Be Generous. We think of this as being generous with one’s spirit, time, knowledge and purpose. We think the industry at large is quite stingy in these areas so we seek to create a friendlier and more open path.
Nat Mundel is the Founder & CEO of Voyage, the first entertainment incubator designed to discover and bring to market quality film, television stories, and now introducing its new division for podcasts. Nat is a lifelong adventurer having explored the world’s great mountain ranges as a professional climber, who now focuses his adventures on building Voyage and finding new clients with great stories to tell, and spending time with his daughter.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path?
Thanks for having me! I’ve always been passionate about the arts, entrepreneurialism and adventure. In my first career as a high altitude mountaineer and climbing guide, I developed an obsession with forging new, more direct routes up challenging objectives. So, when I started working in the entertainment industry, I saw there was really just one, antiquated path to ‘break in,’ and I thought there might be room for something different.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The entertainment industry has this longstanding reputation of being closed and difficult to break into. Information is closely guarded, and it’s extremely difficult for emerging storytellers to get the attention of agents and producers. Agents and producers work so hard and they’re justifiably worried about their time being wasted with projects and talent that simply aren’t ready.
And yet, demand for original content is soaring like never before, thanks to the streaming platforms and the ‘new & original’ beast they need to feed, plus growing international demand.
At Voyage, we believe everyone has a story to share, and everyone deserves a fair shot. So we’ve created this alternative path for people to get connected with producers right out of the gate, and develop their stories for real market outcomes in film, TV, and podcasting.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Ooph, this is a doozy. When I first started out, I acquired the life and book rights to this famous British sailor who was getting ready to sail around the world on her own and attempt to break the solo-round-the-world sailing speed record. So I wanted to tell her story as a 7 million dollars Imax movie.
I thought I had the most incredible story for the market, but the market was entirely unresponsive. And I spent two years pushing that giant boulder up a hill, making very little progress. The day after my rights expired, my Imax dream was turned into a 15- minute Dateline NBC news story.
That was the moment I realized that it’s not what I want that matters; it’s what the market wants that counts. And the North American market got what it wanted from that story — probably at 1/200th the budget and for Dateline NBC. At Voyage we marry people’s passions with market reality.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
After abandoning my Imax movie, I started working for and ultimately partnering with some very well-known producers and studio execs, all of which had a massive impact on my current thinking.
Jerry Bruckheimer and his company, as well as Jason Blum, used to hire me to develop pitches for their projects — and I observed and participated in how they did business, collaborated with others, and how they worked toward successful deals.
Later, I partnered with Andrew Fogelson (more of a studio mogul type) and we created and founded a distribution company together. So that is where I cut my teeth, understanding the connection between story, distribution and audience.
All these experiences shaped me and the Voyage mindset.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
We’ve grappled with this question a lot at Voyage. We’ve landed with a vision that we are evolving the industry by forging an alternative path, and not exactly revolutionizing it. The development and production industries are incredibly difficult to disrupt in my opinion — more so than the music industry for example — because the cost and complexity of producing filmed content is exponential compared to producing music. So the industry stakeholders — studios, agencies, etc. — are that much more entrenched.
There have been some early attempts at completely disrupting development & production, like the original Amazon Studios before it became ‘just another’ studio like all the others. They pursued a similar objective as ours (crowdsourcing film/TV projects) but I think what they did was too tech-focused and not enough people-focused, and as a result, it died on the vine with tens of thousands of projects that no one could look at or read, let alone do anything with.
So we’ve deliberately taken a more evolutionary approach that still involves the scalable crowdsourcing of projects, but that keeps human interaction and collaboration at the center — the platform is curated by Voyage and its network of producers.
Can you share three of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Yes! About seven years ago during the early founding days of the Voyage incubator, I did a solo four-day & night food/water fast on the side of a mountain. As you can imagine, when one goes without food and water for that many days in a row, one’s state changes dramatically. On one of the nights, I had this incredibly vivid dream in which a woman gave me very clear and very simple life instructions. These instructions form the basis of Voyage’s core values:
- Be Creative
This can mean many things, but at Voyage it’s about being inventive with story and creative in problem solving.
- Be Generous
We think of this as being generous with one’s spirit, time, knowledge and purpose. We think the industry at large is quite stingy in these areas so we seek to create a friendlier and more open path.
- Be Truthful
We love opening up Hollywood so to speak, but we are completely committed to doing so with credibility, even if that means having difficult ‘tough-love’ conversations with people about their stories and how to make them viable.
- Don’t Take Shortcuts
We are committed to doing full and complete work, and we believe details matter.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Truthfully, even though Voyage is hitting a stride and has a lot of momentum, we believe we’re just getting started. Our 2021 initiative is launching our new audio-drama podcast division, which we couldn’t be more excited and bullish about. Podcasts are an incredible and cost-effective way to share stories with audiences, establish valuable intellectual property and create more viability for film & TV rights — and they can also make money. Even though we are still ‘stealth mode,’ podcasts have already aligned our team and clients and have created a ‘flywheel’ effect for the company. As the firm’s founder, this flywheel effect is often elusive, yet so exciting when you find it!
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Speaking of ‘flywheels’, yes! Jim Collins’ books “Good to Great” and “Great By Choice” have been instrumental in guiding my strategies, not only for Voyage but also for each storyteller who uses our incubator.
As a creative entrepreneur it’s easy to lose focus, and it’s been a journey to discover the perfect blend of what we’re passionate about, can be best in the world at, and that has a clear economic driver.
Collins refers to it as a company’s ‘Hedgehog Concept’ and we endeavor to have storytellers figure out theirs too: where is the intersection of their passion, their voice, and something that audiences and distributors will pay them for?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorites is also from Jim Collins:
“For, in the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”
We named the company “Voyage” because we always knew it would be a journey to get where we’re going. And we love the journey — the doing of meaningful work — because we believe that while ‘content is king’, the context from which content is born is equally important.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
You know, I feel lucky to be fulfilling on my higher purpose with Voyage. It may seem a little odd to connect film/TV/podcast storytelling as somehow meaningful, but I believe that the world benefits when people experience their full magnificence by sharing their stories with others. Storytelling is in our DNA. It’s how we’ve built and evolved community and society.
I believe the origin of story alone is powerful — a spark of inspiration if you will — and that by creating a way for these stories to take form and find an audience, we are creating a ripple effect of positivity in the world. Call me nuts if you want but Voyage is striking the match to light a whole new fireplace.
How can our readers follow you online?
The best way to learn more about the Voyage incubator is to visit our website http://voyagemedia.com/ and download our free Story-to-Screen market guidebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!