Passionflix is heating things up on the streaming scene

by Sarabeth Pollock

The steamiest streaming service is heating up the small screen as Tosca Musk and Passionflix turn bestselling romance novels into faithfully adapted movies.

Lovers of love have their own corner of the blistering hot streaming on-demand industry with Passionflix, the brainchild of CEO Tosca Musk and co-founders Jina Panebianco and Joany Kane, and Musk’s dedicated Passionflix team. As lovers of good love stories, they’re working hard to bring fans faithful movie adaptations of some of the biggest contemporary romance novels out there. Passionflix is poised for explosive growth in 2020 with several high-profile projects in the works that will catapult the streaming service to the next level.

FanSided had a chance to chat with both Tosca Musk and bestselling author of The Gabriel Series, Sylvain Reynard, about the allure of Passionflix, the Passionflix difference and what it all means for fans and authors in the future as Passionflix grows.

The evolution of desire

With the romance industry making up roughly 25 percent of the U.S. fiction market, there’s a built-in fan base of readers who are ready to support movies based on their favorite books. This is a largely untapped commodity in the movie industry as big studios tend to favor romantic comedies with occasional outliers like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey breaking through to a mainstream market.

Passionflix offers subscribers a carefully curated mix of original movies, classic romantic comedies and love stories and loads of special features like original interviews and behind the scenes clips along with Passionflix-exclusive short films called Quickies. All of the movies are graded on a romance scale of cute to scorching with several films notching a “NSFW” rating thanks to their smoldering love scenes.

In the space of a few short years, Passionflix has grown to be so much more than a place to watch romance-themed movies. With its own fan convention, PassionCon, on the horizon and legions of fans who celebrate Passionflix movies on social media, Musk and her team have created a very inclusive, diverse and safe space for women to bond over their love of good stories.

“I expected a positive response when putting the plan together, but my expectations were certainly exceeded and that has ignited my passion for this genre and this community,” Musk noted via email to FanSided.

She works hard to keep engagement high, generously sharing behind-the-scenes videos and photos with eager fans. “I love our fans to come along for the ride with me. When we can share something new that captures a moment with fans who are equally invested in the story – who have read the book and pictured these scenes – it ignites their enthusiasm for Passionflix and the movie.”

Musk and her team have full creative control over which books are made into movies, and as a director herself, Musk understands the kind of stories that translate well. “We are fortunate that we get to choose the novels that we want to bring to the screen,” she said. “The creative opportunity is in how these books are adapted and how we interpret the author’s vision, which is a key component to all Passionflix movies.”

The mix of creativity and interpretation of the author’s vision shines through in each film. Musk herself has directed several Passionflix original movies, including the upcoming Gabriel Series, and she seeks out the best and brightest female directors to helm other original movies. This helps to create the “female gaze” perspective that has become synonymous with the Passionflix name.

The Passionflix difference

Take a look at any of the original movies on Passionflix, and you’ll immediately notice a theme: They’re all love stories that don’t try to escape the label of being love stories. They depict strong, capable women and the men who love them. They’re stories with very real drama and the inevitable complications that arise between couples. But in the end, there’s always a happily ever after, and that’s what the fans want.

Original movies Dirty Sexy Saint and The Protector are perfect examples of the Passionflix difference. Unlike mainstream movies that feature a love story as a subplot or a romantic comedy where the love story often takes a back seat to the larger comedic plot, Passionflix movies spend time developing the love story itself. After all, they’re following the plots of the books the movies are based upon, and these books are all about love and relationships.

Dirty Sexy Saint is a particularly great example of the female gaze. Heroine Samantha’s budding feelings for Clay drive the story, and when they finally come together, viewers are treated to the whole experience from awkward kisses to the post-coital cuddles that women love. The camera angles create a very intimate, feminine space. Musk, who served as the film’s director, weaves tight shots with wider views that create an environment of “love” rather than “sex.” It’s never just sex in Passionflix movies, rather it’s the whole experience from start to finish.

What’s more is that Passionflix originals are so detail-oriented they’re often page for page adaptations of the source material, so the story onscreen unfolds exactly the way it does in the books. This creates an exciting opportunity for authors as much as fans.

With a passionate fan base contributing to the massive success of The Gabriel Series, author Sylvain Reynard had an assortment of studios to choose from when it came to adapting his bestselling series from page to screen. The selection of Passionflix was an easy decision for him given their willingness to work with him to faithfully adapt the books so that fans can savor every moment from the stories that they love.

“From the beginning, when Passionflix approached me, they told me their mission was to bring books to screen in a way that respected the books and respected the readers,” Reynard said of the opportunity. “They told me they were readers, that they’d read and loved The Gabriel Series, and that they would be faithful to the story.

“So while they are a new company, they are staffed with successful and experienced people. And they pride themselves in being excellent in what they do. They know their audience because they are readers themselves. And their relationship with authors and readers is top-notch. I was excited to work with them and they have delivered on their promises. I’ve been invited to consult on everything, and they’ve listened to my feedback. It’s been great.”

Passionflix turns your favorite romance novels into movies and series. Image courtesy of Passionflix.

Thinking outside the box

It might seem like Passionflix has too narrow a focus to be successful, but being incredibly genre-specific actually gives it a competitive edge. “The fact that we are genre-specific helps as it eliminates the crowd for us. There is no one else that does what we do. So if you are a romance novel fan, you will come to Passionflix to watch your favorite novels brought to the screen,” Musk said.

