Tosca Musk strides onto the pink carpet at a Regal Cinemas, statuesque in a white pant go well with and glistening burgundy silk prime.
A hush comes over a bunch gathered exterior the theater’s doorways. Some whip out cell telephones and begin recording her each transfer.
It’s a cold October evening in Atlanta, and the followers are right here for the premiere of “Torn,” the second in a trilogy of romantic fantasy films primarily based on books by writer Jennifer Armentrout. The group of largely feminine followers vary in age from their twenties to their seventies, and a few flew in from Boston, Detroit and different cities.
This can be a massive evening for Musk and her five-year-old streaming service Passionflix, the backer of the film. It’s their first public movie premiere for the reason that pandemic began.
She floats from one group to a different, chatting effortlessly with Passionflix’s superfans, often known as Passionistas. Her older brother, Elon Musk, would be the most well-known sibling within the household, however he’s not the one one who’s based an organization.
Musk, 48, is the pressure behind Passionflix, which adapts romance novels into films and streams them to a loyal area of interest viewers. Romance novels are the preferred style of books in america, and Musk is tapping into that market with tales about sultry, highly effective feminine leads and good-looking males with chiseled abs. She directs a few of the movies herself.
“Passionflix focuses on adapting romance novels exactly as the fan and the author envision it,” Musk says in a separate CNN interview. “We focus on connection, communication and compromise – and remove the shame from sexuality, specifically for women, because it empowers women to both acknowledge and ask for pleasure.”
Days earlier, on the set of a Passionflix film, “The Secret Life of Amy Bensen,” Musk gives just a few glimpses into life together with her well-known household.
Perched on a navy blue sofa in a room tucked inside a warehouse in suburban Atlanta, she chooses her phrases fastidiously when requested about her older brother, who was on the verge of his Twitter acquisition.
The Musk kids – Elon, Tosca and one other brother, center baby Kimbal – have been born in South Africa and frolicked in Canada earlier than coming to america. Their father, Errol, is an engineer and property developer, whereas their glamorous mom, Maye, is a mannequin.
Tosca Musk attended movie college on the College of British Columbia in Vancouver and moved to California after commencement. For 3 months, she labored for considered one of Elon Musk’s corporations, Zip2.
“I realized every time I stepped out of the film world, I was just not happy,” she says. “It just wasn’t my thing.”
After a short stint on the Los Angeles workplace of Canadian media firm Alliance Atlantis, she started directing and producing movies whereas nonetheless in her twenties.
Musk produced romance movies for the Lifetime and Hallmark channels and in 2005 launched a comic book net collection, Tiki Bar TV, which was hailed by Apple CEO Steve Jobs as forward of its time within the rising subject of vodcasts – or video podcasting.
Then got here Passionflix. Its origin story is a traditional story of when one door closes, one other one opens.
About 5 years in the past, Musk obtained an electronic mail from a lady who needed her to show her script right into a film. Musk cherished the script, however there wasn’t a lot curiosity from manufacturing corporations.
“People weren’t really that interested because it was too risque … It was an adult movie with a little bit of reincarnation, things like that,” she says. “It just wasn’t one of those things that regular network television wanted to do.”
However Musk met the girl, Joany Kane, in Los Angeles, they usually bonded over their shared ardour for love novels. Throughout that dialog, Kane introduced up the thought of turning romance novels into films and making a streaming platform for them.
And with that, Passionflix was born – with Musk on the helm and Kane as a co-founder.
“We had no investors. We had to go out and find every investor. So it was a matter of going out and pitching every single person,” Musk says. “We pitched every friend, every family member, everybody just for that small bit of angel investment. It was hard. The first money in is always the hardest money.”
Musk declines to say whether or not her brother Elon was considered one of her unique buyers. However she says she will at all times rely on her two brothers, together with restaurateur Kimbal Musk, to present her recommendation on her enterprise ventures. She tries to not ask until she actually must.
“I get advice from them to a certain degree when I ask for it. But no unsolicited advice,” she says. “If I ask for advice, I have no doubt that he (Elon) will give it to me. And then I have to take it, because he’s going to be right. So you have to really want to know what you want to ask. But most of the time when I’m with my family, we talk about family things.”
So what does she take into consideration her brother’s new function as CEO of Twitter – and the flurry of headlines surrounding it?
Passionflix’s first movie was “Hollywood Dirt,” primarily based on a best-selling novel by Alessandra Torre a few Southern lady who finds romance with a Hollywood star when he involves her small city to movie a film.
“During that shooting of that movie, we were struggling,” Musk says. “Are we going to get money? Are we going to be able to finish it? We were not really sure. We basically were just sort of piecing the dollars together.”
In Could 2017, Musk performed a trailer of the film at a romance novel conference and requested attendees to prepay $100, as founding members, for a two-year Passionflix subscription. About 4,000 individuals signed up, Musk says, and she or he and Kane used that to point out potential buyers they have been onto one thing.
“Trying to raise money for a female-driven platform on romance was just not high on anybody’s priority list at the time,” she says. “But as soon as we showed there was that many people that would come on board, the investors just started flying in.”
Passionflix has since produced greater than two dozen feature-length and quick movies, in response to the Web Film Database.
The corporate stays lean – it has a core staff of seven individuals who every put on plenty of hats. Along with producing its personal content material, Passionflix additionally licenses movies for its platform.
