Many independent film-makers try to self-distribute their films or use new platforms; Lance Weiler has actually succeeded in grossing $5m from the self-distribution and digital dissemination of his past work.
The Pennsylvania-based writer-director pioneered digital distribution with 1998's The Last Broadcast and 2006's Head Trauma and is now planning his most ambitious work to date - cross-media horror project HIM.
As a feature film, HIM will be based on Weiler's original screenplay about a sleep virus that strikes the adults of a small town, leaving the youth to fight for their lives. To complement the feature, Weiler and his company Seize The Media (STM) will create an alternate reality game, episodic shorts for the web or mobile platforms, interactive live events and an online graphic novel.
'I was fascinated by the story being able to live beyond one particular screen,' Weiler says.
'I'd usually start writing a three-act screenplay, but with this I started with a game bible, where you figure out the worlds and how the characters are connected. From there I wrote the mobile series and some plans for gaming, and by the time I wrote the screenplay I really understood the motivation of the characters.'
Weiler recently brought HIM to the Rotterdam festival's CineMart, where he was surprised by the high level of interest. 'CineMart tends to be for more traditional projects,' he explains. 'But people were very interested. Especially in the current market, I think people are more open to exploring new models.' Indeed, the film took CineMart's Arte France Cinema Award with a prize of $13,000 (EUR10,000).
New platforms could mean new financial models as well, and Weiler says he is still getting his head around what might work best for the total budget of $4m-$6m. 'Right now, we're finding out the best structure,' he says. There is a lot of interest from larger producers, big brands who could come on board as sponsors, or European co-producers who could be vital if the storyline shows the global spread of the epidemic.
The ideas for HIM grew out of the work done at STM. The social entertainment company, Weiler says, 'bridges the gap between technology and entertainment'. Clients have included MySpace, CAA, Hammer Films and Universal. STM also worked on Head Trauma, creating a related web series/game that drew 2.5 million visitors in just four weeks prior to the project's VoD launch and also fed into live events.
Part of the HIM game component is already out to the public, and Weiler says the film will likely shoot before the end of 2009. Tommy Pallotta (A Scanner Darkly) will produce.
For all his pioneering ideas, Weiler is adamant that new media won't transform the basic power of film-making. 'HIM at its core is a film with a strong story,' he says. 'These other platforms are ways to build on that story. It's not just gimmicks, they all serve the story.'