Deepak Nayar's original idea in hatching Filmaka in late 2006 was to create a platform for pitching material that would then be judged by peers and a panel of A-list judges.
The concept was that aspiring film-makers submit one to three-minute short films to the site on designated themes. Every month, the community of film-makers select the 10 highest-quality films and five to 10 additional films are selected by Filmaka executives. Those 15-20 members receive $500 each.
They are then invited into the jury round in which they make a second film. On delivery of those films, they receive $1,000 each. In this round, Nayar explains, judges such as Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog, Zak Penn, Colin Firth, Neil LaBute, Bill Pullman, Paul Schrader and John Madden choose the winner for the month.
'If you were submitting films to a festival, this is the level of what the jury would comprise,' says Nayar, whose producing credits include Buena Vista Social Club, Bend It Like Beckham and Lost Highway. Every month, three winners are selected - first prize, second prize and special jury prize - by the jury members. The first-prize winner collects $3,000 and the second $2,000.
At the end of the year, 36 monthly winners and three wildcard entries enter the final annual contest on a different theme. The winner of the annual contest will then make a feature produced by Nayar under the Filmaka banner.
More than 3,600 young film-makers from 95 countries have so far participated in the Filmaka contests - a community so diverse that when Nayar met Sandy Grushow, the former chairman of Fox TV Entertainment Group, last summer, he immediately saw a potential partner.
'I was blown away by the quality of the content,' says Grushow, 'and I recognised the opportunity to monetise the content by turning many of the short films into web-based series.'
Grushow was well-acquainted with many of the big advertisers in New York from his Fox days and knew that, while they all wanted to invest in the web, they did not want to be associated with the sort of objectionable content that can be found on sites such as YouTube. 'They need high-quality, low-cost content.'
Grushow brought in brewer SAB Miller to sponsor a new contest on the site for an ad campaign or series. He also enlisted Fox network FX to back a contest for potential pilots.
The winner of the FX contest will receive $40,000 to shoot a 15 to 20-minute pilot presentation for a possible series order. And recently UK band Unkle used Filmaka's competition mechanism to discover James Ward, an animator whose idea became the video for their song Restless.
William Morris Agency is involved in Filmaka as its agency representative and will meet the top seven finalists each year for possible representation. And Filmaka has plans to launch its own management company to represent each year's 39 finalists. 'The mission of this company is to create career opportunities for our community members,' says Nayar.
'It's an extension of what I do,' says Grushow, who counts hit shows such as American Idol, 24 and The X-Files among his achievements. 'Instead of 20 people with whom I have an overall deal for way too much money, I get to go out into the world and tap into their talent for no money.'