From an author’s perspective, Reynard noted that he was drawn to the way Passionflix envisioned his Gabriel Series and how it would play out in longer installments instead of trying to cram hundreds of pages into a two-hour film. “From the beginning, they wanted to shoot the story as a series rather than a feature-length film,” he said. “That means that we’re looking at 4-5 hours of content rather than 2, so more of the novel ends up on screen. I don’t know if they will make the scripts available, but for both Inferno and Rapture, pretty much every scene in the book is in the script.” (At the time of our conversation, Gabriel’s Redemption was in the early stages of pre-production.)

Given Gabriel’s Inferno’s hefty 545 pages, having more than two hours to focus on the film is something that should delight fans who want to see every little detail come to life. Working outside of the traditional movie structure will allow that attention to detail, something that Reynard appreciates. He noted that Musk and her team have paid so much attention to his books that it was like they’d read his mind:

They filmed on location in Florence, Italy, and were able to shoot at the hotel I mentioned in the novel, as well as inside Alle Murate, the restaurant that has the frescoes. In fact, when I saw how they’d set up the scene inside the restaurant, I realized they had chosen the exact table I had in mind when I wrote the scene. It was as if they’d plucked the scene out of my imagination, and invited the actors to inhabit it.

With The Gabriel Series, the devil is truly in the details. Getting the details right is important to the Passionflix team. In a world where so many book adaptations leave viewers disappointed, Passionflix wants to be faithful to the readers and viewers for whom these movies are made.

A titillating 2020

A new era for Passionflix begins in 2020 with the help of several big projects, starting with Kristen Ashley’s The Will in February and Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno in May. Both of these books come with eager fans who can’t wait to see their favorite stories come to life.

Of particular note is Gabriel’s Inferno, the first installment of Reynard’s hugely popular Gabriel Series. The story follows grad student Julia and Professor Gabriel Emerson and their passion for one another. Gabriel doesn’t understand his forbidden attraction to the brilliant young woman in his seminar, but what he doesn’t realize is that they’ve met before, long ago, and it’s something that Julia has never forgotten. Their story is one of discovery, love, hope and redemption. The Gabriel Series explores their courtship, marriage and all of the trials and tribulations that come their way.

Gabriel’s Inferno began as Twilight fanfiction and was published by small imprint Omnific in 2011, followed by the sequel Gabriel’s Rapture in 2012. They gained so much attention that they were picked up by Berkeley in a seven-figure book deal in 2012. Gabriel’s Redemption soon followed in 2013. (Incidentally, the fourth book in the series, Gabriel’s Promise, was released to much fanfare in January 2020.)

Twilight was a unicorn for both the publishing and movie industries, hitting the young-adult scene at the perfect time to delight millions of fans while inspiring a treasure trove of fanfiction. Fifty Shades of Grey and Gabriel’s Inferno both started as Twilight fanfiction and became publishing sensations in their own right.

Now Reynard’s beloved series is about to do for Passionflix what Twilight did for Summit Entertainment. After Twilight and its subsequent sequels, Summit launched to the forefront in Hollywood and attracted the attention of Lionsgate Entertainment, which bought the company in 2012 and went on to produce more hits like The Hunger Games.

Musk is aware of the impact Gabriel’s Inferno is likely to have on Passionflix: “I think it will have a significant impact on Passionflix – it already has! With the support of SR and the commitment to this project from both [Gabriel Series actors] Giulio [Berruti] and Melanie [Zanetti], I think it will be wonderfully impressive to our current fanbase and encourage others to come on board and watch,” Musk said.

The decision to film all three stories at the same time allows for the momentum to continue building; Gabriel’s Inferno debuts in May and filming is underway on Gabriel’s Redemption, the third book of the series. Fans won’t have to wait long for the continuation of Julia and Gabriel’s story, unlike the years that passed between the Fifty Shades movies.

Momentum and persistent, consistent buzz are very important, especially for a streaming service. As word-of-mouth spreads about the first installment of the Gabriel Series, it will almost be time for the next story to premiere, keeping the excitement red hot.

Looking ahead to a bright future

Things are already looking great for Passionflix, but Musk is not one to rest on her laurels. She’s hoping that one of the next big moves for the company will be obtaining their own studio, a place “where women and men can feel comfortable telling stories about relationships in a positive, non-shaming way whether they be from books or originals.” Musk also hopes to incorporate more historical romance and paranormal romance stories into the mix.

Passionflix has successfully demonstrated that niche streaming services have an important role to play in a world where fans enjoy getting exactly what they want, when they want it. Rather than sorting through a larger streamer to find a specific genre, romance movies are at a viewer’s fingertips at the push of a button.

And we all know that instant gratification is a wonderful thing!

To learn more about Passionflix or to subscribe, visit the Passionflix website.

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Sarabeth Pollock has been attending comic conventions before they were cool, starting with Star Trek conventions at the tender age of 11. These days she's a regular at San Diego Comic Con and has attended WonderCon, Star Wars Celebration, Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, D23, and the Long Beach Comic Expo. She worked as an assistant athletic director at a West Coast Conference school, which cemented her lifelong love of sports. Frequent trips to Disneyland, along with training for half marathons in the Rock and Roll Marathon and runDisney circuits, help to balance out her pop culture and sport obsessions.