A simple setup can go a long way if the delivery is right. Such is clearly the case for comedy, where a hook leads to an inevitable punch line. The same goes for the film and television industries, where concepts must be pitched with an energy and clarity that leaves producers wanting more. Screenwriters, directors, and effects artists have long presented “proof of concept” proposals as a way to showcase their style. This has been the case for decades, but a pair of recent deals, both involving director Neil Blomkamp (District 9), hint that today’s social and viral sensibilities might just be changing this model altogether.
Proof of concept videos are still invaluable tools for pitching in the visual worlds of film and television. Previously, visual films like Sin City and Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow were presented directly to producers with pre-packaged clips selling the films’ look and style. In the case of Sky Captain, director Kerry Conran spent four years creating a teaser trailer for his concept using a homemade blue screen and his Macintosh IIci. Conran took the trailer directly to producers, and the film was eventually financed. Today, it’s much harder for filmmakers to reach that critical step of getting their work before a producer.
This past week, Ruairi Robinson’s short film, The Leviathan, an amazing three-minute scene depicting an intergalactic whale hunt, earned over a million views online and was shared across social media. Scores of people, myself included, took to the internet to applaud Robinson’s concept as refreshingly original science fiction. Days later, it was announced that producers Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past) and Neil Blomkamp are bringing The Leviathan to life in a script to be penned by Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls.
The viral success of The Leviathan helped fast track it from short film to feature in just one week. A similar success happened earlier this year, when Blomkamp himself shared a series of artist renderings on Instagram for a then stalled Alien sequel. The photos went instantly viral, overshadowing the imminent release of his newest film, Chappie, with countless articles and social media campaigns to get Blomkamp’s Alien film made. Sure enough, the film is now in pre-production. Another example is last year’s “leaked” Deadpool test footage, which similarly took the web by storm and is now officially in production as well.
We are living in a time of immediacy and access, where fans have a direct say in the films that are being produced. It’s a wild new age where proof of concept shorts must rely on their social virality to get the attention of producers and financiers. As great as this all sounds, however, the question becomes clear; does this new world of the creator to fan pitch make it easier, or harder for aspiring filmmakers to break through?
It all brings to mind the idea of another leviathan; Moby Dick. The story of Moby Dick and Ahab is as good a metaphor as any for today’s viral culture. The film industry is, has been, and likely always will be an elusive and seemingly insurmountable white whale. While its now easier than ever for filmmakers to chase their dreams and create their own projects, the chances of them catching that dream rely more on desire, dedication, timing, and skill than ever before. The film industry might be changing, but unique voices will forever be the ones to succeed at having their stories cut through all of the noise.