Mip 2015: BuzzFeed’s Ze Frank to Deliver Digital Biz Keynote

Will Hollywood’s future blockbusters arise from the fast-churning oceans of the Internet?

Ze Frank, president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, the digital-video arm the Internet publisher formed last summer, believes that — for his company’s youth-skewing audience, anyway — content development will be quicker and more iterative than the way studios have historically operated.

Oh, and also: Content’s going to be a lot cheaper to create.

Frank, who’s been creating original Internet content for more than a decade, is set to deliver a keynote April 14 at the Mip Digital Fronts in Cannes together with producer Michael Shamberg (“Django Unchained”), who has been working as a consultant with BuzzFeed for more than a year.

“We’re in the middle of this dialogue about what content creation is now, what talent is now,” Frank says. “Social is obviously a massive driver.”

BuzzFeed has a team of 170 people creating videos — producing an average of 50 pieces of scripted and non-scripted content each week — in about 25,000 square feet of production space, largely in L.A. The 8-year-old shingle, which labels itself “the social news and entertainment company,” last year raised $50 million in funding from venture capitalist Andreessen Horowitz.

One key initiative from that infusion was the formation of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures in August. The lofty-sounding appellation encompasses the company’s current and future original digital-video businesses. Recent popular shortform BuzzFeed videos include comedy bits like “Breakup Sex” and “The Weirdest Lies Parents Tell Their Kids.” But eventually, Frank says, his group’s purview could include TV-length shows or even feature films.

BuzzFeed enlisted Shamberg to get his guidance on whether the model used to produce TV and movie features is compatible with digital. Shamberg isn’t terribly optimistic that’s possible. “Finding ideas in Hollywood is a long, dry process — you hire a screenwriter and they go off and write a script for 12 weeks — and 90% of that dies,” he says. “None of the future of content production is being done that way.”

On the other hand, entertainment fundamentally rests on the nuts and bolts of strong storytelling. “The classic skills of Hollywood are never going to go away,” Shamberg says. “But the whole thing about BuzzFeed is not just people watching, but people sharing.”

Digital producers are more willing to experiment and produce material more economically. BuzzFeed’s strategy is geared toward a fixed-cost model, so that, for example, sets can be repurposed multiple times instead of being broken down and re-created from scratch every time.

“We are very influenced by the idea that you can strike out variable costs,” Frank says.

Adds Shamberg: “Hollywood doesn’t adapt for creative reasons. They adapt for revenue reasons.”

More Digital

  • apple AR patent application

    Apple Patents Gesture, Expression Tracking for Mixed Reality Headset

    Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset could include a number of sensors to track the eyes, gestures and even facial expressions of its users. The company applied for a patent to track these kinds of inputs, and combine them with information gathered from outward-facing sensors for mixed reality experiences. The patent application in question, simply titled [...]

  • Natalie Portman Thor Comic Con

    Comic-Con: Marvel 'Shock and Awe' Strategy Dominates Twitter Buzz

    Disney’s Marvel Studios handily won the hype trophy from this year’s Comic-Con International San Diego. Marvel Studios — which returned to the 2019 Comic-Con stage with a chock-full Phase 4 slate of announcements — dominated the discussion on Twitter out of the convention, capturing the biggest volume of buzz for nine of the top 10 [...]

  • Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t

    Nigeria’s Kunle Afolayan: African Audiences Shouldn’t Be ‘Second-Class’

    DURBAN–A young boy from a middle-class home gets an unconventional schooling in the ways of the world when he’s forced to apprentice at a mechanic’s workshop in a rough-and-tumble section of Lagos. “Mokalik” is the latest feature from Kunle Afolayan, a leading figure in the wave of filmmakers revitalizing the Nigerian film industry. The film [...]


    SAG-AFTRA Ends Long Strike Against Ad Agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty

    SAG-AFTRA has ended its 10-month strike against Bartle Bogle Hegarty after the advertising agency agreed to sign the union’s new commercials contract. The union instructed its 160,000 members in September not to accept any work for BBH, which had been signed to SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contracts since 1999. The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly [...]

  • FaceApp is displayed on an iPhone,

    SAG-AFTRA Warns Members About FaceApp Terms of Use

    SAG-AFTRA is warning its 160,000 members about the “overreaching and invasive” terms of use for the FaceApp mobile application. FaceApp, developed by Russian company Wireless Lab, uses neural network technology to automatically generate transformations of faces in photographs. The app can be used to make users appear older, younger, or change gender. The terms include [...]

  • J. Cole

    Apple Music Launches 'Rap Life' Playlist

    Apple Music announced the launch of “Rap Life,” a new global playlist focusing on contemporary rap artists and culture. It replaces the former “The A-List: Hip-Hop” playlist. Said Ebro Darden, Apple Music’s Global Editorial Head of Hip-Hop and R&B: “We flipped it to dig deeper into into the lifestyle [and to] keep pushing the culture [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content