EXCLUSIVE: XTR, the non-fiction studio behind films including wrestling doc You Cannot Kill David Arquette and the upcoming Magic Johnson feature doc, has secured a multi-million dollar investment from former Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
The company, which was set up by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker and RYOT co-founder Bryn Mooser, has secured $17.5M and will allocate money for its own production slate, as a finishing fund to complete titles from doc filmmakers and for its upcoming documentary streaming service Documentary Plus.
Hsieh spent 21 years at the Amazon-owned shoe company as retired as CEO in August 2020. He previously co-founded Internet advertising network LinkExchange, which he sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265M.
XTR scored deals for a number of its documentaries this summer including the Walter Mercado-led film Mucho Mucho Amor with Netflix, Sundance Award-Winner Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets at Utopia, ACLU drama The Fight with Magnolia, You Cannot Kill David Arquette with Neon and Feels Good Man with PBS.
“The thing that has been constant throughout the pandemic is that documentaries are still in production, still being finished, they’re what people are watching and so I think from an industry standpoint, documentaries are not only going strong, but they’re actually stronger than they’ve ever been,” Mooser told Deadline. “So, we’re really looking at this infusion of funds into the industry as just like a really exciting moment that’s going to start not only the next generation of filmmakers but also help get some really important films finished that maybe were disrupted by everything that’s happened with COVID.”
The money will be split between movies on its own slate and helping filmmakers finish films that they hope will be on the festival circuit in 2021. It is currently prepping three projects on its own slate and eight films direct from doc makers.
“There’s certainly no shortage of stories, there’s no shortage of films, but historically, what there’s been a shortage of is money, right, to finish those films or to make those films,” Mooser added. “We’re hoping that with this money that we’re putting in, we’re just going to like really add fuel to this fire that’s happening and not only get films across that finish line, which is often so hard to do, but also tell stories that maybe were disrupted by everything that’s happened with COVID.”
Most doc films are funded piecemeal but XTR hopes that by using its brand, it will help a number of projects. Head of film Kathryn Everett said, “In terms of raising financing for more of a slate than opposed to individual films… we were really hoping that XTR becomes synonymous with incredible nonfiction content and the best documentary films, and so packaging our films as an XTR slate and putting everything under this XTR banner is definitely strategic. We really want to continue to fund and to make the best films out there so that that reputation continues to grow.”
Mooser also pointed to the launch of Documentary Plus, which they hope to launch later this fall. They have not yet revealed a programming slate but Mooser said that he has spent the last four months working with major studios to build the library.
“There were very few homes for documentaries over five years ago and that all changed as streaming started to make original documentaries. But up until that point, there weren’t a lot of homes, so when you look back into the kind of history of great documentaries, most documentaries are available to license… and it is not easy to find those great documentaries as much as you would think it would be.”
But he’s aware that Documentary Plus is not going to challenge the likes of Apple, Amazon and Netflix. “That’s why we think of it as like the Criterion Channel for documentaries. It’s not Netflix, and we we’re not going to go and try to compete for the Taylor Swift documentary against Apple or Netflix. But we’ll have 200 films or something there at launch. You know you won’t find Tiger King there, but I think that you’ll find what is represented of one of the best libraries of documentaries out there that are hard to find.”
Everett added, “It will be highly curated, and I think the other thing that we are really optimistic about is that, overall, it’s just such a positive option for filmmakers in the industry, to have this option of a really high-quality, highly curated platform for your films, old or new to live on, is exciting for filmmakers.”
Mooser lauded Hsieh’s “extremely generous support” in the venture. “Tony is one of the most visionary entrepreneurs of our time and we’re thrilled to have his big ideas and passion at the table alongside us,” he added.