M Dot Strange and the Rise of the Internet Filmmaker

One of the coolest parts of the screening for me was that 3/4th of the theater (I kid you not) walked out during the presentation. Why was this cool? Because it lets you know that since you’re enjoying the film, and no one else is, it becomes YOUR film – hence it becoming a cult classic.

-Bloody Disgusting on Sundance “We Are The Strange” screening

 

 

Sundance, 2007

A midnight screening of a 3D animated film that was so strange over half of the audience walked out within the first 5 minutes. The remaining audience members were treated to a visual explosion of color and music that left them literally stunned. The creator of this film then walked up on stage for questions and told everyone still remaining, “I made this film for you.”

That filmmaker was M dot strange (Mike Belmont) and the film was “We Are The Strange.” Word got out at Sundance about this weird film and he was offered contracts and theatrical distribution amounting to a significant amount of money. He turned it all down because, as he says, “the terms were terrible.” It was obvious to M dot that if he accepted these terms, he wouldn’t be able to make the films he wanted to make. Instead he’d have to make the films he was told to make.

The Sundance dream he had imagined, turned into a nightmare. So he began thinking, “Who do I make my films for?” Since he had created a large YouTube audience leading up to his Sundance screening (he joined YouTube early) it was clear to him that his audience was online.

Since 2007, M dot Strange has released 3 feature films, written and published 3 books, created two multi-episode animated series and gotten married to Icelandic artist/musician, Rakel Musicbox. He owns all the rights to his works, lives off of the profits he makes selling to his fans, but puts most of the money into whatever his next project is. He regularly communicates with his audience online using videos and clips from his works in progress.

 


M dot presenting at a recent Final Cut Users Meeting (L.A.)

 

The Internet Filmmaker

M dot is part of the internet filmmaker movement that took off roughly when YouTube started and, like the self-publishing movement for books, has turned the industry upside down. How? By literally bypassing the well-trod path of established film creation and distribution. Now, it’s the audience and fans who are making their own content and providing it (primarily for free) online through their own sites and/or through increasingly specialized distribution sites that don’t require the filmmaker to give away all of their rights to their work “forever and throughout the known universe,” as one contract puts it.

It seems as if technology has enabled everyday people to share their own work without the assistance of Hollywood or the film industry. Shocking, I know. But bad faith comes back and bites you as many industry figures are starting to understand. Provide a cheaper and a more effective medium and audiences will stampede to use it. That’s the reason Netflix and Hulu are pulling everyone away from cable and film-going and to their Kindles, iPads and computers.

The everyman and everywoman of the internet can create anything they want and build a following partially because they don’t need million-dollar equipment, but also because they are sharing their creations with like-minded people. And, as M dot points out in his 2008 Berlin presentation on his method of solo-filmmaking, “Never before have filmmakers been so available to their audience.” He refers to his audience as his friends, who, in turn, promote his films without him having to ask. That’s as long as he continues to provide his viewers with content that is fun for him to make and entertaining for his fans to watch.

 

 

I Am Nightmare

M dot Strange is releasing his 3rd feature-length film, I Am Nightmare, on February 14, 2014 online through Brooklyn-based VHX.TV, who specializes in helping filmmakers distribute their films directly to their fans/audience. And while the distributor takes a small percentage of sales, M dot has full control over the rights to his film along with the lion's share of any sale of I Am Nightmare, a film he created in one year entirely in his bedroom using off the shelf software and hardware.

I’m all about empowering the audience. I’m letting them [the audience] know that, look I’m just a guy like you. I’m in a room like you. I don’t have any money like you. And you can make a movie like this, too.

The film was created entirely in the 3D application Cinema 4D, created by MAXON, with After Effects and Final Cut Pro being his other tools of choice. M dot wrote the script, created the storyboards and animatics, built the world and characters piece by piece and created a small render farm that worked 24/7 for nearly a month to produce I Am Nightmare.

One of M dot’s goals on this film was to shorten his production process (We are the Strange took him 3 years) and to find a better way to distribute the film. He shortened the process by better planning and by reusing a lot of props and character parts for the film. He found his voice actors by viewing their work online and then contacting them directly. This is the first film in which he was able to pay his actors for their work.

M dot shares all of his workflow and developments directly with the audience through making-of and how-to videos he posts regularly. His blog is full of posts on how he chose the hardware to make the film, how the story is developing and, sometimes even his failures during the production process. Honesty is one of the things he feels makes his work and personality appealing and interesting.

“The power of all this stuff is about being honest, because in Hollywood and the Film Industry everyone is fake. No one gives their real thoughts or feelings. And you [the audience] are individuals. You can really do that. If you are honest you have a personal connection with your audience. And this personal connection is what feeds everything else + will help to be successful.”

M dot Strange and other internet filmmakers are making incredible, original films on the cheap. These films are what the future of digital cinema is all about. We are in the midst of a media revolution that is only just beginning. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about it.

 


M dot hard working on We Are The Strange

 

Notes

I Am Nightmare is available for sale at iamnightmare.vhx.tv. The film itself is available for $9.99 in a 1080p download. There’s also a “Deluxe Edition” for $14.99 that includes a lot of cool behind the scenes footage. You can also buy the film soundtrack (which is very cool) for $7 through Bandcamp.

I Am Nightmare is a 3D animated film unlike anything you have seen before. If you imagine yourself as the kind of person who would have stayed through to the end of the Sundance screening I mentioned earlier, then this film is for you.


Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.

 

 

 


February 14, 2014

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