It sounds like any jaded Hollywood exec's worst nightmare: inviting Joe six-pack to pitch you a film idea. But that's exactly the proposition from Larry Meistrich's latest venture, Nehst Studios, a content financing, development, production, and distribution company.
Nehst (pronounced "next") hosts bootcamps for aspiring film-makers and offers an online platform (pitchnehst.com) that allows anyone to pitch an idea at any stage from a basic treatment to a finished film. The basic cost to submit a project is just $10. "We want to bridge the gap between user-generated content and professionalism," says Meistrich, who previously founded indie studio The Shooting Gallery, where he produced films including Sling Blade and You Can Count On Me.
Since its official launch in May 2007, Nehst has signed on to work for about 40 new properties (including Web series and TV projects). Nehst works with film-makers in different ways determined by the project: taking on all North American rights or just signing a development deal to help with a script.
"We've had thousands of pitches and I've been shocked by the quality. I thought there might be one gem out of 1000 but people have really good ideas, and some are flat out ready to go," Meistrich says.
Nehst, which Meistrich founded with tech entrepreneur Ari Friedman, is privately backed and Meistrich says it has access to a $100m fund. Nehst plan to produce features in the $2m-$50m range, partnering with a studio for the higher end. Meistrich says taking advantage of US state tax incentives will be an important piece of the puzzle.
Pitch Nehst has seen submissions from 15 countries and Meistrich says he definitely wants to work with international partners. The company also plans to build Spanish-language versions of its sites (including screentest.biz which connects aspiring actors/extras with casting agents).
Building consumer interest from inception is a key part of Meistrich's philosophy. For instance, thousands of people signed up for a chance to run alongside world-class marathoners Charlie Engle and Marshall Ulrich for scenes in documentary Running America. Meistrich now has a marketing database of people directly interested in the project.
Meistrich is also very keen to partner with charities and brands, not for financial backing but for their marketing power. For instance, Running America is working with charity The United Way as well as companies including Super 8 Motels, AXA insurance and retailer Champs Sports.
Nehst's other current projects include the DVD and theatrical release of 41, a film about the youngest victim of a Rhode Island nightclub fire; documentary Running The Sahara hitting 20 theatrical markets this autumn; and its follow-up Running America now shooting with a potential Cannes launch. Fictional features in the works include lower-budget horror film Ratred, gang-war action film Blood Stripe, Second World War spy/love story Madeline and family drama The Flicker's Dance. Most are now at the packaging stage.
Another new venture Meistrich has launched with ex-Marine Cary Abbott is GI Pictures, seeking films by current or former members of the armed forces or their dependents. Projects won't necessarily be military-related stories, Meistrich is just keen to give a voice to people not traditionally encouraged by the entertainment industry.
"I want to align myself with the people who are ultimately the consumer," he says. "I say to the consumer, tell me what you want, and we can go acquire or make it. At some point the industry will look at us and say, 'That kind of makes sense."'