(Note: This is a longer version of a story that's running in today's Daily Variety)

With consolidation sweeping through the film industry and
indie shingles closing down at a rapid clip, it’s harder than ever for budding
filmmakers to get a break. But a new Website that counts three members of the
Academy among its ranks is looking to make it a little easier.Caan, James headshot - Copy  

Openfilm.com emerges from its beta period Thursday with a
series of grants for filmmakers, its own distribution company and an advisory
board that includes actors James Caan, Robert Duvall and Scott Caan, along with
director Mark Rydell.

“There are certain people [whose films] I’ll go see and
certain ones I won’t,” says James Caan, who is also chairman of Openfilm. “We
need more of those people you’re going to go see. And that’s what we’re trying
to do.”

The site, which has been in beta mode for a little over a
year, aims to be a community for independent filmmakers, letting them upload
short works and get feedback from peers and pros. Auteurs can also sell
downloadable versions of those works through the site, with Openfilm taking
just $0.69 per sale, regardless of the film’s price.

20,000 people have already signed on as registered members
and Openfilm has over 5,000 short films in its library. As it expands, it’s
looking to not only boost those numbers, but also to give additional exposure
to members.

Already in place is a deal with Tivo, which syndicates three
or four films per week from the site. Openfilm also plans to award $1 million
in grants over the next 20 months. Four filmmakers will receive $50,000 in cash
and $200,000 in financing. Any film uploaded to the site is eligible for the
award. The six films that receive the most votes from the community will be
viewed by the advisory board, which will select the winner.

“It’s sort of an ‘American Idol’ thing,” says Caan. “I hate
to use that example, but I know there are people out there who are capable.
This just opens things up for them.”

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