover successes from digital to the world of TV and film, with talent like Issa Rae and Awkwafina the exception rather than the rule.

Grubbs, who spent five and a half years at YouTube, said he has worked with many creators to help them develop their long-form content ambitions. “I have also seen first-hand how important it is to have strong producing partners and the power of a distribution channel where you have access and ownership of the audience,” he said. “We are able to deliver on both aspects from the start with Creator Plus.”

The Creator Plus film studio will be led by Adam Wescott, who joins the startup from influencer talent management firm Select Management Group, where he was the firm’s founding partner and executive producer. During his time at Select, Wescott was responsible for developing and producing content in partnership with top digital creators such as Eva Gutowski (MyLifeAsEva), Gigi Gorgeous and Lauren Riihimaki (LaurDIY), including feature-length documentary “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous,” which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and is available on YouTube Premium.

Joining Wescott is Ben O’Keefe, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, who will serve as head of diversity and impact. O’Keefe recently served as impact producer on Amazon Studio’s “All In: The Fight for Democracy” and was a senior creative adviser to Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.

In addition, the studio’s director of development McKenna Marshall joins from the Kennedy/Marshall Co., where she worked on titles including the upcoming Simon Keith biopic, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s final novel, “Micro.” Head of production Nick Phillips previously has served as an executive at Dimension Films and Sony Screen Gems and also co-founded genre label Revolver Picture Co.; most recently he served as a producer on two seasons of Facebook Watch series “The Real Bros of Simi Valley.”

Wescott, Philipps and Marshall will serve as producers on all of the company’s projects. Other Creator Plus execs include business affairs lead JaQay Carlyle, head of product Tricia Choi and Al Lieb, who is serving as advisory CTO.

“With Jonathan’s experience building and scaling startups and Benjamin’s background in developing and investing in creators, we believe Creator Plus is in an incredibly attractive position to grow the ecosystem and deliver a better content, commerce and economic model for a deserving community of creators and their fans,” Dave Samuel, partner and co-founder of Freestyle Capital, said in a statement.

Pictured above: Jonathan Shambroom (left), Benjamin Grubbs