Crowdsourcing the Studio

One of my favorite movie scenes of all-time is the opening shot of Robert Altman’s The Player.  The shot is famous, in part, for running something like seven minutes without a single cut, as Altman’s camera roams the studio, introducing us to all of the major figures at the studio.   But the scene is also memorable for showing Griffin Mill, played by Tim Robbins, listening to writers pitching their script ideas.  Many of the pitches are utterly ridiculous (“it’s Pretty Woman meets Out of Africa“), but the scene beautifully establishes Griffin’s power as a studio executive and the arbitrariness of Griffin’s use–and abuse–of that power.  Altman, who had struggled for years to get movies made by Hollywood studios, clearly had little patience for teh capriciousness of executives such as Griffin, who were less concerned about making good movies and more concerned about the power politics of studios.

With that image in mind, I have to admit that I’m intrigued by projects such as My Movie Studio, a crowdsourced studio, which I learned about via an email tip from Michael Bertin, one of the organizers behind the concept.  The idea behind My Movie Studio is that filmmakers can post interesting ideas, i.e., make pitches, for films to the site, and members of the site will vote on the best pitches, essentially green-lighting them for production.  Thus, instead of Griffin Mill making an arbitrary decision, My Movie Studio depends upon “the wisdom of crowds,” of the diversity of opinions and decentralized perspectives available on the web.  Interested participants can also contribute $100 towards the production costs and would profit if the films are successful.  And as the authors of the site suggest, having so many investors and interested parties could go a long way towards promoting the films via netroots and grassroots film communities.

There are, of course, some precedents here.  A couple of years ago, for example, I mentioned the 1 Second Film, where people could buy a producer’s credit for a $1 donation to The Global Fund for Women.  And, of course, films such as Four Eyed Monsters and The War Tapes were marketed in large part through a variety of grassroots techniques.  But I’m intrigued by the attempts to create this kind of “crowdsourced studio” that would build upon the “wisdom” of web-based film buffs who are interested in seeing films that might be a little different than what Bertin calls “the stream of recycled ideas available at the multiplex.”

I do think there are some interesting challenges here.  Even well-funded films or well-made films often face distribution challenges.  And the wisdom of crowds is not always completely reliable and may, in fact, reproduce  or support some of the “recycled ideas” that Bertin associates with Hollywood studios.  In fact, a quick survey of some of the pitches illustrates the degree to which the pitch itself seems rooted in reinforcing some of these cliches.  That being said, I think My Movie Studio is an interesting project, one that has the potential to imagine an alternative to more traditional film production and distribution practices.

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