Tapia (pictured left) was intrigued by the site's premise of challenging aspiring auteurs to create short films based on concepts and loglines suggested by the site. The finalists from a series of monthly competitions vie for the chance to have Filmaka fund the production of feature-length pic budgeted at up to $5 million.
What set Filmaka apart from similar web short film ventures, in Tapia's eyes, was the company it keeps. Backing the venture was Deepak Nayar, producer of noted indies "Bend it Like Beckham" and "Buena Vista Social Club," and the list of boldface names he'd assembled to judge the monthly submissions: Colin Firth, Werner Herzog, Neil LaBute, John Madden, Zak Penn, Paul Schrader, Bill Pullman and Wim Wenders.
Tapia moved through the monthly rounds of competition and is now among the finalists waiting to find out Monday (This just in: Winner is 21-year-old Nuru Rimington-Mkali of London. Click here to see his winning pic "And I Refuse to Forget.") if they're getting a coveted greenlight from Nayar. But Tapia already feels like a winner, because his Filmaka experience has opened more than a few doors for the Boston resident, who's in the process of moving to L.A.
For starters, Tapia's collection of Filmaka shorts were enough to convince actor Malcolm McDowell to appear in his final-round pic, "The Secret Adventures of Mr. Grant." (Pictured right. Click here to watch the short.)He's also been accepted as a directing fellow in the diversity mentoring program run by Film Independent. And he's the first home-grown Filmaka talent to be signed to the fledgling company's management division.
It's a far cry from where he was a little over a year ago, fresh out of Boston University with a MFA, having focused on film production. He ran a video production shingle from his living room, but other than getting a few gigs producing short vids for the website of his undergrad alma mater, Harvard (where he earned a degree in biology), Tapia wasn't overly burdened with work.
Tapia had no shortage of motivation but the structure and deadlines provided by the monthly competitionwas the prod he needed to get cracking, at first on his own dime, and then with a little bit of coin from Filmaka as he advanced through the final rounds.
"I loved the challenge of making films every month. That's what really got me into it. It was a chance to out there and do something," Tapia says. "It's one thing to call yourself a director, but you don't often get the chance to make anything. This opportunity was so exciting."
Finding constructive feedback from established directors popping up in his email inbox was mind-blowing too, Tapia adds.
The aspects of Filmaka that appealed to Tapia were in many ways the things that drew Sandy Grushow, former Fox TV Entertainment Group chairman, to sign on last year with Nayar's startup, first as a consultant and now as a partner with Nayar and president of the company.
Grushow (pictured left) was impressed by the names Nayar recruited, but he was even more impressed by the depth and breadth of the work flowing in from around the world. Grushow's roots in the marketing biz helped him see that there was real potential in the online community that Filmaka had assembled in less than a year in beta mode with zero promotion.
Now, Filmaka, based out of offices in L.A.'s Fairfax district, is starting to hum on multiple fronts. It serves as a forum for advertisers and others who want to reach the non-pro and semi-pro Filmaka users to tap into new veins of creativity. FX is running a contest with Filmaka to develop a new comedy concept, and a similar development contest is in the works with a sizable distrib on the film side. SAB Miller has put out the call via Filmaka for submissions for its beer commercials and other marketing materials.
In addition to its various contests, Filmaka is developing a slew of web-based programs with some of its users, some of them derived from concepts submitted as short films by users. In time, the hope is that these projects have traditional TV and film adaptations (one Filmaka hit, "Superhero," is at present being shopped as a series in the U.K.), but Grushow and Nayar also see value in building a digital studio with tons of proprietary content. Toward that end, they are talking with Web- and digital distribution partners about licensing Filmaka's content.
Another thrust of the venture is managing the careers of promising talents, a la Tapia, who rise through the Filmaka meritocracy. The company is in the midst of recruiting an experienced talent rep to run the management arm, Grushow says.
For an exec who grew up in the traditional TV biz, even at a non-traditional shop like Fox, it's all very new and invigorating for Grushow. Instead of fighting with producers over another $500,000 per episode, the imperative now is to find those creative diamonds in the rough who can do wonders with a $3,000 stipend to make a five-minute short.
"We're using the Web to build an online creative community composed of aspiring writers and directors from around the world who are capable of powering a new kind of studio -- a studio that has virtually no overhead and is capable of generating a vast amount of high-quality, low-cost content," Grushow says.
Grushow spent some time as a producer after exiting as head of Fox's network and TV studio operation in early 2004, but it wasn't the right fit for him. That experience has only heightened his respect and appreciation for those who do live to write, direct and produce something from nothing, for nothing (or next to nothing) money-wise.
In many ways his new mandate at Filmaka reminds Grushow of the time in the late 1990s when he headed the 20th Century Fox TV studio at the time it was on a self-imposed mission to become the town's No. 1 supplier of primetime series to the major nets. The key was betting on the right talent, and the right combination of talent, concept and distrib partner, Grushow says.
"Our competition engine (in Filmaka) is helping us to identify the best undiscovered talent from around the world. We're then monetizing that talent and the content that they’re generating across a variety of platforms, from the Web to mobile devices to TV to film to commercials to music videos," he says. "Setting up distribution partners, leveraging the value of our community, getting our content out on new platforms that pay license fees for our content -- those things combined with ad revenue is the new economic model (for Web-based content) that is starting to come into focus."