Fresh Voices in the Press - Films as Startups: How Indie Producers Build Buzz


Originally Published:

May 2nd by Christine Erickson

The film industry is not what it used to be. Gone are the days when writers shopped a script around Hollywood, hoping to catch the eye of major production studios.

Instead, that model has been turned upside down. Films are aiming to captivate an audience first, without the assistance of studios. Technology and social media have made it feasible.

Writer Bill Balas entered his feature-length script into a contest for Fresh Voices, a social network for screenwriters, which captured the attention of producers Peter Katz and Don Le.

Rather than following the traditional path of production, the team used Balas’s script to create Already Gone, a short film about a crook who only robs from other criminals. The three-minute video is directed by Ross Ching, and stars Shawn Ashmore of X-men fame and Harry Shum Jr. from Glee.

This bite-sized teaser gets the premise of the film in front of an audience, and if the film is bought, will lead to a feature-length film at some point. Consider the video a less expensive pilot that will reveal hard numbers to potential financiers up front.

How Social Media Incubates the Pilot

Studios spend a tremendous amount of money in marketing a film, but independent filmmakers are now capable of distributing their content on the smallest of budgets. Sites like KickstarterTwitter andFacebook have changed how films are made.

“The advantage we have is that there are people behind this project,” says Katz. “Before, we didn’t have anything to show. There are a lot of challenges just using scripts, especially when you’re dealing with dense material. It doesn’t always convey the director’s vision.”

Katz’s non-traditional production strategy is similar to the tech startup incubator model, which helps develop entrepreneurs’ visions into businesses that they can present to investors.

“Imagine if genre legends like Sam Raimi’s and Robert Rodriguez’s production companies financed and oversaw the creation of select filmmakers’ short films — then released them on the web to see which concepts would reach the largest audiences and attract the most passionate fanbase,” says Katz.

“Studios would use this information to decide which projects to finance and how to market them, instead of the traditional route where scripts can get caught in development and never see the light of day.”

High-Quality Tech on a Low Budget

While social continues to support the business and marketing side of production, the technology available for filmmakers has become more affordable — even as the quality continues to get better.

RED introduced digital cinema cameras in 2005, which led to a number of competitors coming out with their own products. Today, independent films like Already Gone are being shot with cameras like the RED because the high-quality gear is smaller and cheaper than ever before.

“Because the camera is so flexible in terms of its cost, without losing that quality, you have a tremendous amount of indie filmmakers who are using the RED One, and the Epic and the Scarlet to shoot their movies,” says Ted Schilowitz, co-Founder of RED cameras. “The same camera that the Peter Jacksons, and the David Finchers of the world use to make their movies, all the young independent filmmakers with much smaller budgets are using the same exact tools.”

What do you think about the “teaser first, full film later” concept? Do you think technology and social media will continue to change the future of filmmaking? Let us know in the comments.