Independent filmmakers work in most countries of the world, shooting their work on a dream and a shoestring, creating visual recordings of their vision in order to share it with the world. They meet at indie festivals that allow them to show their work and make contacts, in the hope of securing funding and support for their next venture.
“We started CollabFeature without knowing what the first film would be,” said Shea. “We wanted to start a conversation about collaborative filmmaking and see where it went. There are many independent filmmakers in the world but not a lot of opportunities for us to reach a large audience.” Shea and Bonner concluded that by collaborating, filmmakers would be able to pool their resources together to create independent film projects without the need for outside funding.
The first project CollabFeature embarked on was the “Backpack Project”, which became The Owner, made by 25 filmmakers from over five different continents. The Owner follows a backpack as it travels around the world. And with each new character passing it along to the next, more of the secrets of the owner of the backpack are revealed.
Initially, Bonner and Shea selected participating filmmakers by asking them to submit previous work, but as CollabFeature has grown those who are involved are inviting other filmmakers to become part of the project.
Making a feature film in locations all over the world using different directors and crews was not always easy. “In the beginning things went much slower than we had hoped,” said Shea. “There were lots of little headaches along the way. One filmmaker got sick and was unable to shoot his segment even though we had already built the story and the geography of the story around him. There were delays with international shipping that drove us all crazy and in one case delayed a shoot.”
Besides the headaches, pleasant surprises were also part of the process of making The Owner . “The best surprises were always when a segment came in and there was something especially great about it. Sometimes the photography or a great performance by an actor would really surprise me,” Shea said.
The Owner was made without any outside financing. Shea explained that every filmmaker used their own resources and favours owed to film their segment a true collaboration of “do-it-yourself”-style filmmakers.
When Bonner and Shea first embarked on the project they hoped to make a film they could be proud of and to present their group of filmmakers to the world. The response to the film has exceeded their expectations: “After the first teaser trailer of The Owner came out, hundreds of new filmmakers joined CollabFeature,” Shea said. “We are growing exponentially and have filmmakers from more parts of the world joining us. Originally, we did not know how to reach filmmakers in Egypt, but now they are finding us.”
Shea explained that the scope of the initiative has widened: “We are looking for more filmmakers all the time. The goal is to have a very big worldwide organisation of active filmmakers, putting out regular high-quality, engaging film products.”
Following quickly on the heels of The Owner is CollabFeature’s second feature film, working title Train Station, which is slated to be released later this year and involves 43 filmmakers in 25 countries. The last scene of the film just wrapped filming last week. “It was filmed in Khartoum, Sudan, and I have just seen some rough footage of this final scene,” Shea said. “It is absolutely beautiful.”
A collaborative television series is also in the works.
The Owner has been released this week both on DVD and for digital download.