Transcript: The Studio Exec Behind ‘Sound of Freedom’
Angel Studios' CCO Jeffrey Harmon on the business model behind the surprise hit
Welcome back to The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood. My name is Sonny Bunch. I'm culture editor at The Bulwark, and I'm very pleased to be joined today by Jeffrey Harmon. Now Jeffrey is the co-founder and chief content officer at Angel Studios. He co-founded Orabrush Inc. in 2009, served as the CEO there. But we are here to talk about the biggest box office success of the summer, I think, or at least the most surprising box office success of the summer. I think the movie that if you had pulled up a chart and you were putting your fantasy box office draft together, I don't know that Sound of Freedom would've been at the top of most people's list, but it is, at least in terms of return on investment, aiming to be one of the biggest grossing movies of the year, most successful movies of the year, and it has a really interesting kind of backstory and business model, and there's lots to discuss here. Jeffrey, thanks for being on the show. I really appreciate it.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
So let's talk about how you guys finance and fund and find the audience for these movies because I think this is a super interesting business model that a lot of people don't understand. I tweet constantly. I tweet constantly, but I tweet a lot about box office stuff, and anytime I tweet about Sound of Freedom, I get a lot of questions about like, "Well, is this success real? Is it Astroturfed, blah, blah, blah." And that does not track with what I'm hearing from exhibitors, most of whom are not reporting massive empty auditoriums. They say they're full and have people show up, but I want to explain to people how this works. So Sound of Freedom. How do you guys decide to make this movie in the first place? What's the process there for deciding that Sound of Freedom is going to be an Angel Studio's picture?
Well, the first step is we have what's called the Angel Guild, and so Angel Studios is a disruptor in the Hollywood space because we've rebuilt the entire... Over the last 10 years, we've rebuilt the entire system from the ground up to go around Hollywood system. We're doing it outside of the system, and so the first step is we have what's called the Angel Guild. And the Angel Guild is a hundred thousand angel investors that are regular people. They could have invested just down to a hundred bucks or even $50 into a project, and they are stakeholders inside of the Angel Network and every week we get 60-plus filmmakers submitting to Angel Studios, submitting projects. They'll submit full movies, they'll submit prototype movies, pilots for TV series animatic. They're submitting all kinds of things.
Anything that qualifies goes into the Angel Guild for review, and the Angel Guild is this hundred thousand everyday people who go in and review the content and they get asked two questions. If you watch a movie like Sound of Freedom, they watch Sound of Freedom and they get asked, number one, does this project amplify light? So the question is, what does this project... We don't want nihilistic content. There's a certain brand of content we want, which is family safe, and it amplifies light. It changes people for better after seeing the content. Time regretted is really small after watching our content. They don't regret the time they spent watching it. So does this amplify light? They get yes, no. And then the second question they get asked after they watch a submission, is the Guild gets asked, how would you feel if this was never turned into an Angel Studio's original? Or How would you feel if this never went to theaters with Angel Studios? Those types of questions. And they get three answers.
One is very disappointed, number two is somewhat disappointed, number three is not disappointed. It's not that good. And so this question forces them to ask the question for themselves because if you ask a customer, what do you think about this movie? They're going to start saying, "Well, what do I think about other people are going to think about this movie?" That's what critics try to do usually, is they're trying to say, "What's the world going to think about this movie?" What we want them to answer is, "What do I personally think of this movie? How would I feel if this was never turned into a film or into an Angel original series?" Then the very top ones every month, the top Guild selections are the ones that we go in and we turn into Angel Studios series or Angel Studios movies and the Sound of Freedom scored near the top of anything we've ever had submitted.
We've also had some others that are very good, and there's some that are coming that are very high. Like the movie Cabrini has scored super high in the Guild or the movie After Death, which is coming in October. That one has scored crazy high on the Guild. And so the first things we've learned about this, just to [inaudible 00:05:24] on this and then I'll get to the crowdfunding aspect, is that the Angel Guild basically gives us a preview of what the Rotten Tomato score is going to look like. Because we have a hundred thousand people that are from all over the world scoring these films in advance in a private setting, and then we get a preview. The filmmaker gets a preview of what the audience actually thinks of the movie before it comes out. And in the case... Go ahead.
Yeah. Can I just interrupt here for one question? So when you say there's a hundred thousand people in this Angel Guild, you basically have a 100,000 person strong focus group for each of these movies?
That's pretty impressive. That's crazy.
Yeah, yeah. So not everybody rates every single movie, but it's a hundred thousand people that are actively going in and rating content. And I mean with 60 filmmakers a week, not all 100,000 can watch 60 different projects or whatever, but they're all watching some, and then we get to statistical significance. So then you go and you take the ones that are the winners and they do with a movie release, a theatrical release. We crowdfund the P&A, so prints and advertising, for those who don't know what P&A is, the prints comes from the terminology, back when movies were on film, you'd send out a printed roll of film to all the different theaters, and that was the cost of the prints.