Pay-per-view movies signs on to fund local filmmaker’s $3 million feature with Internet advertising

Photo By Larry Dalton

Remember that bit in The Player about how studios hatch movies from wanton pitch-meeting collisions of preapproved high concepts? “It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman!” Yep: funny ’cause it’s true. But it shouldn’t suggest that movie storylines only get planned that way. Now, actually, movie financing gets planned that way, too.

“It’s kind of like Project Greenlight meets,” El Dorado Hills filmmaker Sarah Kreutz said recently of her new benefactor, the doubly—almost dubiously—high-concept California Film Fund. Combining the creative fertility of indie filmmaking with the financial fertility of Internet advertising, is a moviemakers’ networking site whose revenue from local ad sales finances its users’ projects. Kreutz’s locally set script, Gardner & Wells, is the first full-length feature to be chosen for funding by’s California submissions drive. In other words, her $3 million movie should be paid for entirely by page views.

“It’s amazing,” Kreutz continued. “It literally fell in my lap. I mean, I happened to have finished a 10th draft, and I had a business plan—because I was going to start looking for funding anyway. But this is huge news for me, and I think it will be incredible for the community.”

The first order of business, then, is informing the community.’s fine print estimates that typical projects require 200,000 unique visitors per $1,000 of budget—but also hastens to point out that even with only word-of-mouth marketing since its June launch, the site has seen many millions of visitors already.

Kreutz found out about from El Dorado Lake Tahoe film commissioner Kathleen Dodge. “I thought, if this could work, it would be great for emerging independent filmmakers,” Dodge recalled, “so I sent out a slew of e-mails, and Sarah was one who responded immediately. I’ve worked with her a little bit, and I knew that she was very proactive.”

When asked about her filmmaking background, Kreutz, who makes her living as a clothing stylist, said, “Well, there’s not a whole lot, actually,” and laughed. “I have no formal education in film whatsoever.”

She does at least have the informal education of her first feature, 2004’s Elsa Letterseed, which taught her, among other things, a certain compulsory frugality. “If I would have seen the scope of how it ended up, I never would have started,” she joked. “But now it’s too late, I’ve been bitten by the bug. So I wrote another script, which I thought would be easier. It was much harder.”

Kreutz describes Gardner & Wells as “a gothic ghost story” about two sisters who run a variously troubled funeral home. “We’re shooting in Placerville,” she said, “where we know ghost stories abound.” Preproduction gets under way this week, with a March 1 target date for the beginning of principal photography.

All of which, of course, will be monitored by a supervising producer and chronicled for public perusal in cyberspace.

“On the site, there are 20 separate tasks, and they’ll give us a timeline with those tasks,” Kreutz explained. Here, to take one example, is the vaguely Playeresque Task 3: “During the script rewrite stage, we ask for opionions [sic] from our members and hire a professional writer to improve on the foundation. From there it is reviewed by our producers who take it to the next level.” Gulp.

Kreutz views her overseers’ intentions with winning humility: “Basically, they are the studio. They provide the money and have final say. As I see it, I’ve been given an opportunity that I really don’t want to mess up! All along the way, people will hopefully log on, wondering about what our ups and downs are. I’m willing to be honest, encouraging other filmmakers to do this even through difficulty.”

“We’ve taken the Internet and actually given it a purpose,” said’s New York-based founder and CEO, John De Titta. “We saw that the up-and-coming model was the social-networking sites. Here, people that come to the site are funding the films simply by coming.”

“It looks like a startup, yes,” added Dodge, “but it looks good to us. We need incentives for filmmakers to work here. I’m hoping that FilmTies will help.”

“It’s definitely meant to make a working film community,” said Kreutz. “Already filmmaking is sort of a Frankenstein’s monster. Everybody puts together their body part, and we’ll see.” So, like, Frankenstein meets, what, Frank Capra? Here’s hoping for a happy ending.