Gunpowder & Sky co-founders Van Toffler and Floris Bauer knew that the entertainment landscape was shifting under their feet. Younger consumers were cutting the cable cord in favor of streaming services or YouTube shows, and they were going to fewer movies in the theaters.
Both men had substantial experience navigating traditional media companies. Toffler spent nearly three decades at Viacom, playing a key role in the development of MTV into an entertainment powerhouse behind “The Real World,” “Jackass,” and “Beavis & Butt-Head.” Bauer was a top executive at Endemol Group. However, they realized that the companies that would be best positioned to profit from the disruption taking place around them would be smaller and more nimble.
“What was that Steve Jobs expression, that the people who created the last invention are probably the last people to create the next one,” says Toffler.
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“There’s a lot of smart people at these larger places,” says Bauer. He notes, however, that in order to take advantage of new distribution models, companies will need to be willing to lose money in the short term.
“You’re going to have to let go of a couple of juicy deals,” he says.
Welcome to Strictly Business, Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Brent Lang talks with Toffler and Bauer about the indie film landscape, the need to be flexible when it comes to distributing content, and why it’s getting harder to convince young people to buy tickets.
“For young people, you have to give them a real reason to spend money and go to theaters,” says Toffler. “Technology has enabled kids to watch stuff on demand.”
Since launching in 2016, Gunpowder & Sky has made it its business to attract just that kind of audience. It’s released films such as “The Little Hours” and “Summer of ’84” that are quirkier and more iconoclastic than big studio fare and it’s embraced a more boutique approach to theatrical windowing. Some of its movies have traditional theatrical releases others pop up on streaming services or on-demand platforms. It’s also created several millennial-skewing channels such as Dust, a destination for sci-fan fans, and Alter, a landing spot for all things horror.
In the process, it’s established itself as a deft provider of premium content, one whose work is in demand by everybody from HBO Max, Warner Bros.’ new streaming service, to Quibi, the soon-to-launch short-form video network. “It’s a great time to make premium content for all of these platforms,” says Bauer.
As for the name, it came to Toffler in a dream, representing an idea of “infinite possibility.” It also happens to be a lyric from the Aimee Mann song “4th of July.” Toffler made a personal appeal to the pop singer to convince her to sign off on the moniker.
She told him, “‘as long as you treat artists fairly then I will bless it.'”
“We’ve tried to live up to that mantra,” he notes.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Past episodes include conversations with Kevin Hart, Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and Dana Walden, co-head of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Television Group. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.