Openfilm and James Caan to Give $1M to Filmmakers


The independent film community Openfilm announced today that they would begin a quarterly contest that would give independent filmmakers a $250,000 award package: a $50,000 cash prize and $200,000 financing for a feature film for a total of $1 million given out annually. The site, which bills itself as a platform for discovering and distributing film talent, exited beta mode today and features an advisory board that includes noted actors James Caan and Robert Duvall (they were in The Godfather, kids).

Caan became involved with Openfilm last year when he began exploring the idea of creating a company to champion actors, directors and writers who currently face age discrimination in the Hollywood studio system. While via phone, he admitted to not being very tech-savvy — “I finally learned how to play solitaire last week. I have to get my kids to check my email for me,” he said — after connecting with Openfilm co-founder Dmitry Kozko he says that he saw the value of the web in helping undiscovered talent of all ages get a break.

“When I got started in this business,” he said, “I realized how big a portion of the pie luck was. You gotta have talent and persistence, but luck’s a big part of it, and there are a lot of talented people who didn’t make it because they didn’t get to the right place at the right time. Openfilm and this contest will hopefully be that.” To participate in the Get It Made contest, filmmakers must pay a $35 entry fee and submit a short film similar to their feature film pitch — after American Idol-style voting narrows the field down to a set of finalists, the advisory board will pick a winner.

According to Kozko, the site currently receives “hundreds and hundreds” of film submissions on a daily basis, but will only post a handful of them every day. “Some days we will only publish one film, because we keep raising the bar,” he said. Each video posted is individually optimized for web distribution by the Openfilm team, using a variety of different formats, from Flash to MP4. They are also currently working to move to HTML5 for iPad compatibility.

Currently, Openfilm’s distribution partners consist of TiVo, Boxee, Miniweb Interactive, and a local Houston cable channel, but Kozko promised that they were close on closing a deal with a much bigger partner who would increase their reach into the living room as well as into the mobile space. (Awesome moments in conference call history: When Kozko mentioned the difficulty of making deals with big companies, Caan said that he might bring in “the guys from Brooklyn” to help out.)

The million bucks being handed out belongs to Openfilm Studios, a sister company that has its own funding from film-related investors, who know what kind of investment this is. Both Caan and Kozko anticipate that any film produced as a result of the Get It Made contest will probably cost more than $200,000, but Openfilm Studios has the option to increase their investment and/or partner with other companies as co-producers. Openfilm Studios would be the production company and distributor for whatever film was produced.

When asked how the web has changed the independent film world, Kozko said that “It allows people to not be tied to a geographic location to show their film — that one aspect allows people to take it further than you could ever imagine. When a film isn’t tied to one silver screen, and is available on demand, that helps it drastically.”

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