Westlake film makers bank on fraternity humor site
A pair of Westlake Village film industry veterans are out to raise $3.5 million to make a motion picture based on Total Frat Move, a wildly popular website that chronicles, sometimes crassly but always humorously, Greek life on campus from the male viewpoint. The brand’s ultimate owners hope it will ultimately become a 21st-century “Animal House.”
Total Frat Move’s parent company describes the site as “a satiric and often unabashedly blunt genre of comedy from the perspective of America’s privileged youth.” The site sets out to peg characteristically Greek behaviors as a “total frat move,” or TFM for short. A recent example from the site’s social media wall: “Falling in love with a stripper, like $3,000 in love. TFM.”
Brian Ross and Bob Sanitsky of Westlake Village have acquired the film rights to the property and have filed regulatory papers to raise up to $3.5 million for the project, called Total Frat Movie. Ross and Sanitsky said securities rules prevent them from discussing the project during the fundraising process.
Madison Wickham is the co-founder of Grandex Inc., the parent of Total Frat Move and associated site called The Rowdy Gentleman, which sells swim trunks, beer koozies and other merchandise with frat-life themes. He said the site sold movie rights with the intent of seeing a fully fledged feature film hit theatres. Wickham said he and his co-founders at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas started their site in 2010 because “nobody had really captured the true vibe that exists inside the Greek community in a very accurate way.”
He and his partners are hoping that the film will capture the culture in a way that hasn’t been done since the classic “Animal House,” produced by Montecito resident Ivan Reitman.
“Any time people portray Greek life in pop culture, it’s always a watered-down generic version that doesn’t speak to anyone’s specific experience. It’s always some Hollywood exec’s general impression,” Wickham told the Business Times. “We’re hoping to make a movie that’s equally authentic [to TotalFratMove.com] and is really able to display the unique vibe and culture of Greek life on a large scale.”
As a niche media business, raunchy undergrad-themed humor is no joke. In 2006, InterActiveCorp, the publicly traded company led by former Paramount chief Barry Diller, acquired the parent company of CollegeHumor.com. The details of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the New York Post estimated its value at $20 million with other sources claiming it was much higher.
But CollegeHumor has struggled to keep up its growth. InterActiveCorp, an umbrella of more than 50 online businesses, said revenue grew 11 percent to $234 million for the segment of the company containing the joke site, but attributed that growth to other properties in the group. The operating loss for the group was $13.7 million. Moreover, CollegeHumor’s more recent efforts — aggregation site Jest, videogame comedy site Dorkly and a sports site called SportsPickle — don’t appear to have experienced rapid growth.
At Total Frat Move, the company has a big audience — 1.5 million unique visitors a month, 80 million saleable impressions a month and half a million Twitter followers.
But the company struggled to monetize that with advertising. Instead, it opened up Rowdy Gentleman to sell themed products, such as sleeveless tees that say “My Other Shirt is a Polo” and “Reagan/Bush ’84” beer koozies. Sales of those products make up most of the firm’s revenue.
“Basically, because we failed at third-party advertising, we had to figure out how to monetize. I’m glad we did, because it’s a much cleaner business model to do something like this and sell direct to the consumer,” Wickham said.
The Total Frat Move team is also producing a book, slated for release in January. The book and movie will be heavily cross-promoted on the site.
The ultimate idea is that each piece of the Total Frat Move empire works to help another piece, rather than third-party advertisers.
“My philosophy has always been that if you can capture an audience and get them consuming something for free on a daily basis, you can build a business around it,” Wickham said.