Rough ride for Web films

Filmmakers are turning to the Internet to distribute their films. But does the new medium help them make ends meet?


Is the Internet a new Eldorado for independent filmmakers? Some people believe it is. For the first time in France, two film directors opted to distribute their film exclusively on the Web.


In March 2007, Jean-Michel Ben Soussan, one of the directors of the popular French satirical TV series Groland, was the first French filmmaker to post his film, “Revolta, kilometer zero” exclusively and for free on the shared video site, Dailymotion. As for Armand Geiger, he chose to post his “The Golem Awakening” online, after it had played in a Parisian cinema for a week. Web viewers had to spend 2.99 euros to watch it.


The move is both artistically and economically-motivated. “To post his film on the Internet means giving the film a life of its own. Internet users can do as they please with it,” says Geiger.


But it is also a way to circumvent the obstacles of a conventional theatrical release. “We had an agreement with a distributor whose cinemas are equipped to distribute films numerically (without reels) but the release date coincided with that of Indiana Jones, which finally took our place,” says Eric Atlan, producer of “The Golem Awakening”. The film, which cost 400,000 euros to make, was put online earlier than envisaged. A month later, it had been downloaded 2,000 times.

“Star Wreck,” a winning parody

The two French filmmakers have set off on a new media adventure. But the critical question is, can one make a living out of it? Back in 2005, five Finnish films paved the way for the new trend. One of them was “Star Wreck”, a parody of “Star Trek” online. Nearly eight million downloads later, Timo Vuorensola, the director, is still astonished by his success.

“It was to be a small video but, with the Web, the project grew until we ended up with 103 minutes and 300 actors, some of them Web users who ended up collaborating on the project,” he said.

The spinoffs and product sales earned them 200,000 euros from an initial investment of 15,000 euros, a neat hit that enabled them to start their next project which, they estimate, will cost about 3 million euros.

However, it’s not yet a gold rush for indie filmmakers. “There are currently between 20 and 30 serious and professional feature film projects slated for Web distribution,” says Vuorensola, noting that it’s difficult to arrive at accurate estimates given the numerous Web portals on offer.

“With all these short films, it’s difficult for a long film to make itself known,” says Scott Kirshner, author of “The Future of Web videos”.

Horror and science fiction for young males

But there are successes. And each time, they follow the same pattern: the film generates traffic, then the financial possibilities appear.


“4-eyed Monster” was a hit on YouTube. This road-movie, which tells of the meeting between two filmmakers, posted online last April, has already been seen 1.5 million times. Thanks to the publicity it received, its two directors have already raised $50,000.

“Beyond the Rave,” a film on the social networking site MySpace, is a “pretty success”, says British studio Pure Grass Film. Twenty thousand internet users are fans of this horror series in which a soldier confronts hordes of vampires to track down his lost-love. A DVD of the movie, which cost one million euros to make, is expected.

“Web users must be associated with a project so they become invested in the results and turn into the best ambassadors for the film,” explains Vuorensola. These communities tend to be formed around particular subjects. “Horror and science fiction films are more likely to succeed because their audiences are primarily young males, a demographic particularly attuned to watching videos on the Internet,” says Wendy Bevan-Mogg, co-producer of “Beyond the Rave”.

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