When New York magazine announced that Funny or Die, the online comedy brand founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay known for its brief viral videos, was launching its own book imprint, it described one of the people behind the deal as a " ‘cross platform consultant.' " That someone is Swanna MacNair, a film executive turned agent/book packager, who has started a new business that taps into something she thinks publishers want as much as celebrities: transmedia properties and multiplatform deals.
The Funny or Die agreement exemplifies the kind of thing MacNair, who founded Creative Conduit last year, is doing for a bevy of Hollywood names and creative brands. On Funny or Die, MacNair worked with the comedy group's agents at CAA to conceptualize an imprint that will feature titles by Funny or Die writers. The imprint will either live at one house or the Funny or Die team will come up with individual book projects and pitch them as one-off titles. Separately, Funny or Die will release its own original e-books with the first, Mike Sacks and the Pleasure Syndicate's Sex: Our Bodies, Our Junk, set for July.
While Funny or Die is not the first comedy brand to launch a book project— College Humor and National Lampoon both have similar arrangements—MacNair is looking to conceive projects that, from inception, take advantage of all the platforms where the content can exist. While she admitted that not every project can, or should, sustain an app, a book, a game, and who knows what else, there is an advantage to looking at brands and stories ahead of any publisher meetings to assess where the content can live and, as an extension, what role a print publisher should have.
MacNair acknowledged that, in many ways, what she's doing at Creative Conduit is similar to what she was doing before—she worked at Fletcher & Company as an agent and packager—there is a difference in bringing in the digital component. And with the eagerness among Hollywood celebrities to experiment, MacNair provides a perspective as someone who knows new media, Hollywood, and book people.
Stressing that she is working alongside agents, never in place of them, MacNair launched her company to, in part, address what she sees as a hunger on the part of Hollywood to test the waters in the multiplatform space. Although there has yet to be a major transmedia hit in the book space, MacNair thinks these projects have particular appeal right now since they allow publishers to demonstrate their ability to innovate and they allow creative types to test new waters.
So MacNair is working on a number of projects, among them one with Ahmet Zappa and a major publisher in which the house was presented what she called a "360-degree deal," which includes a children's book series, apps, consumer products, apparel, and a film component. MacNair brought in the app developer and said she's working with the publisher to structure the particulars, since there's not much of a precedent for something with all these pieces. Another deal she's working on, but cannot discuss too many details about, is an interactive book series with Shondaland (the production company founded by Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhymes); for this arrangement a developer has been lined up, and the hope is a publisher will be brought on board as well.
Conceptualizing the story and bringing the right partners together, that's what MacNair said is her expertise. But it took another pioneering publishing personality to help her pin down that description. When MacNair was trying to conceptualize her business plan, she met with Jane Friedman. "At the time I was having a hard time explaining what exactly it was that I was doing. Jane was great, and said we're all really just making it up as we go along." Maybe so, but as they talked, Friedman came up with a name for MacNair's particular form of consulting. "Jane said I wasn't really a manager and I wasn't really an agent. I was a conduit."