The art of filmmaking is, in many ways, the celebration of a singularity of vision, with auteur filmmakers telling stories that are at once personal and universal.
Marty Shea and Ian Bonner also want to tell stories that are personal and universal. But they’re more interested in the collaborative voice. Their company, CollabFeature, .has turned the idea of feature filmmaking on its head, making films by group. Their first feature, The Owner, released in May 2012, has 25 directors. And that earned them a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the Most Directors on a Film.
“It’s a unique way of making a film because you have 25 different perspectives and 25 different backgrounds,” says John Versical, a Chicago filmmaker who is one of The Owner’s directors.
The directors also do all the post. While one person was editing, says Versical, “we had a composer in Spain doing a soundtrack, we had a guy doing post audio in Berlin and the color was being done in a post house in South Africa.”
Turning short films into features
The idea behind CollabFeature is to break the story into segments and then have filmmakers shoot only their portion. The trick, though, is to make the segments come together to tell a coherent story.
“It’s really hard to make a good feature film,” says CollabFeature co-founder Shea. “You either have to raise a ton of money or you end up shooting it over a long period of time,” losing actors and, perhaps, interest. Bringing filmmakers together to make short films as part of a longer feature, Shea says, “just seemed the logical thing to do from a logistics point of view.”
Yet, the logistics are not as easy as they might seem. Shea built an online interface in which filmmakers can come together to throw out ideas and upload rough cuts. And write the initial script.
The Owner is a MacGuffin film about a backpack that travels the world. The contents of the backpack give clues to the identity of Mr. MacGuffin and illuminate the lives of the people who find them. Versical’s segment is about a drifter who finds the backpack and takes it on an American cross country journey.
The Owner has played at some film festivals and has had screenings in a number of cities connected with the filmmakers – who are scattered throughout the world. It can be downloaded or streamed at collabfeature.com.
Shea said he expects The Owner to break even sometime in the next few months, at which point the 25 contributors will be sharing profits. Just like the making of the film, the profit sharing is collaborative and complicated. Shea built a database that takes into account the filmmakers’ contributions to the structure of the piece as well as their help in creating graphics, doing promotion, and taking on the role of the central editor (which switched between some, but not all, of the 25 directors), among other criteria.
“Everybody gets a share based on their contribution to the film itself and how much they participate in the big picture process,” says Shea.
The CollabFeature team is currently in production on The Train Station, a series about someone looking for an heir. Those who want to be involved can contact Shea or Bonner at the CollabeFeature website.