Filmmakers get a shot at fame a la 'Idol'

The fast-growing Internet video business is about to get a boost from firms with extensive ties to Hollywood and Madison Avenue and business models inspired by American Idol.

Two companies — new Web studio Filmaka and public relations firm Edelman — hope to find promising young talent by staging separate competitions for big-time contracts.

Filmaka will announce today that former Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow, part of the executive team that brought Idol to TV, has signed on as president.

He and CEO Deepak Nayar, who produced Bend It Like Beckham and Buena Vista Social Club, say they're launching a series of contests that will give young filmmakers opportunities to display their talents on the Internet. "We're creating a next-generation, digital-entertainment studio, and we're using competitions to identify talent and to create low-cost, high-quality" videos," Grushow says.

One winner each year will land a contract to make a theatrical feature; another, a documentary.

Other competitions will be staged for specific assignments: For example, cable channel FX wants someone to make a sitcom pilot, and brewery company SABMiller wants to license Web films that support its brands.

Filmmakers who pay a $10 entry fee submit brief productions, typically five minutes or less, that appear on Filmaka.com and sites that syndicate its work. A jury of Hollywood veterans selects three finalists each month. Judges include directors Werner Herzog, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders, and actors Bill Pullman and Colin Firth.

The finalists, plus three runners-up selected as wild-card entrants, will get a small allowance to make another production that will be judged to pick the winner.

Filmaka could score big if one of the films or TV series it backs becomes a hit.

In addition, Filmaka will manage finalists' careers — an arrangement similar to the one that Idol finalists have with the show's creator, 19 Entertainment's Simon Fuller. The William Morris talent agency will have first dibs to represent finalists when it comes to cutting deals.

"We're not just in the content business," Nayar says. "We're into the individual, the filmmaker. If we build your career, then we do well."

Filmaka will try to generate public interest in contestants by posting behind-the-scenes videos from their shoots and judges' evaluations of their work.

It also hopes to profit on the Web from ad sales and fees from other sites that post its videos.

Along with contestant-supplied clips, Filmaka will create a community for filmmakers, including interviews with successful directors, writers and cinematographers.

The executives say they're encouraged by what they've seen in a test of the concept, which will produce its first winner next month.

"I set up a back office in India where 25 to 30 people would go to chat rooms and talk about Filmaka with the instructions: Do not hit English-speaking countries," Nayar says. "The idea was to make it as global as possible."

Filmaka has already been impressed enough with some of the contestants to ask them to produce 40 Web series, paying up to $3,000 for each brief episode.

"Compared to the amount of money that I was accustomed to shelling out as a guy who oversaw a studio, it's laughable," Grushow says. "But it's meal money in that (Web) world."

In a similar vein, Edelman will unveil at this week's Tribeca Film Festival the creation of a studio and site where aspiring filmmakers can compete for opportunities to make productions for advertisers.

Burger King, Expedia, Butterball and Philadelphia Cream Cheese have agreed to provide assignments. Each will choose a winner from three finalists selected by Edelman Studios from submissions to its site, Edelman.com/Studios, which goes live April 28.

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