Last year, Peter Paul joined with Stan Lee the creator of "The X-Men," "Spider-Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Fantastic Four" and other classic comics to create a new online content firm called Stan Lee Media Inc.
Lee is famous for breathing life into his characters, but it is Paul who is transforming those creations into a business empire. Says Lee, "I couldn't do this without him."
The company's first project, an episodic tale about a team of superheroes and villains called "7th Portal," is already screaming out of the gate. Former Sony Pictures Chairman Mark Canton has signed on to develop "7th Portal" into a movie, Paramount Pictures is creating an amusement park ride based on the webisode, and Fox Latin America and Fox Kids Latin America will translate the series into television programming, magazines and other media throughout South America.
Soon to come are two new webisodes based on the pop sensation the Back Street Boys and hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige, which Paul also hopes to turn into television series.
Like most Internet startups, Stan Lee Media is still in the red (the company reported a net loss of nearly $8 million for the last 12 months), but Paul has been hard at work developing partnerships aimed at turning Lee's characters and stories into full-blown franchises, with television and feature film adaptations, as well as a variety of licensing and merchandising deals.
On the heels of the runaway success of the 20th Century Fox feature film "The X-Men," based on Lee's creation, he hopes to create the first Internet-based, global entertainment company. A former attorney representing the likes of Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol, Paul is the No. 2 man under Stan Lee, handling strategic planning and business development.
Question: What is Stan Lee Media?
Answer: As a start-up Internet-based branded content creation, production, distribution and marketing company, we're really the Disney of the 21st century. Instead of a feature animation company (as Disney started out), we are an Internet, Flash animation company. (Flash is a software program used for viewing Internet animation.)
Q: That's a tall order. How do you plan to compete with powerhouses like Disney?
A: As multinationals consolidate their positions in distributing content over various technologies satellite, cable, DSL, broadband the one thing that's given the highest value is global branded content. What does that mean? It means that the entertainment you're delivering to a global audience is recognizable in some form by that audience already, without having to spend the time and the money to get the recognition factor necessary to appeal to that audience. We are in a historically unique position in this. Stan is recognized in 100 countries and 27 languages for three generations. By liberating him from an exclusive lifetime arrangement with Marvel (Comics), he has become his own independent brand. And there's no one else like that.
Q: What has the runaway success of "The X-Men" movie done for the company?
A: "X-Men" is the first bona fide, big-budget adaptation of one of Stan's franchises to the big screen, and it ratified the notion that his creations have the ability to build large audiences. It enhances his credibility in Hollywood and elsewhere, shows that his characters still have legs, and makes it easier to sell a movie because a Stan Lee creation applied to the big screen was a blockbuster. "Spider-Man" is being developed by Sony for $250 million; "The Incredible Hulk" is being developed at Universal for $150 million.
Q: Why did you choose the Internet as the starting point for your projects?
A: Flash animation on the Internet reaches a universe of 240 million Flash-enabled Web users simultaneously. There is no other medium that gives access to that universe at that cost in the world.
Q: Is the "7th Portal" movie a done deal?
A: Mark Canton is producing it. He'll announce the studio (distributor) and the writer within the next 30 days.
Q: How has Wall Street's disillusionment with Internet content affected your stock price?
A: We've been closing consistently between $10.13 and $10.50 (a share). We haven't clarified our story yet, and because people sometimes confuse us with a dot-com company or a content company, we've been painted with the same brush. That hasn't helped in getting our message out. We now have a new CEO (Kenneth S. Williams) who built Sony Pictures Imageworks' digital studio division and was at Columbia Pictures Industries for 18 years with an impressive finance background, so I think we're building a management team that's critical to Wall Street.
Q: Why do you think Stan Lee's characters have had such staying power?
A: Stan Lee's mythic characters resonate, especially with adolescents who look for guides through the angst of establishing self identity and direction in the transition to adulthood. The mythos of regional cultures used to offer adolescents guideposts by examining the way that mythic figures dealt with obstacles. Superheroes have become the modern-day Hindu, Greek and Scandinavian mythic figures. So it's not just fantasy. Stan revolutionized superheroes as regular people that have to deal with the responsibilities of a superpower, and that resonates with this adolescent audience.
Q: How did you get involved in the entertainment business?
A: I think it was Salvador Dali's fault. I worked with him for a couple of years. I negotiated deals for him, and probably that experience and spending time with Andy Warhol got me interested in this. But I think underneath it all, I have this artistic need to use real-life experiences as a canvas instead of paints and ceramics. I apply my art through business promotion, and I think it was catalyzed by having the good fortune to spend time with one of the greatest geniuses of all time (Dali).
Q: How did you hook up with Stan Lee?
A: Jimmy Stewart and I started a foundation called American Spirit Foundation. For American Spirit, we needed somebody that related to kids. I started reading these comic books and I thought it was amazing. We tried to pull together a coalition of groups to reach kids that didn't pay attention to those old-fashioned dialogs that teachers spew out. Stan and I became close friends from that point (in 1987).
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