For a few years now, the Toronto-based storytelling app Wattpad has been a crucial piece of Hollywood marketing. After all, with a monthly audience of over 45 million people, most of them young and female, Wattpad offers access to a key, movie-going demographic. And Wattpad users, who use the app to create and upload hundreds of millions of stories, are by nature very social and loyal creatures. They post adoring comments not just on the stories themselves, but on specific paragraphs and turns of phrase. In so doing, they "start to feel ownership with the writer," says Aron Levitz, head of the newly created Wattpad Studios. "They're helping to create this property. A lot of writers will say, I wrote my first story with Wattpad, it was amazing. I wrote my sixth story with you, and my eighth and ninth because the audience egged me on."
This unique relationship between readers and content has led studios like 20th Century Fox and Universal to tap Wattpad to promote some of their biggest films. For Fox's The Fault in Our Stars, the film, based on the John Green novel, was given a profile on the site, and Wattpad authors were asked to write special stories related to the film. The cover of each book was a movie poster for the film. According to Wattpad, the campaign reached over 8 million readers who spent more than 4.6 minutes engaging with the content. Universal took a similar approach with films like Unfriended, Ouija and The Purge: Anarchy (besides romance, Wattpad readers also have a jones for sci-fi and horror stories), and Wattpad recently worked with the CW to promote Jane the Virgin.
But now Wattpad wants to more than just help Hollywood market its wares, it wants to help create those wares. Emboldened by the success of Wattpad author Anna Todd, whose serialized story After (over 1.3 billion reads and more than 6 million comments) was optioned in 2014 by Paramount and is being developed into a feature film (it has also been published as a book by Simon & Schuster), Wattpad has created Wattpad Studios, an in-house production company of sorts that will help identify the next Todd's and partner them with movie studios and TV and digital networks. The hope is to churn out Wattpad-inspired entertainment.
The first fruit borne of this arrangement is a deal with Turner and its upcoming Tales from the Crypt horror block on TNT, which M. Night Shyamalan is curating. The programming, which debuts next year, will be a horror anthology series based on the 1950s EC Comics horror comic of the same name (which had previously been the basis for an HBO series that ran for seven seasons between 1989 and 1996).
The opening titles of HBO's Tales From the Crypt (1989-1996). Theme music composed by Danny Elfman.
Through contests and other opportunities, Wattpad writers will be invited to submit stories to Turner, and the winners will have their stories adapted for the horror block. TNT, along with sister network TBS, will also scour the greater Wattpad landscape, using the site's trend-identifying algorithms, to try and tap new writers and ideas that could be developed for TV, digital, and other platforms.
Levitz says that besides creating more opportunities for Wattpad writers, the idea is to help Hollywood "take the guess work" out of hit-making. Besides the built-in audiences that come with every Wattpad story, the company has reams of analytics and data that can indicate to a director, say, or a screenwriter, which scenes and moments are most beloved by fans—and which aren't. Working with UTA, Wattpad Studios will pinpoint writers through its Wattpad Stars program (its top influencers), and then connect them with an entertainment partner. There are no plans as of yet to develop an in-house development team. Rather, Wattpad will be a producer on the project and stay involved through production and release. The company will also help with marketing and promotion.
Levitz spoke with Co.Create about the value that Wattpad writers can lend to Hollywood; how, exactly, a Wattpad movie campaign works; and why the company is a "rock star" in the Philippines.
To a get a more granular sense of how Wattpad has traditionally engaged with Hollywood, Levitz gave a play-by-play of the marketing campaign for the 2014 film The Purge: Anarchy.
Universal, he says, "comes to us and says, look, you have a rabid horror community. Ninety percent of them are 13-30 years old. That's a great horror demographic. And they go, How do we reach them? They come up with the right creative approach. In this case it was, what if we gave two of our top horror-thriller writers the space to work in? Which was, what if crime was legal for 24 hours? That's all we're going to say to them. What do they come back with? One of the stories, called Mr. Composure, is one of the most haunting stories I've ever read, and he wrote it for the brand.
"Then we actually create reading lists around other themes that are important. In this case it was rebellion, which is one of the underlying themes of the movie. So we look for great rebellion stories on Wattpad and create reading lists around them. So now we have the creative kernel for Universal and we promote it to our community. We don't use banner ads, we have some around the site, which of course get put to work for them. But we're using places where we're naturally suggesting content. When you first go onto Wattpad it says, here are the books we like—so there we can promote some of the Purge commissioned work. The writers say they're working with NBC-U, and the book covers we use to promote them are basically movie posters. They have the premiere date and whatnot. So it's a very innovative campaign, but at the end of the day the stories are amazing. You're basically asking your favorite people to do their favorite things."