What Does a Feature Film for the Web Look Like?

Here's a question: what is Film 2.0?

With my goal of making and releasing a "web feature" looming in the near future, I am beginning to question even the very nature of what that means. We all know what a traditional feature film looks like, and we can still see them in the theater, on TV, on DVD and streamed to our computer or smartphone. They are still viable forms of entertainment and creative satisfaction (with the potential for profit) for the filmmaker. So why am I worried?

I've had this nagging at the back of my brain that, for the microbudget creator, we need to do something different that hasn't really been done yet. It seems that while we acknowledge that the internet is still the Wild West with all kinds of possibilities, we still want to shoehorn old models into it. I strongly believe in a free web release of whatever project I end up making, but why should that project come from the same box that I'm trying to escape with an unorthodox release model?

In other words, if I want to try new and unusual distribution methods, shouldn't the project itself be new and unusual?

This idea makes me question everything about what I already know about filmmaking. Narrative structure. Character development. Presentation. Running time. I'm not saying I should throw everything out and reinvent the wheel. Not at all. It would not only be stupid and arrogant (who am I to say that over a hundred years of filmmaking history is wrong for the web?) but crazy. We should learn and adapt what we already know, taking the best things about story, character, training and experience and letting them inspire us to take chances and be adventurous.

Take YouTube for example. Right now, it's the best place to host content. Sure, Vimeo may look slightly better, but YouTube offers the chance to make a little money from what we are doing. You make partner and the doors of time open wide open and the profit window cracks a bit. No other service can claim this. Not only that, but the annotation feature is a creative embryo that practically dares us to do something really cool. Linking to other videos and director's commentaries is just scratching the surface. We need to scratch harder.

This begs another issue--interactivity. Give the user (again, within YouTube so you can make a little bit of money) something else to do other than watch and they won't click away (or to another point in the timeline). Keep them involved. Become a partner with them in the story. Make them part of the story. Make them the story.

Video games. Alternate Reality Gaming. Role Playing Games. Choose Your Own Adventure books. It's all interactive storytelling. What can we learn (read: "steal") from these sources?

Another important component in all this is still cost. I don't want to trash frugality. Having some grandiose idea that takes years to fund and implement is a giant step backward. Use the inexpensive tools we have at our disposal to create. We can't compete with Hollywood and big corporations, but we aren't bound by their rules and formulas, either. Make something they won't in a way they wouldn't touch and begin carving a place for yourself.

Obviously, I don't have all the answers. This is more of a rant to get us all thinking. I want to hear your ideas.

For a continued discussion on this topic, click here for part 2.


Just Dusty said…
I think the questions you are asking are sort of being asked again and again among people making movies in their free time. My thoughts on the matter are we suffer more from bad marketing than lack of distribution.

as the internet will find a way if there is a demand. It is my belief that the moniker of "indie film" is incorrect for movies made with no budgets. that this titling actually hurts our efforts to build an audience. I think the new term that should be used to describe this new cinematic scene should be micro film. Micro film should be a brand that as a collective of micro filmmakers we can co-market and brand our work to help build an audience and eventually create demand for said content.

indie film is film festivals and micro flim is the internet.
Allan Mackey said…
We did an interactive movie a few years ago. When the YouTube annotation tech was still newish. At the time, we were the most elaborate of this bunch with 29 endings and many branching paths.

It was a lot of fun, a ton of work, and I certainly haven't ruled out doing it again.

First, though I'd love to do a re-edit on that first one for DVD. (Look up "interactive horror movie, survive the house" if you're curious.)
Unknown said…
I was musing to my wife a couple days ago about how there are more and more TV, web, and mobile avenues for distribution every week and, conversely, fewer and fewer physical theaters. Just as TV killed movie-goers many decades ago, so will the preponderance of distribution avenues limit the theater model. The theater model is quite outdated - they take films from distributors who are middle-men and show them to audiences who learn about them from other media and the theater-owners agree to buy all the lousy ones so they still get the big blockbusters. The model has worked for a long time. The internet presents a unique option: the filmmaker acts as financier (in Hollywood, you never make a film with your own money or so the saying goes), distributor, and marketer. Also, with resources like kickstarter, you can raise the capital to produce the film from the very people who will later be your biggest fans and could actually act as marketing. This is really an unprecedented approach to entertainment where the user has control over every aspect of the show.
Paul Calderon said…
I teach film at the community college. I've been there over ten years. Your question is one I always ask my students. They are young, "hungry and foolish". This makes a winning combo. I tell them to embrace the medium you have at hand. Don't worry about what you don't have. Use the gear you have. I was at AFI in 2000. Intel had a lab there. What I witnessed in development has yet to hit the public. It's going to be a game changer. Full out interactive programming. I think that the early adapters and experimenters of online interactive story content will be head and shoulders above the crowd in the soon coming future. We can even go as far as making movies interactive to cator to specific locations. I say learn the rudiments of story. Start with the basics of a solid script. Master the three act structure. Then, like what all great poets do, mash up the rules to fit your vision. Explore! Be bold and risky. It's going to go only as far as our imaginations take it.