‘Million Dollar Arm’ Producer Mark Ciardi ‘Aspires’ to Make Content for All Screens

/ Nov 17, 2014


Mark Ciardi’s produced inspirational sports movies such as “Million Dollar Arm,” “Secretariat,” and “The Rookie.” Recently, he even produced a documentary film as part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” TV series. There, Ciardi also got a lesson in digital content distribution (the folks at ESPN really know what they’re doing on that front), which he felt was worth looking into enough to found a multi-platform entertainment company.

Aspire Entertainment, which Ciardi started with “Million Dollar Arm” colleagues and venture capitalists William Chang and Ash Vasudevan (along with former YouTube exec Tom Duterme), seeks to produce short-form digital content “hand in hand” with longer documentaries and feature-length films, many of which will revolve around the inspirational sports stories we’re used to seeing from the producer.

Ciardi elaborated on the company’s inspiration and plans for VideoInk.

How did you, William Chang, and Ash Vasudevan come up with the idea for Aspire Entertainment?

I thought, ‘We have a brand in sports, so why not create a digital documentary series that we could put out there?’ That’s what really led to our developing out beyond TV to just content, premium content to bring to multiple platforms, and that’s where I currently sit with this company.

I came to Will and Ash with the idea of having them involved in the company’s creation. They jumped on it. We had forged a relationship over the past couple years in shooting the movie “Million Dollar Arm,” and I became close with both of them. There’s a great comfort level there, and they had also been thinking of creating a media company, so it was a perfect fit. Overall, the timing was perfect, the mission was perfect, and the partners were perfect. When it comes to these things, a lot of aspects just have to line up to make it work.

What kind of expertise do Chang, Vasudevan, and Tom Duterme bring to the table when it comes to tech/digital entertainment?

Will and Ash are very forward thinking as venture capitalists who also have an understanding of content. They see the emergence with content distributors. Everyone can be a distributor of content now. You know, there’s this divide between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and that divide is getting much more blurred. Also, Ash, Tom, and Will have an understanding of creating companies. They are good at creating value.

How do you plan to translate your experiences working in Hollywood to digital entertainment?

What I love about this company’s position is that I’m not stopping what I was doing. I will continue to develop feature film projects for studios, and that will always be a part of my work. What’s exciting is that there are other ways of delivering a feature film. Netflix is another example — they made a deal with Adam Sandler and “Crouching Tiger,” and we’re seeing more and more of that.

Furthermore, I know how hard it is to get a movie made. I know the financial commitment to not only produce and edit and underwrite the cost of a feature film, but also to market it, meaning you have two sides of the cost. However, Netflix, for example, has a cyber-based audience — they can provide original content and movies for an audience that’s going to be growing. I’m excited about using my knowledge to keep finding great, true stories and telling those stories while knowing I’m not boxed into one way of doing it. If you get a pass on a movie from a couple places, it doesn’t necessarily have to end the life of that particular piece of content on digital.

Since Aspire Entertainment will be creating for multiple platforms, what kind of content do you envision for the digital ones?

We won’t be limited to sports, but I think that will obviously be a big part of what we do. The brand I have established in sports will carry over to this company, and a lot of great stories in sports come to us. I think that will be a real highlight of what we are going to try to do with both traditional and non-traditional methods of distribution. I wouldn’t say that we’re going to do everything for digital consumption, but I think it’s going to be a big part of what we do, and sports will be the tip of the spear.

Will digital content supplement the movies, since Aspire will continue to focus on feature films?

Working on the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, which was for television, allowed me to get to know the guys at ESPN and understand their push towards digital. Their digital series are maybe shifting the flock, and they get millions and millions of views — the network obviously understands the power of digital content. You can do little pieces of content, from two minutes to two hours, really, and a lot of these two-minute viral videos can result in a feature length documentary or a feature film. It’s kind of like doing the groundwork for something that could be longer-form content.

I mean a lot of times if you’ve got digital content, you can then go out with it and say, ‘Look how great this story is — here, watch this documentary. Now here’s what we want to do on a feature film level.’ In that way, I think the different platforms all go hand in hand.

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