Taking a dream from concept to reality.
In 2019, I produced my first documentary called Fox in the Henhouse – a 63-minute project shot at Anthony Scaramucci’s SALT conference in Las Vegas which explores the role of entrepreneurship in society to bridge the wealth and income gap at a time when an increasing number of younger voters are drawn to socialism while billionaires themselves are calling out capitalism’s shortcomings. I’d met the Mooch in 2018 and interviewed him then, I again talked to him post election this year. You can watch the trailer and full documentary.
In 2019, I began to dream of a second documentary entitled How Geek Culture became Pop Culture, which of course is one of our pillars and four bets we made. During that decade, of course, the streaming revolution meant that niche topics and communities would become large markets, given the boundaryless nature of the Web. That also meant that streaming platforms’ roles and responsibilities in society would evolve and be questioned. Throughout, it ushered a gold rush of entertainment programming that would dramatically grow watch time, engagement, and attention. When Netflix’s Reed Hastings says he’s “not into doing truth to power, we’re here to entertain,” he wasn’t kidding… and also probably understood the role his product served in terms of escapism and entertainment.
We started off in the infotainment sphere, covering topics like wars and pandemics as well as the people and franchises that shaped pop culture, but ultimately drawn into the burgeoning world of entertainment as fans ourselves. We saw this early on and embraced “comic book character origins” before diving deep into top 10 lists. Then by betting the farm on YouTube, our subsequent success helped further popularize this once-niche universe and also became a proxy capturing how Game of Thrones graces the front page of CNN & the MCU dominates the box office.
What used to be the purview of looked-down-upon nerds is now what drives viewership, on streaming platforms, TV and the box office sale. This is the origin story of that phenomenon.
As legions of comic book fans grew up to work in the marketing and entertainment fields, slowly but surely geek culture filtered into the mainstream. Roughly a decade ago, anyone who thought that “The Big Bang Theory” would be the #1 show on broadcast TV or that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would become a socio-cultural juggernaut, would have been laughed out of the room (including the boardroom). How things have changed! But how, exactly did this transformation happen?
The documentary intended to explore how the current generation of decision-makers grew up reading comic books, watching Star Wars and as they grew into their roles, integrated “geek culture” into everyday life was a normal phenomenon. For example, while readers of comic books represented a niche audience early on, for many of us, our earliest memories of movies we watched were in this genre as a young child in Spain: Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan and Superman II (right after my family had moved to Spain from Iran).
It’s no wonder then, that twenty five years later while growing a new media publisher like WatchMojo, I turned to create programming that was based around the universe of these iconic properties. I was a fan myself, of course, but was blown away by how much bigger fans there were out there (my main thing was music, of course). Before starting WatchMojo, in late 2005, I recall chatting with my brother- in-law who did grow up reading comic books and more immersed in the world, and I considered launching a platform for fan creations and such geek culture universes… but Brian Alvey (formerly of Weblogs and Jason Calacanis’ partner) had beaten me to the punch. So I set my sights on WatchMojo. In fact, the whole theme of our March 2020 WatchMojo Live in Toronto was this, until Covid hit.
We considered creating a documentary but once we discussed the ambitious project, we realized it would be ready by Christmas… and given the year we all experienced, we decided to make it available, for free, to our fans… Thank you. Here’s the rundown of the episodes.
Series Overview: Once niche and ridiculed, geek culture has exploded into the mainstream, creating today’s biggest blockbuster franchises. A decade ago, anyone who thought that “The Big Bang Theory” would be the number one show on broadcast TV, or that Marvel movies would redefine cinema, would have been laughed out of the room. How did fans who were once made fun of for collecting comics, learning elvish, and owning 20-sided die become the rulers of pop culture? This is the origin story of how downtrodden misfits became the creators and consumers of mainstream culture.
Host: Hosting this series will be none other than WatchMojo’s own Rebecca Brayton, or as Jack Black once referred to her as, “The Banksy of WatchMojo”. Rebecca is WatchMojo’s longest running and most followed star voice on the channel. In fact her voice is so famous online that even the cast of Spider-Man: Far From Home found themselves somewhat starstruck during an interview – proving that even celebrities consider WatchMojo an authority on pop culture.
Episode 1: Science Fiction
The epic story of science fiction begins with the pulps in the 1920s and takes us all the way through classic film serials to franchise juggernauts like “Star Trek” and “Star Wars”. We trace the origin of fandom and the journey of scifi geeks from nerds and dreamers to the ones calling the shots today.
Episode 2: Fantasy
In the 60s, “Frodo Lives” became a rallying cry of the counterculture movement. Middle Earth had gone viral! This newfound popularity came from the publication of Tolkien’s fantasy epic in paperback. But what made fantasy stories like “Lord of the Rings”, “Game of Thrones”, and Harry Potter truly mainstream was a much more dramatic shift in medium – from page to screen.
Episode 3: Video Games
Once the purview of computer nerds at MIT, programming together on a single minicomputer, video games have come a long way! Thanks to the advent of personal computers, consoles, smartphones, and new game genres with broad appeal, EVERYONE dabbles, and more and more aspects of life are being gamified.
Episode 4: Anime
Today, Anime is a Netflix staple and has made significant inroads into the American box office. But Western otakus weren’t always spoiled for content and cosplay events. The popularity of anime in western culture was achieved one power up at a time thanks to the likes of Toonami, Studio Ghibli, and fan-favourite franchises like “Dragon Ball”, “Sailor Moon” and “Pokemon”.
Episode 5: How Nerds Became Movie Heroes
In the 80s, tough guys like Sly, Arnie, and Bruce Willis saved the day, while geeks, nerds, and dorks got wedgies instead. But they would have their revenge (except for maybe dorks) with the rise of brainy, misfit heroes. We look at how the portrayal of geeks in cinema has radically changed.
Episode 6: Comic Books
EVERYONE saw “Avengers: Endgame”, the biggest grossing film of all time. But to understand how superheroes took over screens, we have to go back to the first comics and the eventual rivalry between two titans: DC and Marvel. DC blazed trails from comics to film serials and TV, giving Marvel a lot of catching up to do.
Episode 7: Comic Books
Today, when it comes to comic book movies, the MCU is reigning champ; but DC was responsible for the first superhero blockbusters and is still very much in the game. Together, they’ve brought comic book characters into the mainstream. So, is it even geeky anymore? We look at their success stories and reflect on what makes a geek a geek.
Once this project I envisioned moved from concept to reality, I then began to think of another project… you may have spotted a theme in some of my recent articles. I’ll discuss that in the days to come. In the meantime, enjoy the series!