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Scaring Is Caring - Jack Davis And Crypt TV Connect The Millennial Masses With Their Monsters

Posted By Kevin Perry, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The horror-going experience is a macabre blend of intimacy and community.

We huddle in the dark, cowering from ghouls and gore, and we are simultaneously together and alone. This dynamic is akin to the lure of social media. We consume it en masse, but it is intensely personal (and occasionally frightening), like a pixelated puppet master, twisting us to his digital whims…

Meet Jack Davis, the 26-year-old CEO of Crypt TV.

“I started Crypt not long after I graduated college,” he recounts. “I’m from Los Angeles, so I feel like I have entertainment in my blood more than I care to admit. I grew up in LA around this whole crazy world.” In fact, Jack is the son of producer John Davis, who is credited with hits as disparate in time and tone as 1987’s Predator and 2017’s Ferdinand.

But Jack looked beyond his family ties when cinching together the hottest online horror brand in town. “I had this friendship with Eli Roth and called him up and said, ‘Nobody is doing this genre, for this medium. Maybe we should try it.’” That’s when Crypt TV was born in blood and brash ideas. “I think the connectivity Eli brings to the company is the perspective of a filmmaker,” assesses Davis. “He has said to me on many occasions, ‘I wish I had something like Crypt when I was 25. How much could that have advanced my career?’ Getting that shot. We try to give filmmakers a shot.”

And it was a mighty inaugural blast. Roth and Davis enlisted hordes of ravenous horror fans to contribute to 6-Second Scare, a user-generated contest that played out on Vine in October of 2014. “The test went past our wildest expectations,” beams Davis. “Over 15,000 submissions, Eli ended up on Good Morning America to talk about the contest, and the content was great! Really exciting!”

Jack Davis has enthusiasm that can’t be contained in six-second clips. His boundless ambition and social media acumen soon caught the attention of the two-time Oscar nominee who puts the house in horror powerhouse. “During that time, Jason Blum saw what we were doing. Jason and Eli had a friendship, and he agreed to come on and be our first investor and strategic partner.” Davis marvels at the chaotic chronology of the ensuing events, noting that Blum “invested in Crypt in March of 2015, and we officially launched in April of 2015.”

The schedule was as torturous as a Crypt TV death scene, but Jason Blum is impressed by his protégé, declaring that Davis has “delivered on everything he’s said, and that is very rare in anyone, especially when you’re young. So I feel very lucky to be in business with him … he’s definitely one of the most talented people I’ve encountered.” Blum specifically praises Crypt’s data-driven digital approach. “Production on TV or movies takes so long; it’s much slower and much less reactive. So I think Jack has really taken advantage of the technology behind Crypt to inform the storytelling.”

Over the next three years, Davis wielded his tech prowess to transform a startup creepshow into a social media juggernaut. “We have over seven million fans on Facebook.” He says it without an ounce of braggadocio, but rather with an eye for metrics. “There’s something so powerful about reaching that young consumer on their phone. You get so much data from that, so many analytics from that. We have a frictionless relationship with our audience. That allows us to move fast, to grow our IP fast, to constantly be serving the audience and listening to them.”

When Davis discusses market research, it goes far beyond likes and shares. “We have sentiment scores around each character. How does the average length of a comment increase over an episode? When are people tuning in? When are they tuning out? The data is impacting those creative decisions.” His rat-a-tat delivery is a dizzying mix of revelry and reverence. “If you’re all data and don’t respect the creative process of the filmmakers, you’re going to lose. But if you don’t listen to the data and make this stuff for the audience based on what they’ve already told you, through either their comments or when they tune out or their viewing duration, then that’s not good either. It’s really a marriage.”

The spiritual spouse to Davis’ beloved data is creativity, and one of the most successful directors collaborating with Crypt TV is Landon Stahmer. When asked about his CEO’s affinity for audience trends, Stahmer praises, “Jack is such a good learner. He’s bold at swinging at things and he’s really, really quick to learn. I think that’s amazing, and it really trickles down in their company … Crypt is really smart. They’ve really been watching what the fans want and how they’re reacting. Engagement is huge. It’s one thing to get views, but engagement is another aspect of that. Comments and likes and shares—those are the things that tell a company like Crypt, or creators out there, that this is something that’s viable and moving towards something bigger.”

“Bigger” is an epic understatement when you consider that Davis is modeling his company after the most successful entertainment franchise of our generation. “We want to be the next Marvel for monsters. Marvel for monsters.” He repeats the mantra like Jimmy Two-Times from Goodfellas before resuming his analytical assault. “What makes Marvel so amazing is the love people have for these characters, but also their staying power. People are really interested in their stories over decades.”

So how does Davis plan to go toe-to-severed-toe with the big screen phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe? When asked directly, he invokes the almighty nondisclosure agreement. “That’s a story for a later day. I will tell you that we have a guided universe document here that only three people have ever looked at or read or seen. But we have a plan for all of this. You’re gonna see the Crypt monster universe start to come together in future seasons of our shows this summer.”

