Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Jul. 11th
JuntoBox Films, the Santa Monica based collaborative film studio, has been making waves again in the past month. Their model, which puts a crowdsourced twist on the movie making process, helped earn co-chairman Forest Whitaker a spot on the Indiewire Influencers list.
A little over a year ago JuntoBox was in beta, getting ready to make their first green light announcement. Recently, on the eve of their latest green light, I had the chance to visit their space at Santa Monica's Bergamot Station and speak with founder Philippe Caland and head of digital Rachael McLean about the maturation of the company.
The hub of the space at Bergamot is a screening room that looks like the most comfortable living room imaginable, with the screen high on the back wall and enough cushy chairs to seat a production team and then some. It's a physical metaphor for the company's online networking platform, one that indicates a possible destiny for the company.
JuntoBox is built around the idea that independent filmmakers are stronger when they can look out for each other. This was born out of Caland's own experiences as a filmmaker which began with the 1993 film Boxing Helena.
"I realized that an independent filmmaker in this town at some point looses his independence completely," said Caland. "It was a big word: independent, but there was nothing independent about the business. At that point I thought the best way to really give independence to the filmmakers is to give them the tools to get them together."
The main function of the JuntoBox platform is to act as a development filtration system. Filmmakers can use the site to upload project profiles, in the hopes that they will bubble up through a five step process and land a production deal with the company.
Filmmakers and other users of the site are the audience for these profiles. If a project garners enough support it moves on through the process. If that was all there was to JuntoBox it wouldn't be all that interesting, or have much in the way of legs. After all, there are only so many projects the company can greenlight on their own. To have a healthy community JuntoBox needs to attract more than just the handful of projects that have a hope of scoring a contract.
As Caland envisioned, the platform provides tools for independent filmmakers whether their goal is to get a deal with the company or not.
McLean, who was Vice President of International Digital Media at MTV Networks, explained the tool "crew up", which helps filmmakers connect with others who can work on their projects.
"They can add everything in there and then people can apply for the position," said McLean. "That's become a really popular area."
According to McLean a partnership with IndieGoGo, which allows for filmmakers to bring the crowdfunding site's module into their JuntoBox project, was in response to the desire of the community. The users wanted to merge the crowd sourcing tools that the company provides with the crowdfunding tools they're comfortable with.
McLean sees JuntoBox as providing an essential part of the mix that is often overlooked by first time filmmakers.
"Crowdfunding is great, everyone knows, if you have the audience," said McLean. "If you have the network that can come in there and help get behind you. What we're trying to do is create that, but also create the environment where its not just the funding, but its also the support of getting through how you make a film and being part of that community."
That idea–putting the building of a community first before looking to raise funds for a project–is something any would-be practitioner of crowdfunding should pay close attention to.
The JuntoBox focus on community also extends to how the company is approaching the distribution of films they produce.
"There are all kinds of new avenues for distribution," said Caland. "From our point of view as a company when you go to distributors–and they are bigger, strategic distributors–if you go to them as a producer and you have one film, then they talk to you as a producer. If you go to them as a content provider, then you can strike strategic alliances. So we're in a place right now where we're reinforcing ourselves as content providers, and that is creating a community."
Distribution is the part of the film ecosystem that seems to be both the most in flux and the most in need of disruption. Even as Caland says that JuntoBox is looking towards building a strong slate of films that will give them negotiating power with distributors, he sees other possible futures.
"Probably what's going to happen between now and then is there's going to be a new chapter in distribution. New avenues, some that we could bring into our own system and start having exits for our own films without going to other people."
Caland notes that this would require "serious marketing dollars" to get up and running.
Before all that can come to pass the intital films the company has sheparded into production have to reach audiences. The question of whether or not this kind of crowd sourcing model can produce a film that moves people has yet to be answered.
That time is fast aproaching, as JuntoBox Film's first feature Sacrifice is now in post-production. Meanwhile, the company is using their cushy Bergamot Station digs as a place for their online community to get together in person, forging tighter bounds than the internet alone can forge.
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