Social networking has moved from the computer screen to the big screen. The first cinema production made with the help of contributions from an online community is to receive its world premiere later this month.
For Faintheart, a comedy centring on a battle reenactment club, the director and much of the music were chosen by users of the networking site MySpace.
The same online group was asked to compete in auditions for some of the smaller parts and users were even asked how elements of the plot should develop.
“It’s the world’s first publicly generated movie,” said Jamie Kantrowitz, vice-president of marketing for MySpace. “It’s about involving a potential audience for a movie in the making of the film itself.”
The idea may catch on as producers look for new ways to gain the attention of audiences, with MySpace already working on a screen adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s latest novel. The bestselling Brazilian author, whose novel The Alchemist has sold more than 30m copies in nearly 70 languages, is teaming up with MySpace users around the world to create a television version of The Witch of Portobello. They are asked to send in video adaptations of the 15 storylines in the book and to submit music.
“When I decided to create my first movie together with my readers, MySpace came quickly to mind,” said Coelho, who was an early convert to allowing his books to be read online. “It also has that ability to connect artists, musicians and film-makers around the world.”
The Faintheart movie, which cost £1.3m to make, will be shown in public for the first time on the closing night of the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 28. It stars Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in the 1996 film Trainspotting, and Jessica Hynes (formerly Stevenson), who appeared in The Royle Family and Shaun of the Dead.
The story revolves around Richard, played by Eddie Marsan, whose films have included Miami Vice and The Illusionist. He is a lowly sales assistant who spends his weekends dressing up as a Norse warrior with his friends. Meanwhile, his wife and son are becoming increasingly fed up with a father who seems to prefer living in the Viking age.
Faintheart may be conventional in subject and style, but the way it was put together – with elements from social networking and reality TV – marks a departure in film-making.
The idea came from Vertigo, a British production and distribution company whose films have included The Football Factory and It’s All Gone Pete Tong.
Vertigo had previously marketed some of its films on MySpace, which is owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Sunday Times. It then decided to take the idea a stage further by involving the users of the social network in making the film. The two companies approached FilmFour because of its record of making innovative films.
MySpace set up a website and asked would-be directors to send in a short film showcasing their skills. Almost 1,000 shorts arrived, which were whittled down to 12. A panel from the film industry, including the actress Sienna Miller, cut that down to three. The final shortlist was put back on MySpace and the website’s users chose the winning film-maker. A total of 500,000 votes were cast online at various stages of the process.
They chose Vito Rocco, who, despite his Italian name, is English. He is an award-winning maker of short films and promotions. “Vito already had an idea for a movie and a script that he was developing,” said Rupert Preston, head of distribution at Vertigo. “This was what has turned out to be Faintheart.”
After the MySpace community had chosen the director, users were invited to audition online by posting videos of themselves on the website for 10 of the smaller roles. About 20,000 auditioned. They were asked to send in jokes for the film as they followed its development online.
Next came the music, with MySpace users choosing the 10 songs and some of the bands in the film. Finally, as it was being shot – in the West Midlands – scenes were posted online, so users could even influence the plot with their comments.
“The nearest analogy is with a band or group who have some new songs which they play at gigs,” said Peter Carlton, senior commissioning executive at FilmFour. “They try them out and refine them according to how they go down with their audience before they record them.”
Arctic Monkeys were one of the first bands to come to prominence via the internet. Lily Allen has also made extensive use of online promotion.
“The British film industry has recently suffered from a lack of connection between movie-makers and their audience,” Carlton said. “With the internet, we should connect again.”