Collaborative movie „The Owner“ hits iTunes [Interview]

A few days ago I got an invitation on Facebook for the iTunes Launch of CollabFeature’s „The Owner“. I remembered the project and its collaborative approach on filmmaking and contacted some people I knew were part of it. Berlin based Xavier Agudo is one of the 25 filmmakers that were in the team. He is Lead Producer and also in charge of Press and Promotion. I asked him a few questions about CollabFeature and The Owner and he told me more about the movie and the filmmaking process behind it.

The Owner Premiere

Wolfgang: Xavier, you are the „captain“ of public relations at „CollabFeature“. Can you tell us more about the project?

Xavier: CollabFeature is a group of filmmakers from all over the world that come together through the Internet to make movies and other audiovisual content. The project was initiated by Marty Shea and Ian Bonner in Detroit, USA and through a global call for filmmakers the group has expanded to include now more than 100 filmmakers from all over the world.

CollabFeature has already 3 projects in motion. The very first was the feature film „The Owner“ which premiered yesterday (10.6.14) on iTunes and other platforms. This film was written, directed and produced by 25 filmmakers in 13 different countries and got the Guiness World Record for most directors in a film. It also won the 2012 Deutscher IPTV Award for most innovative format and it premiered in Cinemas around the world simultaneously on May 25th of 2012.

It follows a backpack that travels around the world through different adventures on its way back to its owner. Each segment, directed by a different director, showcases a different genre, a different language, a different culture and a different filming style. The narrative is continuous and cohesive as the backpack is sent to a different part of the world where a new adventure and glimpses of its owner is presented.

A second feature film called „Train Station“ – this time with more than 40 directors in 25 countries – is now in Post-Production and we´re planning to release it later this year and a most ambitious project, a TV Series called „A Billion to One“ is in the developing stages involving more than 100 filmmakers around the globe.

Wolfgang: How can filmmakers be a part of this network?

Xavier: The process of admission to the group is a democratic one. Once a filmmaker applies, the members of the group vote for the filmmakers they think should become part of the group. Your Show Reel, Festival track record and overall style and talent are things that could get you high points. But also if you’re a talented filmmaker from a remote location of the world you will get more chances. But experience and festival track records are not necessarily a must, you need to show enthusiasm, commitment and most of all „camaraderie“, team work and patience (these are projects that take a long span to complete). To be part of CollabFeature all you need to do is apply here:

Wolfgang: Once you are part of the team, how does it work in terms of collaboration?

Xavier: The specifics depend on the project but basically once you are part of the team you get access to an Internet Platform where you will find the next steps, forums, discussions, etc. Generally the first step involves a general Brain Storming of ideas. The group vote for the best ideas and the filmmakers keep refining the ideas or proposing new ones until the group approves them.

Then each filmmaker writes his/her script and again it is submitted for group feedback and voting for refining and re-writes. Once the re-writes are approved, the lead producers green light the script and the pre-production begins. Every filmmaker is responsible for their own budget, financing, cast and crew. Once the shoot is done, the filmmaker submits a rough cut of their segment (we use Vimeo in private groups). And again group feedback and voting through our platform is submitted and then the cuts refined. The filmmaker also needs to send all raw footage and audio to Detroit in a Hard Drive for the online processes. A team is assembled for online editing, color correction, sound design etc. and each filmmaker take tasks like shooting additional inserts, editing other segments, press, research, promotion, managing composers, subtitles and a large list of etc. There are group captains and lead producers that oversee and coordinate all of these tasks.

Finally an online editor puts all segments together and it goes through the finishing processes until we have a final film. In the case of „the owner“ each filmmaker organized theatrical screenings in almost all the cities where we shot the film and we had a simultaneous World Premiere on the same day.

Wolfgang: How do you finance such a project?

Xavier: The financing is sole responsibility of every filmmaker. CollabFeature is responsible of maintaining the Internet platform and assumes costs related to shipment of props, hard drives and general operational costs including lawyers etc. But each filmmakers is free to create a budget as high or as low as they can and raise the funds in any way they want. Some filmmakers have acquired sponsors or even local funding and the budgets range from Guerrilla style with DSLR cameras to full blown productions with RED or other high end cameras. The challenge and the interesting thing about the results is that all of those different levels of budgets, formats and production values are combined and homogenized in a cohesive narrative.

As I said, every filmmaker was responsible for their own financing so everyone had different approaches. In my specific case, we designed the segment to cost virtually nothing, using cameras we owned and locations we knew we could use for free. The little money we needed for things like food or hard drives were taken from our own pocket.

Wolfgang: Do social networks play a role in those complex communication processes?

Xavier: All of our communication takes place on the CollabFeature platform. When a filmmaker is unresponsive we might use social networks to communicate with him but we mostly avoid even using email. Social networks play a big role for us in promotion and recruiting through our Facebook page with more than 17k likes and personal profiles of filmmakers.

Wolfgang: How did those single networks convert in terms of people who went to the screenings?

Xavier: That’s very hard to measure and every filmmaker may have used them differently. All I can say is that social networks were our main if not only way of promotion, at least for the Berlin screening.

Wolfgang: Although the project would not have been possible without the Internet, it took nearly two years for distributing the movie online. Why’s that?

Xavier: After we premiered in cinemas in 2012 we had a contract with a sales agent in Australia that took the film to Cannes to try to get a classic distribution deal. That contract was in place for one year in which we couldn’t do anything with the movie but we used the time to play at some festivals. Then came a second contract with another agent and we also launched the movie ourselves on DVD over Create Space on Amazon and started experimenting with self distribution methods over Distrify, but after one year we then found a new Digital Sales Agent in the US that loved the movie and made it possible for us to get in all the popular VOD platforms like iTunes, Cable VOD, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox, Playstation, etc.

Wolfgang: Will it also be available on iTunes in Austria, Germany and other countries outside the US?

Xavier: Our agent is working on getting the film everywhere and since we have German, Spanish, Portuguese and French subtitles, the movie will be available on those markets, hopefully very soon.

Wolfgang: Great, thank you for the interview!

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  1. […] COLLABORATIVE MOVIE “THE OWNER” HITS ITUNES [INTERVIEW]: Für mein Social Film Marketing-Blog habe ich Xavier Agudo zum kollaborativen Filmprojekt “The Owner” interviewt. […]