MOFILM might be the future of advertising, shaking things up by crowdsourcing moviemaking talent on behalf of clients. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Winter 2014 issue, on newsstands January 28.

How many times have you watched a lackluster big brand commercial on television with the sneaking suspicion that you could’ve done it better? If you’re an aspiring moviemaker, probably more times than you can remember. With new advertising platform MOFILM, where the clout of a traditional ad agency meets crowdsourcing’s even playing field, you can put your money (or better yet, someone else’s) where your mouth is and take on the project of your fantasies.


“Ten years ago the idea that a recent film school graduate could get a chance to film a Coke commercial was preposterous,” said Jeffrey Merrihue, MOFILM CEO and Co-Founder, who launched the company in 2009. “Now you can take your pick. Through our site, you can make a film for anyone you want: Coca-Cola, Visa, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, Proctor and Gamble.”

The process is simple enough: MOFILM, whose list of high-profile clients reads like a Don Draper wet dream, releases an online brief outlining a brand’s vision. Moviemakers produce short spots accordingly and enter them into the competition, and the client picks their five favorites from the pool. These five winners are awarded varying amounts of prize money (from $8,000 for first place to $1,000 for fifth), and the client gets to use the spots in campaigns as they see fit, celebrating the winners at all-expenses-paid prize-giving parties at exotic locations: Cannes, Beijing, SXSW, and so on.

Entering a contest is free of charge, and MOFILM encourages every participant to apply for production grants (ranging from $500 to $2,500) to help fund their project. “At any given time, we have 200 to 300 grants out,” Merrihue said. Moviemakers whose films don’t place in the top five retain all rights over their work, many of them putting their spots on personal (i.e. non-commercial) online channels with branding intact.


Mofilmmakers and lead llama on the set of Lloyd Choi’s Walmart Spec Spot “Childhood Dream”

This unprecedented access to major brands is made possible by contemporary filmmaking’s increased availability of resources. “It’s caused the small handful of elite filmmakers with access to equipment, money, and funding to broaden out to hundreds of thousands with the same top-quality equipment,” Merrihue said—a situation the world of advertising has been relatively slow to take advantage of.

The model does come with limitations, too—namely in the cashflow department. With grants capping off at $2,500, one has to keep a tight fist on production costs or slip into the red, unless a film wins some prize money—which still might not recoup an average budget. Merrihue acknowledged that filmmakers “won’t retire rich,” though the most successful MOFILMmakers “become very adept at producing [spots] for very modest amounts of out-of-pocket cash.” For them, the chance to “practice their craft in the most competitive and challenging environment” makes up for the effort more than any potential monetary returns. The community is growing (with around 1,000 members consistently active in submitting films), and competition gets fiercer with every brief.


DP Jason Chau sets up a car mount for director Sean Cunningham’s Chevrolet Spot

While MOFILM pits film against film in these epic battles, it seeks to nurture, as well, providing a host of personable support for its flock: tutorials, a free music service called MOMUSIC, and a team of solution-finders for questions from “Do you recommend this editing software over that one?” to “Where can I find a live octopus?” (Merrihue quoted the latter, so it must be true.) The company’s advisory board is chaired by no less than producer Jon Landau, whose enthusiastic involvement extends to personally helping selected moviemakers with their scripts. Landau reportedly brings hisTitanic Oscar to MOFILM parties for the photo-op benefit of attendees—so freely that the gold wore off the statuette’s base on one occasion and he had it re-plated.

The Oscar, ironically, stands for a measure of artistic triumph that savvy, creative moviemakers are now eschewing, as the industry slowly shrugs off its theatrical-feature bias and embraces short-form, new media work as a dominant cultural force and revenue stream. Retiring rich is unlikely—as with any artistic endeavor—but if one can achieve a certain level of success, MOFILM may provide an element of sustainability: a constant flow of challenging assignments, livable returns, and occasional glamour. As Jamie Muir, a winning filmmaker recently featured on MOFILM’s blog, said, “You could make a good career out of making MOFILM spots with just a DSLR and some editing software.”

Those looking for an incubated, low-risk space to make movies—and, lest we forget, the potential for international exposure—will relish this chance to perfect their craft. If you’re an energetic artist with ideas to burn and microbudget tricks up your sleeve, you might want to join in the MOFILM fray. MM

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