Filmaka: Like American Idol, but for TV

After more than a year, an independent Web-based movie venture called Filmaka is finally out of “beta.” The project has a couple of high-profile backers: indie film producer Deepak Nayar (responsible for movies such as Bend It Like Beckham and Buena Vista Social Club) and former Fox TV network honcho Sandy Grushow, who gave the world shows such as The OC, 24, The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Grushow was also one of the network executives behind American Idol, and says Filmaka is based on a similar premise.

The founders say they want to find young or up-and-coming TV producers and filmmakers and in some cases to help them get major studio or network deals. The site already has a stable of more than 40 Web-based shows that it plans to run on networks such as YouTube, and has been conducting a kind of Web-based talent search with a contest that ends on April 28 — the winner, who will be chosen by a jury including David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Neil LaBute, will get as much as $3-million in financing to produce a movie for theatrical release.

That’s not the only contest Filmaka has been sponsoring either: the venture has also been running a sitcom competition with the cable channel FX, which will see the winner get $40,000 to shoot a 15 to 20-minute pilot for a potential FX television show, and the site has a documentary competition and a “branded entertainment” competition. Fox ran a similar kind of contest with MySpace, but didn’t turn either of the winners into a pilot. Jerry Zucker of NBC has spoken in the past about how expensive — and in many cases, ultimately futile — the current pilot-oriented TV production process can be.

More than 3,000 submissions have been received from aspiring filmmakers in more than 90 countries, and all of the submissions can be streamed from the website. Visitors can choose to see entries by category (documentary, TV, feature etc.) or only the ones that have advanced to the jury level. Submissions include everything from animated shorts featuring “claymation”-style characters to sitcom-style comedies, and at least one Canadian filmmaker has several entries in different levels of the competition: Terry Miles has submitted a feature film called Lost and Found and also has an entry in the TV-pilot contest called The Secret Life of Amanda Jones, about a twentysomething college student who is also a vampire.

In an interview with Wired magazine, Grushow said that after 20 years in the network business, he wasn’t sure that any independent or unsigned filmmakers could produce content that he might be interested in, but he says his eyes were opened after Filmaka started the competition: “I was astonished at the quality level people were capable of creating … at such a low cost. To me, that represented a game-changer.” In Filmaka, he said, the partners hope create what amounts to “a studio with essentially no overhead.” And there’s already Canadian content.

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