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DirecTV Teams with Tongal to Crowdsource Documentary Film with $50,000 Budget (Exclusive)

DirecTV is turning to the Internet to find ideas for its next original programming project.

The No. 1 satcaster is partnering with Tongal, a content-crowdsourcing startup, for what the companies are billing as a search for “The Next Great American Documentary”: a 60-minute film that would air in 2015 on DirecTV’s Audience Network channel. The winning concept, picked from submissions by Tongal’s community of 70,000-plus writers and directors, will have a $50,000 budget.

“There are lots of young filmmakers in America,” said Chris Long, DirecTV’s senior VP of original content and production. “We said, ‘Why not give those people a chance to get a great story to be told, and we could be the first one to maybe find a great talent?'”

DirecTV, which ended 2014 with 20.4 million U.S. subscribers, positions its Audience Network channel as providing exclusive content that’s “daring, intriguing and controversial,” Long said. Documentaries the satcaster has run on the channel include “Locker Room Addiction,” about athletes becoming hooked on prescription painkillers, and “Bourbontucky,” about the culture and economy of Kentucky bourbon producers.

For DirecTV’s “Next Great American Documentary,” entries are open to anyone 13 and older in the U.S. Initial submissions will comprise up to 500-character descriptions for the film and may include still images as well as video. After a vote on Tongal, two winning subjects will be selected, after which directors are invited to pitch their participation on the project and produce a five to seven minute sizzle reel based on the concept.

Tongal users will vote on the sizzle-reel entries, with the ultimate winner to be selected by DirecTV. Long said the $50,000 budget does not include much of the below-the-line cost, as the company will provide cameras, equipment as well as post-production services.

Tongal, founded in 2008, recently developed a short film series that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and also has worked with Lionsgate, Facebook and Women in Film on a project calling for female filmmakers to create new shorts based on the “Twilight” franchise characters.

The DirecTV partnership “is interesting for us because distribution is built in,” said James DeJulio, co-founder and president of Tongal.

The “Next Great American Documenty” is Tongal’s second foray into a feature-length docu. Its first project, “Mole Man” — about an autistic man in Western Pennsylvania who built a 28-room underground house out of foraged materials — is sponsored by Exclusive Media.

Tongal has raised $22 million to date from venture-capital firm Insight Venture Partners. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup has about 50 employees.

The page for DirecTV’s documentary project on Tongal is available here.

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