Seriously Digital Entertainment wants to turn the madcap bugs and slugs from its “Best Fiends” mobile games into Hollywood stars, with the startup looking to Rovio’s “Angry Birds” as proof it can turn the gaming property into TV shows and movies.
Andrew Stalbow, CEO and co-founder of Seriously, knows something about “Angry Birds” (which is getting second feature film from Sony): He previously was head of strategic partnerships for Rovio and was GM of its North America group. Prior to that, he was SVP of mobile for 20th Century Fox.
“There’s no reason we can’t build a ‘Despicable Me’-level business based on our mobile game properties,” said Stalbow. “We’re doing the Hollywood thing backward – we started with the app, and developing the entertainment content now.”
The company is planting its flag in the entertainment terrain with the debut Thursday of “Best Fiends Boot Camp,” the first of four original animated shorts based on the game franchise, produced by studio Reel FX (“The Book of Life,” the “Ice Age” movies).
The two Best Fiends apps have been downloaded 70 million times, and Stalbow said they have has more than 2 million daily players who spend about 2 million hours per day in the games. Seriously has an annual revenue run rate of $40 million in advertising and in-app purchases.
“Best Fiends Boot Camp” features a voice cast that includes Kate Walsh (“13 Reasons Why,” “Grey’s Anatomy”), Mark Hamill (“Star Wars)”, Pamela Adlon (“Better Things,” “Californication”), David Herman (“Office Space”), Billy West (“Futurama”) and Alan Oppenheimer (“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” “The NeverEnding Story”). The music for the short is composed by Heitor Pereira (“Despicable Me”). The segment is written by J. Stewart Burns (“The Simpsons”) and produced by Claudia De La Roca (“Futurama”).
Reel FX’s Augusto Schillaci, director and senior visual effects supervisor, said that when Seriously approached the studio about the shorts project he immediately fell in love with the characters. “It’s rare that you get a chance to work on a world that has so much potential for comedy, and it’s exciting to launch the short in a different way — straight into a global audience,” he said.
Kate Walsh, who worked with Seriously to voice an ad spot last year, added “I’ve always been interested in their vision of building an entertainment franchise where the content is directly connected to the fan base.”
Investors in Seriously include Upfront Ventures, Sunstone Capital, Northzone and Korea Investment Partners. New investors include Michael Montgomery (former CEO of Sega GameWorks, VP and treasurer at the Walt Disney Co. and board member of DreamWorks Animation) and Ynon Kreiz (ex-chairman and CEO of Maker Studios, former CEO of Endemol and CEO of Fox Kids Europe). The company announced that Montgomery has joined as an independent board member.
In the “Boot Camp” 3D animated short, two protagonist slugs — Hank and Roger — are excited to join the Slug Army and fight the Fiends. However, after a series of misadventures, it dawns on them that they are being set up to fail.
Fans can watch the three-and-a-half minute “Boot Camp” via the Best Fiends apps (where Hank and Roger will make a special guest appearance) and on its YouTube channel. Seriously’s next Best Fiends short, “Visit Minutia,” will premiere later this summer with two more coming later in 2017, each complemented with new in-game content.
For Seriously, the “Boot Camp” short “is really an investment, the first step of us going into the video business,” said Stalbow. “We want to show the capabilities of our brand.” Down the road, he sees the Best Fiends gang potentially coming to longer-form series or a feature film.
Seriously, founded in 2013, has 57 employees based in Venice, Calif., and Helsinki, Finland. Chief creative officer Petri Järvilehto, who’s the company’s other co-founder, was formerly EVP of games at Rovio.
Watch the “Best Fiends Boot Camp” short: