Crowdsourcing comes to Hollywood
I was recently introduced to Peter Vesterbacka, who heads up an innovative company called Wreckamovie. The concept is simple: use social media concepts to facilitate the crowdsourcing of movie making. Or (without the web 2.0 jargon): use the Internet to get thousands of people to contribute to making movies together.
Hollywood and the big name studios account for only a tiny fraction of all movies made every year anyway, and Wreckamovie want to help independent film makers capture the power of the social net to make the best go at success that they can.
It started with a movie called Starwreck. Based in Finland, the original production team headed by Samuli Torssonen and Timo Vuorensola started asking people for help online (this was 1998, and the Internet was still in its infancy). Long before social networks became popular, they had already realised the potential of a worldwide community of people who were passionate about Star Trek and sci-fi parodies. It took seven years to make their movie and was collaborative all the way through (read a bit of the tech production story here – see the server farm they used to do the render at the bottom of the page, for example). It was eventually released in October 2005.
The movie is a feature length Star Trek / Babylon 5 parody – in Finnish. What do you do with something like that? Well, the only answer for them was to make it available for bittorrent download – for free. In 2005, this was revolutionary. It hit 1 million downloads very quickly. The subtitles were done by a community of volunteers – into 40 different languages. To date, it has over 9 million downloads. Universal then bought the rights to the movie and hired professionals to do the subtitles “properly” (professional translators). However, in many languages, especially Norwegian, it was clear that what the community of volunteers had done was much better than what Universal’s professionals came up with. This was mainly because the community understood the in-jokes, subtleties and “feeling” behind the words and were able to convey this into their version of the translation.
Peter Vesterbacka uses the analogy of golf to explain why this works. He doesn’t like golf, but he realises that millions of people around the world do. They spend lots of time – and money – playing golf. Just because they enjoy it, it relaxes them, and it is fun. That’s the same reason that people give of their time, money and resources to activities like crowdsourced movies.
Realising that the concept worked, the team started working on a platform that could help other aspiring move makers get their concept to end product. Now, Wreckamovie has over 300 productions under way. It takes about 2 years to produce a movie, and the first ones are starting to roll off the production line.
One of the first is Snowblind: http://snowblind.wreckamovie.com/.
Wreckamovie provides help throughout the process, and most especially in the merchandising and distribution after production. For example, fans can register their interest in watching the movie in a specific location (e.g. London) – see an example of demanding screenings of Ironsky here. The producers can then, for example, rent a theatre and invite the fans to attend, knowing that they can fill a theatre. See http://store.ironsky.net/ for examples of the merchandising that starts long before the end of production. Ironsky was being profiled at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2010, and the producers needed some promotional materials at late notice. They turned to their fan base on the social network, and within a matter of days had everything they needed.
This turns the Hollywood model on its head by generating a fan base even during production, and then using that fan base to assist with income generation from the project. This has the potential to make a movie viable, and has investors increasingly interested in movies made using social networking platforms.
Wreckamovie takes 10% of the money that flows to a film as their fee. It’s all completely transparent (another welcome change from standard Hollywood), and certainly looks to be financially profitable.
There are other people doing similar things around the world, including, for example this one in Canada: http://www.opensourcecinema.org/. But from what I can see, Wreckamovie can claim to have been there first.
This concept is not limited to movies, of course. Wreckamovie themselves are developing a crowdsourced opera: http://operabyyou.wreckamovie.com. The key, according to them, is to be able to tap into a community that has fanatical fans already. The social media platform just makes it easy to do what they’re keen to do anyway: collaborate, contribute, engage and get involved.
It might not be coming to a mainstream theatre near you, but crowdsourced movies are yet another expression of a technology trend that’s going mainstream – and changing industries at the same time.