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Raindance: Stage 32’s Richard Botto on Social Media, Education Site’s Short Film Competition

LONDON — In the first of what is planned to be an ongoing series of collaborations with the Raindance Film Festival, L.A.-based multi-media creative website Stage 32 used this year’s event as a launch-pad for their first-ever shorts competition. The result of a meeting with Raindance founder Elliot Grove in Cannes earlier this year, the program is intended as an annual platform for new and low-budget filmmakers.

“Elliot and I had known each other for years,” says Stage 32 CEO Richard Botto, “but we finally met face to face in Cannes, and I presented this idea to him. I said, ‘Look, we have some incredibly talented filmmakers on Stage 32, and what I’d love to do is put together a short film program. Yes, I want to put it online, globally, to our 500,000 members, and whoever else wants to watch it, but I’d love to bring it to a festival as well.’ Elliot was all about it, and so we set up a shorts contest. We brought in executives from The Weinstein Company, Circle of Confusion, Benderspink — we essentially brought in a who’s-who panel of experts — and we received over 1,000 entries.”

The winner was Toronto-born, New York-based Matt Kazman’s “Killer,” a deadpan tale of puberty reminiscent of the work of a young Noah Baumbach. By chance, Kazman had read about the competition, on U.S. website Indiewire, just as he was finishing up the movie. “I had just picture-locked my short,” Kazman recalls, “so I went on their website, made an account and submitted it. Then a few weeks later Richard emailed me and said, ‘I just wanted to let you know that you’re one of the six that’s gonna be screening, and on top that, you’ve won the grand prize.’” He laughs. “I didn’t even know there was a grand prize.”

Founded by Botto in 2011, Stage 32 was started as a reaction to the limits of existing social network sites. “I’m a filmmaker, producer, actor and screenwriter,” he explains, “and I found that most broad-based social media sites weren’t giving me any sort of advantage and the contacts I needed, so I decided to start a niche social network for people working in film, television and theater. The way we launched is, I went to 100 of my industry colleagues and asked them if they would be interested. I showed them the platform and I said, ‘If you like it, invite five fellow creatives, and if you don’t, give me three reasons why.’ I chased all 100 of them down, which took about a month, 97 of them signed up, three of them gave me the three reasons why — they eventually became members — and we continued to build the audience. About a month and a half later we had 10,000 people, and at the end of our first year we had 50,000. Today we have over half a million worldwide.”

Although the site’s primary aim is connectivity, Stage 32 is equally proud of its role in offering education for creative with all levels of experience. Botto says, “With most broad-based media sites you’re dealing with your friends, your family, whoever — you’re not getting targeted marketing or targeted connections. The best way I’ve hear our platform described was in Forbes — Forbes wrote an article about us and they called us ‘LinkedIn meets Lynda for the entertainment industry.’ We really liked that, because LinkedIn does have that element of connecting people, and then, of course, Lynda is the world’s largest education site. So we were very pleased to be compared to them. Even more pleased when LinkedIn bought Lynda for $1.5 billion three months after the article came out! I think we have more of a social component than LinkedIn does, but it does have the same idea of connecting creatives, helping them find work and collaborate.”

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