Prepare for glory: Viral video leads to DTV

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With the major studios rushing to launch direct-to-video initiatives and even dedicated labels, the indies that once claimed DTV as their own are feeling the squeeze. After all, they don't have big libraries of high-profile theatrical features to mine for DTV sequels as the studios do.

Allumination FilmWorks is taking a novel approach to this dilemma. The independent DVD supplier's next major DTV release is "305," which began life as a five-minute viral video on YouTube -- where it racked up nearly 4 million views as a comic spoof of the theatrical blockbuster "300." (Watch the video below.)

"For Hollywood these days, direct-to-video is very viable, and it's because of the Web," said Cheryl Freeman, CEO of Allumination. "Even though audiences are now more segmented, the Web offers an effective way to reach them, both for majors and for indies.

"But the new reality is that there also is some wonderful programming that begins its life on the Web as a viral video. These videos arrive with more excitement and energy than many spinoffs of existing franchises, and we need to be on this wave."

"305" hit the Web around the same time "300" hit theaters. A "mockumentary" of the big-budget actioner, "305" finished July 2007 as the month's most-viewed comedy on YouTube. It also popped up on MySpace TV and Yahoo! Video and became one of the 400 most-viewed Internet videos of all time as tracked by VidMeter.com.

The short was created by aspiring filmmakers David and Daniel Holechek. It soon attracted the attention of Rivet Prods., which asked the filmmakers to expand the idea into a full-length feature.

"After YouTube and MySpace catapulted the short into 4 million views, we thought, 'Hey, let's see what our team can do if we give them three or four months and a little bit of cash to work with," said Tim Ellis, executive producer with Rivet.

Three or four months? One month was all it took to shoot the entire feature, using the same onscreen talent as the short. The film details the misadventures of five not-so-brave members of the Spartan army charged with guarding a seemingly ordinary goat path, and who through a twist of fate are forced to become real warriors. It premiered at the Palm Beach International Film Festival and since has been screened at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Indie Spirit Film Festival and other U.S. fests. Recently, it became an A&E Indie Spotlight Finalist for 2008.

"The result is hilarious and has blown our minds," Ellis said. "We're already well into our next three projects."

Ellis said he believes "305" represents the future of entertainment content development.

"It speaks to the power of the online community," he said. "People responded immediately to the characters and the comedy, and they wanted more. The '305' feature is a direct fulfillment of quantifiable audience demand."

Freeman agreed. "This movie would not have been possible without the millions of fans that supported the online short," she said. "We are tremendously excited to be a part of a wave that is reshaping Hollywood."

Bowing July 8, the DVD release of "305" features, in addition to the film, bonus scenes, a commentary track, a blooper reel and three featurettes.

And, oh yes, the original "305" short also is included.

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