“I think the biggest challenge for Passionflix is we can’t produce enough content to satiate the fans,” Musk says. “It’s a struggle with so many streaming platforms, when people want original content all the time.”
With greater than 200 streaming providers now competing for viewers, such area of interest markets face a myriad of challenges, says Dan Rayburn, a streaming media skilled and guide.
Creating, licensing and advertising and marketing content material may be very expensive, he stated. And whereas romance is the biggest-selling style of books within the US, that doesn’t essentially imply its recognition interprets to films.
“That’s comparing apples to oranges. Books are different,” Rayburn says. “This business is beyond tough. It’s highly competitive and requires an absolute large sum of money.”
Passionflix fees a subscription payment of $5.99 a month. The corporate doesn’t disclose its subscriber numbers. Musk says subscribers are within the “six figures,” however declines to supply specifics.
Rayburn says it’s laborious to find out the corporate’s profitability with out realizing its bills, together with manufacturing and licensing prices.
“OK, if you don’t have subscriber numbers, what’s the usage? How many hours per month do people watch it? How much are you spending on content licensing?”
A deep dive into Passionflix’s on-line film catalog reveals a mixture of modern romance, fantasy romance, paranormal romance, erotic fan fiction and associated sub-genres.
The movies, which stream on the Passionflix website and on Amazon Prime Video, are rated on an escalating steaminess scale Musk calls a “barometer of naughtiness.”
The 5 classes: Oh So Vanilla, for healthful romcoms; Mildly Titillating; Ardour and Romance; Toe Curling Yumminess; and NSFW (Not Secure for Work). The latter class has risque plot traces and extra intercourse – suppose “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
However Musk says that even the naughtiest Passionflix films don’t attain the soft-core porn threshold.
“When we first started Passionflix, somebody asked us if we’re going to rate using MPAA,” she says, referring to the Movement Image Affiliation of America’s film scores reminiscent of PG-13, R, and many others. “I don’t actually like any of those ratings. They’re not specific to women. I wanted something that could rate our shows and create more of a tongue-in-cheek conversation.”
Musk says she’s a romantic at coronary heart and is an enormous fan of the style.
“Love is amazing, it’s incredibly powerful. I love to tell stories of love, all kinds of love,” she says. “So parental love, friend love, family love, and love between any kind of couple.”
That broad vary of romantic genres, and its attractive content material, are what units Passionflix aside from channels reminiscent of Hallmark and Lifetime Film Community, says romance novelist Tamara Lush. She believes the romance style has been particularly well-liked in the course of the pandemic as a result of individuals search consolation in tales with happy-ever-after endings.
“Hallmark is romance-centered but the stories are very, very sweet. Passionflix tells a wider range of stories, and the ones romance readers want to watch,” Lush says.
“The popularity of ‘Bridgerton,’ ‘After’ and ’365 Days’ on Netflix should tell streaming services all they need to know: that romance is a lucrative and sure bet for viewers.”
Passionflix’s unique subscribers, often known as founding members, get entry to film premieres and filming units.
Final month in Atlanta, about 4 dozen of them piled into the Regal theater for the premiere of “Torn.” Following the film, Musk hosted a question-and-answer session with the lead actors, adopted by an after-party at a bar throughout the road. Followers and actors mingled over drinks.
Debbie Parziale, 67, says she flew in from Boston for the occasion. One of many founding members, she says she spent the pandemic years curled up on her sofa, watching Passionflix films.
“I love Tosca’s premise of empowering women and making sex not such a taboo subject,” she says. “She’s so true to the romance novels. When you read a book and watch one of her movies, it’s the book you read.”
Amanda Cromer, 32, says she signed up for Passionflix at a romance guide conference. She loves the camaraderie that comes with being a part of the Passionistas. The group has a digital guide membership, known as Ardour Squad.
As one of many unique members, Cromer can go to units and work together with the actors. Cromer, who lives in a suburb of Atlanta, says that in a go to to the set of “Torn” she turned an additional in a restaurant scene.
“I love the empowerment the movies bring,” says Cromer, who attended final month’s “Torn” premiere together with her mom.
“They choose books with strong female leads. They’ve done such a good job of portraying the female persona as a strong independent female, and not a timid person.”
Again on the set of her newest romance film, Tosca Musk strikes from one sparsely furnished room to a different.
Musk lives in suburban Atlanta together with her two kids, 9-year-old twins who have been conceived by in vitro fertilization utilizing an nameless sperm donor.
She’s on the point of fly to Italy with the twins to movie “Gabriel’s Redemption,” the third guide in a collection by Sylvain Reynard a few Dante scholar and his passionate affair with a youthful graduate scholar. She says they plan to take pleasure in plenty of gelato in Florence and go to Oxford, England, so the children can see a few of the places the place the Harry Potter films have been filmed.
As a single mom, Musk says she marvels on the path that led her to a job she loves.
She hopes Passionflix will assist persuade the movie trade’s massive names that adopting romance novels into films is a worthy funding.
“The entertainment world is controlled mostly by men. At the end of the day, the decisions tend to sway toward the male audience as opposed to the female audience,” she says. “They also tend to be more about the victimization of women than they are about sexually free or sexually empowered stories about women.”
And for Musk, there’s additionally a less complicated purpose for her filmmaking ventures.
“I’m a storyteller at heart,” she says. “I just want to be able to tell stories.”