Blackpills Launches App With Edgy Original Series in U.S. and Canada, Plans Premium Subscription Option

Blackpills - Playground - Luc Besson
R. Cambou/Blackpills

French digital-media startup Blackpills is launching a free app stocked with 12 of its provocative short-form scripted original series this week in the U.S. and Canada, and plans to add a premium-subscription tier next month for users who want to strip out ads and get immediate binge-able access.

At launch, the made-for-mobile original series in the Blackpills app will include teen-assassin series “Playground” (pictured above), based on an original idea by director Luc Besson (“Lucy,” “La Femme Nikita”); coming-of-age drama “Junior” from Zoe Cassavetes starring Eric Johnson (“Fifty Shades Darker”); and “Tycoon,” a psychological drama from director Louis Leterrier (“Clash of the Titans” and “Now You See Me”).

Formed about a year ago, Blackpills has greenlit 54 shows from a range of talent including James Franco, Bryan Singer, Logan Paul, Christian Delgrosso, Eric Johnson, and Denise Richards slated to debut in the app this year. The goal is to release a new series weekly, according to Patrick Holzman, co-founder of Blackpills.

“It’s like producing a 120-minute movie every single week,” he said, with each series broken into episodes about 10 minutes long. Production budgets for Blackpills original series range between around $500,000 and $3 million, Holzman said.

U.S. audiences have already been able to get a taste of Blackpills’ oeuvre: This spring, the company inked in a pact with Vice Media for an exclusive U.S. preview of the series on a dedicated Blackpills channel on Vice’s video site.

Going forward, Vice will continue to distribute Blackpills originals. But to gain immediate access to the shows as well as watch without commercials, viewers will need to subscribe to Blackpills’ premium service, which will cost less than $5 per month, according to Holzman. Subscribers also will be able to download episodes to watch shows offline.

Vice is a key partner for Blackpills, handling advertising sales on behalf of the startup in addition to distribution. Vice also will partner with Blackpills to launch the original series in about 20 European countries this summer, following its initial debut in France earlier this month. “We share the same DNA as Vice across audience, voice and subjects,” Holzman said.

The long-range vision for Blackpills is to be like a hybrid of HBO and Snapchat, Holzman said — merging premium content with social features in the app.

Aimed at young audiences for which smartphones are the first screen, the Blackpills shows cover a range of topics such as virginity, sexual health, violence, digital privacy, and racial diversity. “We want to find subjects that will provoke thought,” said Holzman. “We want to be very authentic, with nothing taboo.”

Holzman, former executive VP of Canal+ International and co-founder of AlloCiné, formed Blackpills with Daniel Marhely, founder of music-streaming service Deezer. The company is funded by venture capitalist Xavier Niel, founder of French telecom provider Iliad. With Niel’s ownership, “we have no parent company we have to report to who would censor our content,” Holzman said.

Content in Blackpills’ pipeline for the near future will include: a digital adaptation of “Spring Breakers” from the original film’s producers; James Franco’s satirical “Making a Scene,” which ran on AOL its first two seasons; 1970s-style girl-power drama “A Girl Is a Gun,” starring Denise Richards; and new series from influencers Logan Paul and Christian Delgrosso.

As for the meaning of the company’s name, Holzman said the founders liked the idea of pills as an addictive substance — but a “positive addiction,” he added — that change your mood, while black is meant to imply authenticity and premium quality.

Blackpills is based in Paris, with a production and marketing office in L.A. and a writers’ room in Tel Aviv. The company has nearly 70 employees.

The Blackpills app is free to download on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.

Here’s a rundown of the initial Blackpills original content lineup:

  • “All Wrong,” with Chris Marquette and Brittany Furlan: Carlos finds himself unemployed, broke, and in debt. When he finally manages to bring home a woman for a one-night stand, everything gets even worse.
  • “Duels,” with Daniela Delfino and David Brownstein: Inspired by a recent lecture in their history class, three students decide to bring back the practice of dueling to solve their conflicts. As the videos go viral, the violence escalates and becomes a statewide issue.
  • “Junior,” directed and created by Zoe Cassavetes, with Lucia Ribisi, Kristin Froseth, Eric Johnson, Amy Seimetz: An unapologetic story about a teenage girl who finds herself in an unexpected love triangle with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
  • “Pillowtalk,” created by Mike Piscitelli and Rachael Taylor, executive producer Sharon Horgan and starring Patrick J. Adams: A tortured bachelor trying to stay in ‘the light’ in a world where casual sex is at his beck and call.
  • “Pineapple,” written, directed and edited by Arkasha Stevenson and starring Ron Gilbert: Originally premiered at Sundance Film Festival and acquired from Adaptive Studios by Blackpills, the series tells the story of a small town after the daughter of a miner is assaulted in a local coal mine.
  • “Playground”: In series based on an original idea by Luc Besson, a teenage girl joins a school for assassins and uncovers the mystery of her parents’ death.
  • “Skinford,” with Josh Brennan: In an attempt to save his father from death, Jimmy Skinford ends up risking his own life. His only chance of survival is to be touched by an immortal woman who is buried underground.
  • “Surrogate”: Starring Emmeli Stjärnfeldt as a woman who has been recently certified as a substitute surrogate partner for sexual therapy. At the Clinic for Healthy Sex, she meets with a wide range of clients in need of help for a variety of sexual disorders.
  • “Twiz and Tuck,” starring Twiz and Tuck: A wild, weird, irreverent guide to settling down from the trans and gender-fluid best friends, who drew up a list of the 25 things they wanted to do before they said goodbye to their wilder days, and set off across America to check them off.
  • “Tycoon,” directed by Louis Leterrier and written by Ben Kalifi and Erez Tadmor: A woman chooses to trade one year of her life and her privacy in exchange for $5 million. All she has to do is allow a young, vengeful real-estate mogul trying to win back his empire to control her every move.
  • “Virgin,” starring Georgina Leming and Sand Van Roy: Ellie, a woman in her early 20s in a committed relationship, prepares to lose her virginity to her boyfriend. Her two more sexually experienced roommates teach her everything she needs to know for the big moment.
  • “You Got Trumped,” directed by Derek Harvie and starring Ron Sparks: Created before the most recent U.S. election results were announced, this satire shows viewers what Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the White House might be like.