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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Politics

Film commissions want to help locals go viral

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— Superheroes may dominate at the box office but not necessarily in the chatter among those in the production industry these days.

That distinction is now shared by online-only television shows known as Web series that are earning some producers millions of dollars.

In March, Web series creator and Web broadcaster Maker Studios was sold to Disney for $500 million.

Then in June, Swedish online video game reviewer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg made headlines with the news he made $4 million in 2013 simply by doing his job on video and talking about it.

“Seemingly everywhere you go in Los Angeles, web-based content is part of the conversation,” said Dale Gordon, executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Film and Digital Media Commission. “Everyone wants to cash in on this.”

That includes Gordon and her counterpart across the bay, Tony Armer, St. Petersburg-Clearwater film commissioner.

Separately, they’re working to offer up-and-coming Internet producers equipment, a soundstage and marketing advisers.

“No matter how talented someone is, if they don’t have access to the best cameras or lenses or lights, they can only make their production look so good,” said Tampa- based Web series producer David Andrade.

“This initiative will be a great thing for the area’s Web content producers. It could help make their productions marketable and profitable.”

Andrade gave up a career as a visual effects artist on films including “Snow White and the Huntsman” to focus on a Web series he’s paying for.

Ray & Clovis” features a sophisticated guitar-playing iguana and an immature lazy cat, carrying on at www.theoryanimation.com.

YouTube has created Web content studios in Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo.

To use them, a producer must have more than 10,000 regular unique viewers.

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Qualifications for the local studios are still being worked out. Content would include Web series of all kinds: sketch comedy, how-to videos, sitcoms, dramatic shows, talk shows or one-person shows.

Gordon and Armer are developing budgets first then seeking money through private and public sources.

Gordon could not give a timetable. Armer hopes to have his effort up and running this year.

Tampa filmmaker Preston Walden is eager to see one of the studios open soon.

He is set to begin a Web series called “The Grey Room Chronicles,” an apocalyptic tale about a final battle for souls.

“That is just a fantastic idea,” Walden said. “I want to make as many episodes as I can, so if one is ready in a year or so I will use it and I know a lot of filmmakers who would feel the same way.”

Said Armer, “I always hear that the Internet is the future of the industry. Wrong. It is present. The numbers show this.”

Internet analyst ComScore reports that in May 2014, 183.4 million Americans watched online videos other than commercials on their computers. Stats on mobile devices aren’t available yet.

YouTube says more than 1 billion unique users worldwide watch over 6 billion hours of video each month on its site and that more than 100 hours of video are uploaded there every minute. YouTube reaches more adults in the United States ages 18-34 than any cable network, according to Nielsen.

More online videos are finding their way to traditional TV sets through streaming devices. Apple alone has sold over 20 million since 2007.

“We can watch a movie or show anywhere now — on our cellphones while at a bus stop if we want,” said Brett Leonard, director of “The Lawnmower Man,” “Virtuosity” and “Highlander: The Source.” “There is a new market for content and a new way of parsing it.”

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In Hollywood, Leonard, a pioneer of digital visual effects, is considered one of the top mentors for aspiring online filmmakers. The Producers Guild of America lists him as among the 25 visionaries leading the advancement of storytelling through digital media.

A success in the traditional Hollywood system, Leonard also produced two online films, “The Other Country” and “Burlap to Cashmere,” that can he broken up into five- to 10-minute downloadable segments on www.popfictionlife.com.

“It is a time of radical change,” Leonard said. “And these new opportunities mean new stories will be told by new voices.”

Among his favorite Web series is “The Human Condition,” created by 29-year-old graduates of East Lake High — Brandon Rodriguez, Arnie Pantoja and Keith Pratt — all of whom Leonard has mentored.

“The Human Condition” is a narrated nature series with a twist: The animal subjects are three human roommates with the worst of young male characteristics. Episodes are at www.thisisthc.com.

“It is so wrong it is right,” Leonard said. “And without the Internet, it may not have gotten a chance.”

Despite such praise, Rodriguez could never get a meeting to pitch his series to television executives.

“Unless your idea fits into that small box of what they consider safe and bankable, it will not get a fair look,” Rodriguez said. “So we released it online to create a following and then hopefully the networks take notice that people like it.”

The Cartoon Network’s “High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange” took such a path. The comedy about the adventures of the feckless fruit and his friend began online.

If “The Human Condition” becomes a hit, the Tampa Bay area will see little benefit because the creators had to move to Los Angeles and have no plans of returning.

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Armer said he is tired of the area’s talent going elsewhere but understands they leave to find the support other cities offer: a traditional studio system, maybe, or the big cash incentives that major motion pictures demand now.

“Many of these Web films and shows don’t spend the type of money that qualifies for tax incentives so they are looking for the type of support a city provides rather than financial incentives,” Armer said.

Some producers see Web as a springboard to traditional television. Others see money to be made on the new medium.

Internet producers earn money from online commercials and banner ads that play before and during their video on sites such as YouTube and AOL, etc.

The producer receives a portion of the proceeds, normally 55 percent.

In 2013, those who streamed videos through YouTube earned $7.60 per 1,000 views — not much unless a show goes viral and overnight millionaires like game reviewer Kjellberg are born.

Kjellberg has uploaded more than 1,000 videos viewed more 5 billion times, according to SocialBlade.com, a YouTube tracking website. He adds to his profits with merchandise and sponsorships.

Mehdy Ghannad of Tampa has not reached that level yet, though he has landed a sponsor with the 300,000 page views his Web series “The Hostel Life” has received.

The international travel show focuses on the backpacking experience, at www.thehostellife.com.

Tourism boards across the country sponsor him so he will feature their location.

“The backpack traveler is 20 percent of the travel market,” Ghannad said. “I have a niche that tourism boards want to reach.”

Said Armer, “It is a billion-dollar industry. We want the money used on productions and the money earned to be spent in our cities.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

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