Business stories involving a meteoric rise followed by a spectacular collapse naturally lend themselves to movies, whether it’s a feature like BlackBerry or a documentary like Fyre Fraud. It’s kind of ironic, though, that a company like MoviePass, whose business proposition was “helping people see more movies,” ended up inspiring one itself.

Filmmaker Muta’Ali had not been aware of MoviePass during the meteoric-rise phase, when its literally-too-good-to-be-true offer of unlimited moviegoing for $9.99 per month made it the fastest growing subscription service since Spotify. By the time a friend told him about the company, in late 2018, its spectacular collapse was well underway. The ever-elusive terms of service had made MoviePass increasingly difficult to use, and the state of New York had announced the company was under investigation for fraud. It was a juicy story, just not one Muta’Ali particularly wanted to tell in a documentary. That all changed a few years later, though, when he read an article about the two Black founders who’d been written out of the story.

“It’s rare that you get to see stories where Black entrepreneurs rise to such heights in terms of the value of their companies,” says Muta’Ali, director of MoviePass, MovieCrash, now streaming on Max. “And it’s even rarer when feature docs are made about them.”

MoviePass exploded seemingly out of nowhere in the summer of 2017, when CEO Mitch Lowe lowered its price from $40-$50 per month to $9.99. In truth, the company officially launched six years earlier, though, with a different CEO running the show.

Stacy Spikes had become VP of marketing at Miramax during its ‘90s heyday, and created the Urbanworld Film Festival, all before his thirtieth birthday. For his next act, Spikes wanted to transform typical moviegoing into something closer to attending a film festival—popping frequently into theaters and facing as little friction as possible. With business partner Hamet Watt on board as cofounder, he launched MoviePass in 2011, and tried for years to cut a deal with a major theater chain. Although he got very close more than once, a deal never quite materialized.

The company clawed its way to more than 10,000 subscribers by 2016, but had a hard time securing further funding. After the latest potential lifeline from AMC fell through, Chris Kelly, a venture capitalist with a board seat at MoviePass, gave Spikes an ultimatum: either allow him to bring in a new CEO or Kelly would walk. Seeing no viable alternative, Spikes relented. Kelly then brought in Lowe, who had been an executive at Netflix in its infancy. Now fronted by a gray-haired white guy with red-hot Netflix credentials, MoviePass quickly secured more funding—mostly from analytics firm Helios + Matheson, who bought a majority stake in the company. Not long afterward, Lowe and Helios honcho Ted Farnsworth landed on the $9.99 price point. Their plan worked as expected, in that this price was so suspiciously cheap, it fetched the company millions of dollars in free PR. Unfortunately, all of this news coverage advertised what was quite clearly an unsustainable business model.

This is where MoviePass, MovieCrash begins: with clip after clip of Lowe and Farnsworth on various news shows, boasting about their company’s rocket ride to the moon. Spikes is shown briefly, in an interview, where he is billed as the company’s “former COO”—the position he was shunted off to, before eventually being fired in January of 2018, along with Watt. In an effective bit of cinematic sleight-of-hand, Muta’Ali allows viewers to assume Lowe created the company during the film’s first 15 minutes—which depict how the rocket blew up—before backing up to reveal the rocket’s actual engineers.

The filmmaker and his team deliberated over this unique aspect of the documentary’s structure for a long time.

“We definitely wanted to honor that [Spikes] and [Watt] are the founders of MoviePass, but there is a huge audience out there who knows about MoviePass and have only heard of [Lowe] and [Farnsworth],” Muta’Ali says. “And if the premise of this story has anything to do with presumptions about people, then playing into people’s presumptions is something that would be beneficial to us if we’re trying to be creative with the story.”

People’s presumptions seem to have played a large part in why Spikes had been unable to get more funding before Kelly’s ultimatum. After all, only 1% of all venture capital reportedly goes into startups built by Black entrepreneurs. Even if Lowe’s connection to Netflix, and not just his whiteness, is what helped MoviePass secure more funding after he took charge, Spikes still struggled against people’s presumptions while getting the company off the ground. 

Muta’Ali says he uncovered a specific example of this phenomenon during production, though it didn’t make it into the finished film.

“Some people, who ended up deciding not to be on camera, told me that in the early days of MoviePass, they’d go to these meetings with [Spikes] and when they walked in the room, people would assume that they were the CEO, just because they were white,” the filmmaker says.

Stacy Spikes (left) and Ted Farnsworth [Photo: Courtesy of MoviePass/HBO]

Adding insult to injury, the core idea behind MoviePass, which had been rejected by so many potential investors, has now been validated over time. All the theater chains that turned down Spikes seem to agree, given that AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Alamo Drafthouse now have their own in-house versions of it. Also validating Spikes’ initial vision: the fact that he bought the business back for a song in 2021—and claims that it had its first-ever profitable year in 2023.

Muta’Ali was excited that Spikes gave his business story a happy ending late into production, by taking back his company. And after spending so much time with him, the filmmaker also now understands why the entrepreneur lost control of it in the first place.

“I would’ve made the same decision as [Spikes] when he was told he could either step down as CEO or lose Chris Kelly from the board,” he says. “I would’ve done the same thing. Because if it’s my product, I’d rather give it a shot than not. I would rather have the opportunity for my company to make it, even if I’m not the one at the helm.”

By

7 thoughts on “HBO’s MoviePass documentary sheds light on Black founders written out of their own story”
  1. Узнайте, как использовать [url=https://1win-promo-code.ru/]промокод 1win[/url] и получить больше бонусов.

  2. Существует множество [url=https://myapplestory.ru/]аналоги AirPods PRO[/url], которые доступны на рынке с различными ценовыми предложениями.

  3. Найдите актуальные бонусы с [url=https://1win-promo-code.ru/]промокод 1вин[/url].

  4. На [url=https://1wincodes.ru/]1wincodes.ru[/url] собраны самые актуальные промокоды для увеличения ваших выигрышей на 1win.

  5. Your blog is like a beacon of light in the vast expanse of the internet. Your thoughtful analysis and insightful commentary never fail to leave a lasting impression. Thank you for all that you do.

  6. Ищете лучшее онлайн казино? Ознакомьтесь с [url=https://1win-playday.ru/]1win casino[/url] и оцените все его преимущества.

  7. Введите [url=https://1win-promo-code.ru/]промокод 1win[/url] и активируйте эксклюзивные предложения.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *