As many Hollywood firms stagnated amid COVID-19 shutdowns, soaring social content like the Snapchat series ‘Will From Home’ has kept the company in the fast lane.
Last year in early March, just as it was becoming clear that the U.S. wouldn’t be able to avoid a COVID-19 lockdown for much longer, executives at Westbrook Media began to discuss backup plans. The digital arm of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s fledgling multimedia firm had started to hit its stride as a producer of social media marketing materials for films like Aladdin and Bad Boys for Life. But with theatrical releases looking unlikely in the months ahead, the team, like many Hollywood operations, needed to pivot.
It didn’t take long before an idea hit: What if Smith filmed a show in isolation from his garage? The movie star, who had been making the Warner Bros. biographical drama King Richard and suddenly found himself with a very free schedule after production paused, was immediately on board. By mid-March, so was Snapchat. Will From Home premiered a few weeks later, giving viewers a 12-episode glimpse into Smith’s early pandemic life hanging around in a tracksuit and video-chatting with famous friends like Tyra Banks. It quickly became one of the social media service’s most popular series, attracting 35 million viewers.
“It was very in line with the kind of things we were trying to do during more constrained, challenging times,” says Snapchat head of content Sean Mills. “I’d be hard-pressed to think of something that happened faster and yet came out with such a high-quality project.”
Amid a pandemic that upended productions across the entertainment industry, Westbrook Media has earned a reputation for quickly mounting affordable yet star-studded projects. In 2020 alone, it sold 12 shows, including a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air reunion special that debuted on HBO Max in November, an Alicia Keys docuseries that YouTube will premiere this year and several more Snapchat projects, including a…