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Film biz turns to Web networking

In showbiz, the ability to schmooze has always ranked right next to talent as the most important quality. So it’s not surprising that independent filmmakers worldwide have been among the first to adopt the Internet as another tool — for some, the most important tool — for getting the word out about their work. From aspiring screenwriters to film festivals to major indie distributors, the past few years have seen the Internet become a virtual schmooze-a-thon for indie filmmakers.

Filmmaker Kevin Smith, (“Chasing Amy,” “Mallrats,” “Clerks”) got on the Internet initially because he’d heard there were several great “Clerks” sites. Not having Internet access of his own, he went to a coffeehouse with Internet terminals to log on.

He was so impressed by one such site, designed by a college student named Ming Chen, that he asked him to design a site for his production company, View Askew. The resulting site, now more than a year old, is called the View Askew-Niverse (www.viewaskew.com) and is something of a clubhouse and shrine to Smith’s films. On it, Smith’s fans from all over the world can exchange their views, keep in touch with Smith himself and buy merchandise.

“The benefit of the Web site is that it keeps me very grounded,” Smith says, “because you’re in touch with the people who are paying to see your flick and who basically employ you.” He especially likes the direct daily input he gets from his fans on the Web. “For me it’s a great pipeline into what’s working and what’s not working and what stuff I should pay more attention to.”

He says he also appreciates the opportunity to talk to his fans. “It was great to talk to these people before ‘Chasing Amy’ came out because some of these guys are like the real Jay and Silent Bob, ‘Mallrats’ fans, and ‘Chasing Amy’ was kind of a leap away from that. So it was great to be able to lay down some groundwork to tell them not to expect the same kind of film this time around,” Smith says.

As the saying goes, for every Kevin Smith, there are a thousand wannabes. And in cyberspace, the wannabes have a place to go, too. Started in 1994 by London-based filmmaker Ben Craig, the Internet Filmmakers FAQ (for Frequently Asked Questions) (www.filmmag.com/community/iffaq) was begun as a way to answer the many redundant questions posted to film-related news groups.

It has grown to become one of the most comprehensive databases of knowledge on filmmaking available anywhere. Craig includes information he feels is important to fledgling and experienced filmmakers alike. He also points to news groups and e-mail as the most powerful tools a filmmaker can find on the Internet.

“If you were making a film and had a specific question about lighting or film stock, for instance, you could jump on to a news group and post your question and within 24 hours get a response from someone who’s done this thing before,” Craig says. “The Internet has suddenly produced this massive resource at very little cost, which indie filmmakers — who are usually struggling for financial resources — have been able to take advantage of.”

Another stalwart of the Internet filmmaking community is Drew Feinberg. His site, Drew’s Script-O-Rama (www.script-o-rama.com) is a resource for neophyte screenwriters where they can read screenplays of produced films and post their own work in the hopes of getting it read by producers. Feinberg says he will post nearly any properly formatted screenplay free of charge so long as the writer can prove authorship.

“I think the first deal that gets made because of my site will open up a floodgate. People will see that just from posting a screenplay on the Internet you can get a deal and start a career,” Feinberg says.

Web slammin’

The Slamdance Film Festival (www.slamdance.com) also is supporting filmmakers in several ways. Founded three years ago by several filmmakers who couldn’t get their films into Sundance, they were one of the first film festivals to fully embrace the power of the Net.

“The festival goes on during one week in the year, and we’re trying to help new filmmakers so it seems absurd to stop there. Our Web site is one way of doing something all year ’round,” says festival director Peter Baxter. One of the directions in which Baxter is taking the Web site is to give new filmmakers a reality check from any overnight-success fantasies they may have.

“We’ve contacted the filmmakers from the past three festivals and asked them to write about the making of their films and about what happened after the festival. It’s a realistic view of how films are actually made and (shows) that it takes months and months of dogged hard work to get a film made,” Baxter says.

War stories

When it goes up this summer, this part of the site will be called War Stories. Another major area on the site is the Digital Marketplace. Here screenwriters and filmmakers with completed films or those looking for completion funds can post a short synopsis, stills or Quicktime clips of their projects. Baxter hopes that with Slamdance’s increasing visibility, the Web site can become a year-round showcase for new talent.

Today the Internet has become the filmmakers’ equivalent to standups’ “open-mike night” at the Improv. “Using the Internet to meet people in Los Angeles, it means that when I actually go there, I’ve already met them on the Net. I can go visit them, we can sit down and talk, we already know each other to some degree,” Craig says.

The number of film-related Web sites has grown from fewer than 100 five years ago to tens of thousands today. And some envision a time, as bandwidth increases, when the Internet could become a venue for films to unspool, thus bypassing traditional distribution altogether.

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