Film project aims to raise £1 million to make a Creative Commons-licensed film

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Matt Hanson

Matt Hanson aims to raise £1 million to fund the production of a feature-length film which would be distributed freely via the Internet under a Creative Commons licence, all funded through 50,000 people each donating £25 to the project, which he's called 'A Swarm of Angels'.

No stranger to filmmaking, Matt has produced numerous digital short films, a series of books on digital filmmaking and set up the digital film festival onedotzero, now in its tenth year. He wants to finally make a feature length film, and decided that it was better to turn to the Internet for help and funding rather than plod through the usual 'development hell'.

"I wanted to put into practice what I’ve been preaching as a film futurist for ten years, and the technology and Internet infrastructure has just really caught up with that vision now for me to put it into practice."

The process is inspired by the 'web 2.0' movement, using social and collaborative communities on the Internet. Matt doesn't see the funding as coming from donations, but as people paying a subscription to become part of a 'Swarm'. "Rather than the 'many producer' model, this is more of an [sic] 'smart consumer' model ... members can help implement and bring their expertise into play, and so become more actively involved in the production."

The 'A Swarm of Angels' project logo

The project hopes to use professional actors and crew, but use qualified members from the swarm as much as possible. The cast and the crew, including any volunteers that get chosen, would be paid for their work on the film, with Matt suggesting that this is "a great way for people to get into the industry".

Those members not directly involved in making the film can still participate in the process by discussing ideas on a messageboard, and having a vote on certain crucial decisions such as which script gets chosen for production. Asked how he would balance his own creative direction with input from members, Matt said "my vision will lead the project forward and define the parameters, but the Swarm can influence that, and indeed offer improvements or insights I might not think of alone".

"Remember filmmaking is always a team effort - whether you are Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick or Jean Luc Godard, you promote people within the project that will complement and bring something extra to the vision of the film. Give it more life. With the Swarm we are making that process more democratic, and giving a wider range of people an opportunity to shine and have creative input."

Members are promised a collector's edition DVD of the end product and exclusive merchandise, but the main distribution of the film will be via the Internet, using 'BitTorrent' and peer-to-peer networks. "Unlike many other filmmakers, I'm not wedded to cinema projection as the 'be all and end all' - I'm much more excited about people viewing remixed versions on their video iPods," explains Matt.

The 'remixing' of the film will be possible thanks to it being distributed under a Creative Commons licence. Matt suggests that the 'younger generation' is more used to being involved with and interacting with entertainment, and points to remixes of the Star Wars films (eg 'The Phantom Edit') as an example of these 'mashups'. "At the end of the project I would love to have an event that showcased five wildly different versions of the film, different visions from people other than my definitive initial edit," he suggests. The licence will be for non-commercial use only, however, and so commercial TV stations would still have to pay in order to screen the film.

The project is partly inspired by the success of 'The Million Dollar Homepage', in which British student Alex Tew aimed to raise a million dollars to fund his university education, simply by selling advertising space on a single web page. The publicity surrounding the idea, coupled with the 'viral' effect of Internet users passing the page on, meant that he eventually managed to make himself the million dollars.

The success of these projects partly seems to depend on them being interesting and original enough to attract enough attention, and it’s often difficult to see how they could be repeated. Copy-cat versions of the million dollar homepage have so far failed to hugely take off. When asked about this idea, Matt responded "I already expect people to copy the model we are inventing with A Swarm of Angels - it's a perfect way to create cult media, where the director gets more creative control and organically funds a project, and the fans of the project get more involvement within it. If the market gets too crowded with these projects though, then they’ll have to be packaged differently to stand out. But that’s what traditional film and media projects need to do anyway."

Over 600 members have signed up to the 'swarm' so far, which Matt comments is already an early success, but 50,000 members in total will be needed in order to fully fund the £1 million budget. Matt suggests that getting to the next stage, of reaching 1,000 members, followed by the phase of getting 5,000 members, will be the hardest part, as after that the film will be more 'tangible'. He expects to raise the full budget, but comments that if the fundraising stalls, "options will be presented by advisors and The Swarm, and based on some kind of consensus we’ll come up with the best option for moving forward."

Traditionally, independent films are funded either through persuading wealthy individuals to invest, who sometimes are sometimes given 'Executive Producer' credits, or through organisations like the UK Film Council, who award funds from the National Lottery. A tax credit for producers making small films in the UK was announced by the government in 2005, in a bid to give a boost to the UK independent film industry.

Matt says that the film will be "a thriller with soft science fiction elements", which he says will suit his target audience. "But it will have an indie edginess to it, and be far more visually inventive than you would get with a 'normal' British independent feature." Contributors to the project include artists The Kleptones, who will help with the soundtrack, comic book writer Warren Ellis and documentary filmmaker Grant Gee.

The Swarm of Angels project is online at aswarmofangels.com and costs £25 as an individual to become a member.

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