46 | COFOUNDER, STARLIGHT RUNNER
47 | COFOUNDERS, STARLIGHT RUNNER
James Cameron may be king of the Avatar world, but Jeff Gomez and Mark Pensavalle rule its galaxy. The duo specialize in "transmedia storytelling," a process that isolates a film's DNA—the facts of the plot, setting, and characters—and develops it into video games, books, toys, television shows, and, ultimately, entertainment juggernauts. "A movie studio investing hundreds of millions of dollars is going to get about two hours of content out of it," Gomez explains. "They can't count on that to make their investment back anymore." Operating far beyond old-school merchandising—lunch boxes and action figures—Gomez and Pensavalle have turned geeking out into a business, leveraging a fanboy's encyclopedic attention to detail into outsize profits. The Starlight Runner treatment—which, in addition to being applied to Avatar, has goosed the bottom lines of such blockbusters as Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the upcoming TRON: Legacy—involves building complex backstories, mythologies, and entirely new narrative threads. This means charting the swashbuckling early years of Jack Sparrow for the Pirates young-adult books and naming every species of Technicolor plant life on Pandora, which Cameron can plug into his upcoming Avatar prequel novel. Fans get a fully immersive experience; studios, a franchising gold mine (Avatar's retail sales have eclipsed the $150 million mark with 125 licensed products). And Starlight Runner's influence is being acknowledged by Hollywood: Earlier this year the Producers Guild of America voted to officially recognize a "transmedia producer" credit. Call them visionaries. Or trailblazers. "Just don't call us nerds," Gomez says.