(Note: This is a longer version of a story that's running in today's Daily Variety)
With consolidation sweeping through the film industry and indie shingles closing down at a rapid clip, it’s harder than ever for budding filmmakers to get a break. But a new Website that counts three members of the Academy among its ranks is looking to make it a little easier.
Openfilm.com emerges from its beta period Thursday with a series of grants for filmmakers, its own distribution company and an advisory board that includes actors James Caan, Robert Duvall and Scott Caan, along with director Mark Rydell.
“There are certain people [whose films] I’ll go see and certain ones I won’t,” says James Caan, who is also chairman of Openfilm. “We need more of those people you’re going to go see. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The site, which has been in beta mode for a little over a year, aims to be a community for independent filmmakers, letting them upload short works and get feedback from peers and pros. Auteurs can also sell downloadable versions of those works through the site, with Openfilm taking just $0.69 per sale, regardless of the film’s price.
20,000 people have already signed on as registered members and Openfilm has over 5,000 short films in its library. As it expands, it’s looking to not only boost those numbers, but also to give additional exposure to members.
Already in place is a deal with Tivo, which syndicates three or four films per week from the site. Openfilm also plans to award $1 million in grants over the next 20 months. Four filmmakers will receive $50,000 in cash and $200,000 in financing. Any film uploaded to the site is eligible for the award. The six films that receive the most votes from the community will be viewed by the advisory board, which will select the winner.
“It’s sort of an ‘American Idol’ thing,” says Caan. “I hate to use that example, but I know there are people out there who are capable. This just opens things up for them.”
Openfilm will not take a stake in any project created with the grant money. If the filmmaker wants additional funding, however, Openfilm Studios, a sister company of the site, may co-produce the work.
Beyond acting as a distribution point, Openfilm also plans to assume a middleman role for indie film festivals, with over 100 signing on with the company so far, says Caan.
Openfilm will white-label its proprietary software to the festivals, streamlining the submission process and allowing judges to watch the films online (without the need for DVDs). The submissions will not appear on the Openfilm site.
To boost the site’s community elements, both Caans, Duval and Rydell will also host monthly live webcam chats with the site’s users, answering questions about filmmaking and the film industry.
Mike Zoi, a serial entrepreneur who founded Ener1, an alternative energy company that develops and manufactures compact, high performance lithium-ion batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, is financing the company. He approached Caan through a mutual friend around the time of the beta launch.
Caan, who says he had become frustrated with the film industry’s drive to a significantly younger demographic, jumped on board. It has since become a passion project for him.
“I’m just really interested in finding young talent,” says Caan. “That, to me, is exciting. This is not like I’m doing a commercial for this site. This is something I believe in and my son believes in. I think the film business really needs a kick in the butt.”