Former MTV President Van Toffler Launches Digital Studio With Peter Chernin's Otter Media

van toffler mtv
Rich Fury/Invision/AP

Van Toffler poses for a portrait at the MTV office in Santa Monica, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2015.

"For us, it's about story first," says Toffler of the new studio, Gunpowder & Sky, which targets cord-cutting millennials.

The Hollywood executive who introduced the world to such cultural phenomena as Jersey Shore and Beavis & Butthead is ready for his next act.

Van Toffler, the longtime MTV top executive who recently walked away from a 28-year career at Viacom, on Wednesday unveiled a new studio aimed at cord-cutting millennials. The venture – named Gunpowder & Sky -- will focus on content ranging from 90 seconds to 90 minutes that can run anywhere, from big screens to mobile phones.

The digital studio is backed in part by entertainment mogul Peter Chernin’s Otter Media, an online-focused joint venture he formed with AT&T. Gunpowder & Sky joins a portfolio of other properties, such as Fullscreen and subscription-based anime streaming service Crunchyroll.

"I wanted to get back to the thing I love, my passion for making stuff again," Toffler said. "It felt like a dynamic time in media. There's a content renaissance. If you're a creator, there's just an endless amount of outlets for creativity. There are so many good emerging storytellers, particularly in the digital ecosystem."

Toffler said he already has a long list of projects in the works that includes a short-form animation series, a slate of digital-first horror movies and 45-second videos featuring sports stars. There's also a film adaptation of the novel DC Trip, which he describes as "a combination of Superbad and Election that's really fun."

Financial details of Otter Media’s investment in Gunpowder & Sky were not disclosed. Floris Bauer, a senior advisor at Otter, will join the new studio as co-founder and president.

Toffler said Gunpowder & Sky has partnered with a number of well-known Hollywood content creators to help drive the new studio. Among them are Bona Fide Productions (the producer of Little Miss Sunshine and Election), U.K.-based Realm Pictures and Adaptive Studios. Both Toffler and Otter also back Supergravity Pictures, a production company that brings films starring social media stars directly to fans. Supergravity’s digital films include The Chosen, starring Kian Lawley, and buddy comedy Man Up, starring Justin Chon and Kevin Wu.

Jesse Jacobs, Chernin Group’s president, said the idea of starting a digital production company has "been burning inside" since the launch of Otter in 2014. Both AT&T and Chernin pledged $500 million in funding when the joint venture was announced.

“Creating a studio that is working with emerging and established talent to create content and distribute it on these digital platforms is something that we think is a great opportunity,” he said. “We hadn’t been able to find the right person to run this partnership with us.”

Toffler in February exited his job that saw him in charge of Viacom's Music and Logo Group, whose marquee channels included MTV, VH-1 and Logo. At the time, he announced a plan to focus his career on digital content. The creation of Gunpowder & Sky, he said, reminds him of the early days at MTV working with music video directors like Michael Bay, David Fincher, Spike Jonze and others.

"I'm really fired up to be in the business with those people, not just the influencers in front of the camera playing piano with their cat, but the people who can tell stories in a new way regardless of form and distribution," he said. "For us, it's about story first, then the length and then where should we distribute it."

The story behind Gunpowder & Sky's name? It's a lyric in the Aimee Mann song "Fourth of July." Toffler did ask Mann’s permission: "She blessed the name," he said.

This article was first published by The Hollywood Reporter.


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