But while the major studios are clamoring for screen counts and IMAX space this blockbuster season, Davis is setting his sights on the precious real estate in your hands. “People always think about scary movies being in the theater, and it’s a shared experience and you’re in the dark and you feel safe, but you can feel suspended reality enough to enjoy the scares. But most Crypt fans are watching this stuff in a solo experience; they’re watching it on the phone. The part of the experience that makes it shared is the comments section, the fact that there’s a whole community of Crypt fans that self-identify and self-aggregate. Scary is the genre that people can rally and unite around.”

Beneath the blood-soaked umbrella that Davis designates as scary, he deconstructs a multi-tiered breakdown of subgenres, starting with two major Crypt TV classifications. “I look at the company as scripted and non-scripted. They’re obviously totally different business models, totally different feels of what you’re trying to create.”

On the non-scripted side of the sword, Crypt’s marquee monster is Giggles the grotesque clown princess. She’s a reality starlet who conducts woman-on-the-street experiments across multiple platforms, interacting with unwitting victims in the real world. “The impetus with Giggles is creating a character born through social media—something that’s authentic, true and nascent to the way people enjoy content now: very accessible, do-it-yourself posting.” By terrorizing the Insta-landscape, Giggles carves a new set of monster motifs into Davis’ wheelhouse. “Giggles is all about self-empowerment. Her slogan is born a clown, as in I was born this way, I’m proud of it, I don’t feel pressure to conform to typical beauty standards.”

This launches Davis into a gleeful diatribe, cataloguing Crypt TV’s greatest hits and their even greater themes. “The Birch is about bullying; and the response to it. Birch has over 30 million views on the internet, we won a Webby for Best Drama, people have had full tattoos of the Birch on their back. The amount of fan art we get from The Birch is insane; people are obsessed with Birch. Yes, the monster is awesome and visual, but guess what? It’s a deep story about something meaningful.”

Gaining momentum, Davis dons metaphorical rose-colored glasses when describing Crypt’s popular killer-cabal series. “Sunny Family Cult is about a young girl coming of age and trying to accept whether or not she wants to join the family business while also dealing with the difficulties of school. It’s just that the family business happens to be a murderous cult.”

Now reaching a crescendo, Davis becomes reflective. “Look-See is about grief and letting go. So it’s all about these deep themes, and scary just gives you the unique permission structure to tell these stories.”

One of the prime beneficiaries of Crypt’s liberating creative license is Look-See director Landon Stahmer. “The Look-See is a representation of attachment to the past. He’s made up of pieces of his victims. The past doesn’t really need to see or smell or hear; it just consumes us when we focus too much on it.” Summoning his feral philosopher within, Stahmer continues, The word monster comes from a Latin word that means to warn and advise. I think that it’s a pretty therapeutic way to explore some things about life.”

But the Crypt TV generation doesn’t merely watch monsters; they become them. Davis and his tech team are creating Augmented Reality (AR) experiences that literally put users behind the mask. “How accessible the monster is matters—what will allow the viewer to put themselves in the story and really engage with it?” ponders Davis. “Can it become a mask? These are the questions we ask ourselves when we’re in the greenlighting process, when we’re in the development process. Can this grow into a mask? Is this a powerful visual? That will help us get shots on goal. We’re gonna have hits and misses like anyone else, but our cost structure allows us to take risks and the data gives us a chance to have a higher hit rate than the average folk.”

Translation: stay scrappy, stay cheap, stay millennial.

It’s a fiendishly effective formula, according to indie horror maestro Blum. “Horror always skews younger. We like it for the same reason why we like rollercoasters and jumping out of airplanes, because it gets your adrenaline up. People like that because it makes them feel alive.” Blum asserts, “Crypt is catching younger people the way that they consume content and putting horror on their mobile devices. For that reason it makes a ton of sense.”

And it potentially makes a ton of dollars. Crypt TV is dominating the digital airwaves, constantly blurring the line between social and media. As Davis surmises, “You follow your friends on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Quite often we make it seem like our lives are a little bigger than they are, a little better than they are, a little happier than they are.” So, if real people are living a fantasy on social media, wonders Davis, then why can’t a fantasy invade reality? “Authenticity is so important on the internet and authenticity is so important in building a brand people connect to directly … We ultimately have to build an authentic brand for that Crypt fan, because that is how we grow the fastest, and that’s also how we can die the fastest.”

Never one to succumb to fatalism, Davis perseveres. “We try to put into the culture of the company: don’t think that you know better than the audience.” Humbled and harkened by his data, Davis concludes, “At the end of the day, we’re gonna be more loyal to what the Crypt fan wants than to what we want, personally.”

So, when the fans say jump, Crypt TV says how violently? Or, as Jack Davis puts it, “Listen, the writing is on the wall for big, macro changes that are happening via the consumer, and I live by the creed that the consumer is never wrong.”

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