Wattpad Studios head Aron Levitz and his team comb through the contributions of more than 4 million writers from around the world on the platform. The goal: to find the unique narratives that resonate with fans, and then turn them into TV shows, movies and books. Levitz, in the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” talks about the company’s process of finding the diamonds in the rough.
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“Audience is exceptionally powerful in this moment of entertainment disruption that we’re seeing day after day in the headlines,” he says. “We feel if we listen to audiences that we have a better chance of success.”
Wattpad Studios announced its newest project this week: “Float,” a movie based on Kate Marchant’s popular Wattpad teen-romance story, starring Robbie Amell (“Upload”), who is also set to produce. It’s set to be coproduced with Collective Pictures (formerly Colony Pictures), which was behind Netflix’s “Code 8.”
Wattpad’s 80 million-plus monthly readers are voracious fans of every single genre — from romance to sci-fi and from fantasy to horror, not to mention subgenres “that we haven’t even thought up of yet,” Levitz says.
But the company’s data analysis is more nuanced than just a matter of, say, looking at the biggest number of overall reads. Context is key, says Levitz: “It’s our access to not only the data itself, but understanding story.”
The company’s proprietary Story DNA system uses machine-learning tech to figure out contextually why the story is popular, by understanding emotional ups and downs, the nuances of reader comments and other information. Levitz called the AI-driven approach “this beautiful mix of art and science that my team uses to fully understand why stories fit in an ethos of entertainment around the world, and then finding the right partners to bring them there.”
Of course, Levitz encounters skeptics in Hollywood. “You’re always going to find people who want to hold on to the way things were,” he says. As the streaming wars escalate, “If we just keep going by people’s gut feel of, ‘Oh, I think this is a good story,’ well, you know, you’re only as good as your last story. … What we’re trying to do is change that, and get away from the fact that we have to keep doing prequels and sequels and pre-sequels and reboots. We want to see new IP. We want to see it from diverse voices.”
Currently, Wattpad Studios has more than 50 TV and film adaption projects in development worldwide. Those include Jessica Cunsolo’s “She’s With Me,” set up as a series with Sony Pictures Television; DeAnna Cameron’s “What Happened That Night,” which is being adapted by Oscar-nominated “Children of Men” screenwriter David Arata; and T.L. Bodine’s “The Hound,” which is being scripted by Angela LaManna (Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor”).
Other stories that Wattpad Studios has adapted include “The Kissing Booth” by Beth Reekles, which has become a movie franchise on Netflix (with a third installment due in 2021); “Light as a Feather” by Zoe Aarsen, which became a Hulu series; and “After” by Anna Todd, which was turned into a book series and then a hit indie movie, followed by a sequel, “After We Collided,” this year and two more films in the works.
“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.