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DIY With a Little Help: OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 1, 2009 at 1:40AM

"Four Eyed Monsters" co-director Arin Crumley and U.K.-based film school graduate Kieran Masterton are developing a new web resource called OpenIndie to provide filmmakers with the opportunity to reach audiences around the globe.
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"Four Eyed Monsters" co-director Arin Crumley and U.K.-based film school graduate Kieran Masterton are developing a new web resource called OpenIndie to provide filmmakers with the opportunity to reach audiences around the globe.

Crumley and Masterson premiered a video today outlining their concept on the fundraising site Kickstarter. They hope to raise $10,000 for the project from a total of 100 filmmakers by October 29.

As explained in the video, OpenIndie.com will allow filmmakers to input their e-mail lists and discover locations with high audience demand. The grassroots strategy allows movies to reach their intended audiences with a community-based approach. Because the site is open-sourced, anyone can enter a location into the site and figure out the level of interest for specific movies. "In their normal viewing habits, audiences are actually expressing their desires for what they want to see in movie theaters," Crumley told indieWIRE in an interview yesterday. "The goal here is for filmmakers to make money through this kind of system by creating a community."

The idea of building theatrical demand for movies and other products with social networking is not exactly new. The Auteurs, an online cinematheque, applies a similar model to raise awareness for classic films. Crumley also cited the travel resource couchsurfer.com as an inspiration. Despite the precedents, however, the implementation of this strategy has been gradual. Crumley said he first started thinking about the idea for OpenIndie while traveling the festival circuit with "Four Eyed Monsters" in 2005, when he and co-director Susan Buice eschewed a distribution deal in favor of developing an online following and showing the film in 31 cities, each of which contained at least 100 requests for screenings. "I was pretty convinced we would see the industry head that way," he said. "But we haven't really seen an infrastructure arise that allows people to have a say in what they can access."

OpenIndie founders Arin Crumley and Kieran Masterson.

Masterton, the software developer for OpenIndie, was in film school when he became aware of the new media strategy fueling the popularity of "Four Eyed Monsters," which the filmmakers, boosted by support from Spout.com, continued to develop episodically as their fan base grew. "Obviously, what they were doing was very new," Masterton said. "Film school is very narrow in terms of the stories it teaches you to tell. Now, my friends from film school are interested in episodic stuff online. They see it as more achievable." He added that OpenIndie could assist international audiences with getting a chance to view films that generate buzz in other parts of the world.

"Being outside the U.S., the choice of venues is limited," he said. In a blog post, Crumley elaborated on the plan as a "push versus pull" concept. "There are countless ways to push films out into the world," he wrote. "This has been the style for marketing movies for decades...OpenIndie.com is the only site we are aware of that lets users keep a list of the films they want to see and regularly add new films to that list and then simply displays the demand for that film to any other member of the site, who can then organize a screening should they see fit."

Since Crumley and Masterton plan to make the site an online social network, they are not relying on major investors for the project. Instead, they are relying on support from filmmakers on Kickstarter, where Crumley raised $3,800 to fund his second feature, shot at burning man 2009 and yet to be titled. Crumley hopes the project, currently in post-production, can benefit from OpenIndie if the site succeeds. "We're not going to seek distribution from the festival circuit because we tried that and it didn't work," he said. "Festivals are still a great way to do screenings, and I would love to see festivals use OpenIndie." Masterton, who has directed a short film and hopes to shoot his feature-length screenplay soon, also expressed an interest in using OpenIndie for his next movie. "I have almost twelve years of experience developing large websites for media organizations," he said. "It seems logical to put those skills to use while providing filmmakers with a means of getting their films seen."

Coincidentally, a study released this week by the entertainment marketing firm Stradella Road revealed that 94% of all moviegoers use the Internet as part of their viewing decisions. Crumley emphasized that online technologies should not focus on replacing movie theaters. "When you meet people in a real setting rather than a virtual setting, the whole experience comes together," he said. "To give up on theatrical and only focus on downloads is missing out on something hugely important."

The Kickstarter page for OpenIndie is viewable here.