By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 13, 2008 at 7:17AM
A decade has passed since Lance Weiler began his crusade to proliferate the use of digital technology in the independent film community, and he's finally starting to see the fruits of his labor. Since he digitally projected his feature "The Last Broadcast" in the late 1990s, Weiler's advocacy has centered around the creative opportunities offered by new media. The advances of the Internet age provide continual momentum for that purpose, allowing Weiler's mission to evolve. Focusing on the aggregation of audiences through the web, he has joined forces with several colleagues to launch a new platform for filmmakers so they can recognize the online tools at their disposal.
Titled "From Here to Awesome," the experimental project aims to be a "discovery and distribution festival," although no physical festival exists. Instead, filmmakers upload short videos about their movies -- explaining, naturally, why they're awesome -- and a select bunch, chosen by viewers, receive a variety of distribution possibilities. Launched by Weiler with filmmakers Arin Crumley ("Four Eyed Monsters") and M Dot Strange ("We Are the Strange"), From Here to Awesome suggests an alternative to conventional film festivals, where independent filmmakers find it increasingly difficult to uncover the ideal venues for their work.
Since a lot of crucial dialogue at festivals takes place at panel discussions, From Here to Awesome offers "DIY Days," a series of conversations about the tactics for building audiences over the Internet. At these gatherings, filmmakers such as Weiler and "A Swarm of Angels" creator Matt Hanson discuss the interactive components of their marketing strategies that have helped them develop followings. The first series of DIY Days took place the last weekend of July in Los Angeles. "We had over 300 people come and we've been putting the stuff up," Weiler says, referring to the videos of the presentations posted at the DIY Days site. "The vibe was really cool."
Supporting the professional mantra, "fund, create, distribute, sustain," the DIY Days give filmmakers the opportunity to learn about specific promotional techniques, such as the value of a Twitter account, in addition to the larger parameters of social networking. Putting some of the ideas about new media into practice, From Here to Awesome has teamed with the social network CineGoGo for an event this Friday in San Francisco to demonstrate the concept of a theatrical-on-demand model. At both the Mint Plaza and the Mezzanine in the Soma area, audiences will watch brief videos about several From Here to Awesome movies and vote, via mobile phones, for the ones they want to see in full. On Sunday, another DIY Day will take place in the city.
The entire operation grew out of the ideas tossed around on the Workbook Project, a site Weiler launched in 2006 dedicated to open source film concepts. Whereas many of the suggestions put forth on the Workbook Project are isolated examples of fresh ways to build audiences, DIY Days goes a step further by standardizing certain proven methods of aggregation enabled by new media. "The idea was to put some of the theory into practice," says Weiler. "It felt like we had gone to a lot of panels and talked, but there wasn't enough outside of individuals trying things. So we thought we could leverage the opportunities we have and start to experiment with opportunities for filmmakers."
If the first cycle of From Here to Awesome is any indication, filmmakers have no reservations about experimentation. Of the 115 films submitted during a six month window, twelve features and ten shorts were programmed based on audience demand (the finalists were announced at the beginning of July). At the end of October, one feature and one short will screen in London, where Weiler plans to present case studies based on the results. Before those two films are chosen, filmmakers have a sixty day window (which began at the start of August) to make $4 for every new person they get to sign up for accounts at OurStage.com, in a unique partnership with From Here to Awesome. Meanwhile, many of the films are scheduled to screen at various locations around the world, ranging from North Carolina to a few theaters in Europe. The online outlets offering distribution to From Here to Awesome filmmakers include Joost, Amazon, Indieflix, Heretic, Bside and Caachi. In January, the selection of "awesome" features begins anew.
"I think we're taking a good first step for the open source movement," Weiler says, noting that a large number of volunteers showed up at the first DIY Day. "The reality of the marketplace is that it's really fragmented. People aren't really sure what they should do, and they're still trying to adhere to traditional models that aren't really applicable anymore. They're getting some control back, so it's stripping away some of the permission-based culture that's surrounded filmmaking." Future DIY Days are scheduled to take place in New York next month and Boston in October.
Although the operation isn't exactly profitable to the organizers, Weiler has found a way to build his own financial model out of the Workbook Project's mission: A service called Mindshare he plans to launch soon, which allows users to charge others for access to their expertise while the Workbook Project takes a small cut. Nevertheless, Weiler insists his commitment to From Here to Awesome has little to do with economic incentives. "I give my time because I believe what we're laying the groundwork for now could be the business model in a few years," he says. "It's about seizing control for ourselves in some way. Hopefully, something will come out of that."
[For more information and a list of films, visit the From Here to Awesome website.]