Filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney and industry veteran Adrienne Becker joined forces to launch the content studio Level Forward in early 2018 after they’d briefly paired up in an effort to buy Weinstein Co. out of the ashes of bankruptcy.
Disney and Becker came to realize that they were kindred spirits in their interest in social justice and advancing the showbiz careers of women and people of color. Level Forward is designed to provide creative support and nontraditional financing for projects from creators who are willing to trade big upfront fees for a larger share of equity and more creative freedom.
Disney and Becker detail their growing portfolio and company ethos on the latest installment of “Strictly Business,” Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment.
Disney, who is the granddaughter of Walt Disney Co. co-founder Roy O. Disney, also discusses her recent public comments on the subject of pay equity, citing what she describes as outsized compensation packages for CEO Bob Iger and others (“There’s something sick in the system,” she says of excessive corporate compensation).
“The biggest bottleneck in the industry for women is capital — access to financial capital,” says Disney. Independent producers will not be able to thrive in the current landscape “until meaningful capital comes in to support (the sector) system-wide.”
Level Forward has made an early mark on Broadway as a producer of the well-received recent revival of “Oklahoma!” and the play “What the Constitution Means to Me,” which reached the recoupment threshold. Opening on Broadway in December is the musical based on the 1995 Alanis Morissette album “Jagged Little Pill.” “Oklahoma!” and “Jagged Little Pill” producer Eva Price is affiliated with Level Forward.
The company is a little less than halfway toward the goal of generating $100 million in production financing for its various projects after less than two years in business. Level Forward also sought to make a statement to creative partners by embracing the initiative pushed by the advocacy group Gun Neutral, which calls on the entertainment industry to offset the use of guns in movies and TV shows by creating a line-item donation per gun used to support the destruction of guns. So far, “Oklahoma!” and other productions have generated about $50,000 to fund the destruction of about 1,700 weapons.
That kind of real-world impact is something Becker points to when some roll their eyes at media ventures with a pro-social bent from the get-go. Level Forward aims to weave impact activities beyond the screen and stage into all of its major projects.
“If you pair (storytelling) with the dialogue and the active advocacy then you have something really powerful,” Becker says.
Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.