Film financier Peter Samuelson and showrunner-director Jonathan Prince have joined forces to launch PhilmCo, a production and distribution banner designed to produce socially-conscious movies and TV shows with a built-in philanthropic component.
Samuelson and Prince are working with private investors to fund the development of a range of projects that are about to be shopped to studio and network partners. The content backed by PhilmCo will focus on issues and causes that allow creative partners to build in calls to action to address the problems illustrated by the story.
Prince said issue-oriented content in the past has rarely taken the step of directly connecting audiences to charitable donations or social actions to capitalize on awareness. This will be a primary focus of PhilmCo which aims to knit together a network of appropriate nonprofit, charitable and philanthropic partners to help support each project and benefit.
“We’re all great storytellers, we can move people and make them pay attention to something. But then just when they’re moved we drop them off at the curb,” Prince said. “We don’t deliver on how to take action.”
PhilmCo’s partners include Ellen Lowey, executive vice president of content and impact partnerships, and Tamika Lamison, senior vice president of development and production and board chair.
The company vows to devote 5%-7% of its production budgets on driving philanthropic and activism-oriented activations around subjects relevant to the project.
PhilmCo came together in 2019 just before the pandemic turned Hollywood upside down. Lamison was working a nonprofit venture devoted to making legacy films for children and youth with terminal illnesses. She met Samuelson at a humanitarian awards event and realized her background was a fit with his latest vision for a content production venture.
“We watch movies to be touched and moved and inspired,” Lamison said. “We want to take ‘moved’ to another level.”
Samuelson has helped finance and produce more than two dozen films, notably 1999’s “Arlington Road,” 1997’s “Wilde” and 2019’s “Foster Boy.” Prince is a veteran showrunner and director whose credits include BET’s “American Soul” and NBC’s “American Dreams.”
The company has what Samuelson calls a “double bottom line” in that it will measure success by the level of social activations generated in addition to ratings or box office or other sales metrics. The baked-in focus on using storytelling for advocacy is also attractive to high-wattage talent.
Moreover, working with a network of grassroots organizations can help drive vital word of mouth in an increasingly on-demand entertainment marketplace.
“There is an unmet need,” Samuelson said. “There’s absolutely astonishingly high-profile talent taking on things that they emotionally care about.”
PhilmCo at present has about eight staffers in total. None of them have worked together in an office yet, but the hope is that some staffers will eventually gather at a space in Los Angeles. “I hope to one day be in an office with my colleagues,” Lowey said. Prince added that the company aims to sign some pod-type deals with producers and other creatives once the COVID threat eases.
The partners tried to use the downtime to carefully craft a number of movie and series packages that reflect its world-changing mission. PhilmCo intends to hit the selling circuit in the coming weeks with its first major sales pitches.
The inaugural roster includes a pact with director Catherine Hardwicke to direct “The Greatness,” the story of three deaf Latinx students who strive to play for their high school football team in Modesto, Calif. They’ve partnered with retired NFL great Julian Edelman, who grew up with deaf uncles who taught him to play the game through ASL.
PhilmCo is co-producer of the documentary “Ferguson Rises,” from filmmaker Mobolaji Olambiwonnu, which won the Audience Award at this year’s Tribeca festival. And the company is working with noted screenwriter Ronald Bass on a historical limited series and podcast focused on American expats who fought in the Spanish Civil War. It’s based on the book “Spain in Our Hearts” by historian Adam Hochschild.
The company has also set a wide-ranging pact with the American Cancer Society to develop content to raise awareness about cancer detection and prevention methods.
As much as good works are part of the fabric of PhilmCo projects, the company is cognizant of the danger of overdosing on earnestness.
“Where’s the cancer rom-com? How about a guy goes in for his regular prostate check and falls for his radiologist. Every cancer story doesn’t have to be dripping with sincerity,” Prince said.
“Where’s the thriller or the mystery or the animated movie or the musical. There’s stories to tell about early detection and testing. There’s stories to tell that will shine a light on the great work of researchers and doctors,” he said.