Filmakasantiagorot"Surreal" is the only word that Santiago Tapia can summon to describe his experience during the past  year since a friend sent him an article about a website called Filmaka.com.

Tapia (pictured left) was intrigued by the site’s premise of challenging aspiring auteurs to create short films based on  concepts and loglines suggested by the site. The finalists from a series of monthly competitions vie for the chance to have Filmaka fund the production of feature-length pic budgeted at up to $5 million.

What set Filmaka apart from similar web short film ventures, in Tapia’s eyes, was the company it keeps. Backing the venture was Deepak Nayar, producer of noted indies "Bend it Like Beckham" and "Buena Vista Social  Club," and the list of boldface names he’d assembled to judge the monthly submissions: Colin Firth, Werner Herzog, Neil LaBute, John Madden, Zak Penn, Paul Schrader, Bill Pullman and Wim Wenders.

Tapia moved through the monthly rounds of competition and is now among the finalists waiting to find out Monday (This just in: Winner is 21-year-old Nuru Rimington-Mkali of London. Click here to see his winning pic "And I Refuse to Forget.") if they’re getting a coveted greenlight from Nayar. But Tapia already feels like a winner, because his Filmaka experience has opened more than a few doors for the Boston resident, who’s in the process ofFilmakasecretadvgrant  moving to L.A.

For starters, Tapia’s collection of Filmaka shorts were enough to convince actor Malcolm McDowell to  appear in his final-round pic, "The Secret Adventures of Mr. Grant." (Pictured right. Click here to watch the short.)He’s also been accepted as a  directing fellow in the diversity mentoring program run by Film Independent. And he’s the first  home-grown Filmaka talent to be signed to the fledgling company’s management division.

It’s a far cry from where he was a little over a year ago, fresh out of Boston University with a MFA, having focused on film production. He ran a video production shingle from his living room, but other than getting a few gigs producing short vids for the website of his undergrad alma mater, Harvard (where he earned a degree in biology), Tapia wasn’t overly burdened with work.

Tapia had no shortage of motivation but the structure and deadlines provided by the monthly competitionwas the prod he needed to get cracking, at first on his own dime, and then with a little bit of coin from Filmaka as he advanced through the final rounds.

"I loved the challenge of making films every month. That’s what really got me into it. It was a chance to out there and do something," Tapia says. "It’s one thing to call yourself a director, but you don’t often get the chance to make anything. This opportunity was so exciting."

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