Last month, film studio 20th Century Fox announced that it had struck a deal with Epic, an online startup with an interest in fostering long-form journalism, to develop a pipeline of stories that might be turned into movies. Epic was founded by Joshua Davis and Joshuah Bearman, who collectively have had a good deal of success writing investigative pieces that were optioned for film.
The agreement with Fox gives Epic cash to finance its research and writing. Fox itself doesn't appear to exercise much editorial control; for its support, Fox gets a first look at what Epic publishes. Not every story will become a movie, but the studio apparently feels that Epic will develop enough good stories to make the deal mutually beneficial.
In an article written by Mike Fleming Jr. for Deadline Hollywood, the founders acknowledged that a Fox in the henhouse may influence their thinking, but the tradeoff is worth the risk:
“There has been this feeling for a while that longform journalism has been under threat, with word counts going down and magazines belt tightening,” Bearman said. “We feel this is part of a renaissance of digital nonfiction that is pointing a way forward. We are experimenting, trying to find new ways to save something important. We don’t believe this craft is declining because people aren’t interested in reading these kinds of stories.”
Co-founder Joshua Davis then offered his forward-looking perspective:
“It’s true we are looking for an editorial identity that pushes toward a certain kind of story. But if this catches on and becomes self-sustaining, we could publish other kinds of narrative stories that aren’t geared for film and the only requirement will be that they are page-turners.”
Although Fleming focuses on the longer-form journalism that has been the province of certain magazines, technology has already blurred our ability to distinguish by format or the type of publisher. Online, we already have platforms like LongReads, Kindle Singles and Medium; it's hard to say that these are exclusively magazine or book formats. Barriers to entry are lower, and the minimum viable product is changing as a result.
Certainly, book publishers could apply advances to support the kind of research and development that might well be optioned down the road. That said, two things seem clear: finding more than one use for content is increasingly a core part of the game; and there's now at least one example of how the middleman might have to work harder to stay in that game.