Filmaka calls global auteurs

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Former Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow and "Bend It Like Beckham" producer Deepak Nayar today are launching Filmaka, a digital entertainment studio that sponsors worldwide contests for aspiring filmmakers.

Filmaka (www.filmaka.com) will announce the winner of its first feature film competition April 28, with the prize being a job directing a feature film produced by Filmaka. The final winner will be decided by a jury of industry professionals that includes Werner Herzog, Bill Pullman, Wim Wenders, Neil LaBute and Zak Penn.

WMA, which represents Filmaka, will take meetings with the top finalists and will have the first option of signing the filmmakers to representation contracts.

The site also is running a sitcom competition in conjunction with FX, in which the network is looking for a new comedy in the vein of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Filmaka is taking submissions of three-minute comedic films with the winner receiving $40,000 to shoot a 15- to 20-minute pilot for FX, which Filmaka will executive produce.

Grushow said the company also has 40 Web series in production and the site plans to syndicate content throughout the Internet and also on Filmaka.com. Filmaka will launch with branded channels on Google's YouTube, online video platform Vuze and in the U.K. on Play TV.

The company also is running branded-entertainment competitions with SABMiller signed on as the site's first partner as well as hosting a documentary film competition.

Nayar ("Lost Highway") launched Filmaka in beta in November 2006. The initial goal of the site, he said, was to "find talent and work with them."

To build up the contest and to give it a global feel, Nayar at first only launched blogs dedicated to the site in India. He enlisted Indian bloggers who knew other languages, not including English, to write about the competition. The project eventually found its way around the world, with 60% of entrants now coming from English-speaking countries, the U.S. included.

Grushow, who left Fox last March 2007 after 24 years, came on board last year. After seeing the site, he was intrigued by Filmaka's business plan and the chance to bring filmmakers around the world into "the Hollywood tent."

"I immediately responded to the content," Grushow said. "I saw what was being built — the use of the Internet to create this online creative community of filmmakers and directors who could power a new studio."

Nayar said the site now receives between 100 and 150 submissions of three-minute films each month. It has received entrants from 95 countries — with such nations as Iran, Iraq and Zambia represented — and it said it has an active community of 3,600 filmmakers.

Through a multitiered competition involving peer and jury voting and Filmaka executive decisions, the submissions get whittled down to 39 finalists, who are in the running for the top prize.

The finalists have submitted scripts and screenplays for a film, but Filmaka also has the option of finding an outside film for the winner to helm. Nayar said the film should have a budget "north of $2 million."

This is the first of what Nayar said will be a yearly contest that concludes this month.

Along the way, the independently funded Filmaka gives cash to the winning auteurs to help fund their films. The site's FAQ page said that once the filmmaker accepts money for the film, it becomes Filmaka's property. Winning filmmakers can receive a 50% revenue split for content sold or online production and distribution contracts.

The jury also communicates with the filmmakers on the road to the final judging.

"Imagine Neil LaBute commenting on your film," Nayar said. "That's what sets us apart from everyone else."
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