Netflix contest births 'Wheeler Boys'

Film will premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival

When fledgling director Philip G. Flores heard about the Netflix Find Your Voice Film Competition in January 2009, he was skeptical. It was a new contest, with no track record, but it did promise funding and equipment for the winner's feature film project.

"We just applied on a lark, not thinking we'd win," says Flores, who collaborated on the project with producer Chase Kenney, a fellow MFA graduate from USC's film and television production program in 2008.

Win they did, and now the coming-of-age script they submitted (co-written by Flores and Max Doty) has been transformed into a full-length feature titled "The Wheeler Boys." It will have its world premiere June 25 at the Los Angeles Film Festival, which is produced by the contest's co-sponsor Film Independent.

Flores was one of more than 2,000 applicants to the competition, which was open to filmmakers who had not created and publicly screened a full-length, narrative film of 70 minutes or more. In May 2009, 10 semi-finalists were chosen and asked to submit a two- to three-minute video trailer or short based on their proposed project. Flores shot his over Memorial Day weekend 2009 in his hometown of Hemet, Calif., edited it in four days and uploaded it on to the contest's FTP site just in time to make the deadline. Two months later, he got word that the competition's blue ribbon panel of judges (James Brolin, John Sayles, Dustin Lance Black, Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks and Stephanie Allain) had picked their project as the winner.

Flores shot "The Wheeler Boys" in Santa Clarita, Calif., over four weeks in late December 2009 and early January, with a budget he characterizes as "under $1 million."

"The grant that Film Independent/Netflix gave us was $150,000 cash, then everything else was in-kind services (from contest co-sponsors such as Panavision)," Flores says, "but we still had to raise money from private investors to scrounge up the rest of the budget." Not that he isn't grateful. "The great thing about this contest is we actually own the film, so we're free to find distributors and sell it."