Crowd-funded thriller could be studios’ worst nightmare

It’s been possible to buy and name your own star for years but a team of Sydney filmmakers is trying a slightly different approach by putting out a call for donations from netizens willing to spend $1 to sponsor a single frame of their new movie – so they can release it for free via BitTorrent.

The innovative project is the brainchild of Julian Harvey and Enzo Tedeschi a pair of Sydney filmmakers who have written and planned the filming of thriller The Tunnel based on what they’re calling The 135K Project – an effort to raise $135000 a dollar at a time to fund the project’s creation. Assuming all goes well the feature-length film will be available for free – and legal – download online via BitTorrent.

Bring your tinfoil hat when reading the plot: based around abandoned and water-filled tunnels underneath Sydney’s St James Station the movie will feature a group of four journalists that work to uncover a suspected government conspiracy and we are led to believe by the site’s spookified promotional site – try not to become lunch for something very large and very hungry.

The project is sure to raise eyebrows at the major film studios which have worked hard to paint BitTorrent as synonymous with movie piracy and may shudder at the thought of a legitimate-looking (and not half bad-sounding) film being given away for free online. Just as the rise of Napster and MySpace taught bands that they could build worldwide fan bases independently of the major labels the project – if successful – could well empower a new generation of BitTorrent-loving filmmakers to explore this community-based method of funding.

A new TV show called Pioneer One is also exploring BitTorrent distribution having this week released a pilot episode that’s available as a 1.1GB Matroska file.

This is probably the last thing the movie industry wants to see – but if The Tunnel is a hit it could be an increasingly common way for filmmakers to bypass the mechanisms of the big studios.

“After spending years being frustrated by what we saw as the movie industry’s short-sighted and conventional outlook towards the online community we decided it was time to try something different” the team says on the movie’s site. “If we could raise the money to make ‘The Tunnel’ by selling every individual frame of it we would be able to make a movie unencumbered by the a studio’s need for box office. We could do what we got into the industry to do in the first place. Tell stories we like and get them out there so people could enjoy them.”

The sponsorship page for the movie which has raised $4335 so far shows the filmmakers are using social media to raise interest: there’s the option to Like the project on Facebook or use PayPal for the $1-per-frame donation. One anonymous donor has given $450 to the project while many have ponied up $25 or more to own a second of the completed film.

Just to keep things interesting one frame is going to be chosen at random once the movie’s complete with that frame’s sponsor given 1% of the movie’s profit – which since it’s being given away from free will presumably come if donations exceed production costs or if the film is picked up on iTunes or even by a studio for a DVD or theatrical release.

If you’d like to join the effort to fund ‘The Tunnel’ click here.