May 1, 2008

Viva La Viral!: Film, Viral Videos and the Future

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While I was in Los Angeles, Dana Brunetti — producer of the recent hit film 21 and head honcho at Kevin Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions — sat down with me to talk about their site,, and how Hollywood interfaces with filmmakers through the internet. [Editor’s Note: This is an extended version of the interview that appeared in the print edition of the May 1st, 2008 issue of The Cornell Daily Sun.]

Matt Palmer: What’s the story behind
Dana Brunetti: The catalyst for the website initially was Kevin’s frustration with undiscovered or new and emerging talent not being able to submit to a company like Trigger Street Productions, or even to himself, just beca use of the type of legal society we live in. If anyone took an unsolicited submission, and they were to become involved with anything like [the submission] down the line, they could then be sued and the people who submitted it would have a legitimate case. So, therefore, Hollywood puts up this door, so to speak, against unsolicited submissions. The site has turned away from the original idea of a way for us to get material while protecting us. Now its purpose is to function as a platform for undiscovered talent to showcase their work and get constructive feedback. That’s ultimately what it is doing for the aspiring community.
MP: Can you give us a sense of how fits into the Hollywood paradigm?
DB: Well, as with any institution, there’s already a method in place. And it’s a large powerful mass that’s not going to change easily, whether for the better or not. As any institution does, they [the studios] go with what they know. You could have a fantastic spec script, or three or four screenplays that people are talking about, but still not have one piece of material actually produced. As in any industry, people want to work with other people who they know. Everyone in Hollywood always talks about “thinking outside the box, thinking outside the box” but they still operate in the same boxes. breaks down those boxes, and gives them the ability to find fresh voices and undiscovered talent.
MP: Sounds pretty sweet.
DB: It’s a great place to find material. It’s extremely difficult to break into this business, and you could be the most talented person in the world, but unless someone sees your talent they’re not going to know about it. So the best way to get into the business is with a piece of material. And that piece of material is what’s going to get you to be an established screenwriter or filmmaker — because then people can see your actual work, and that’s what gets your foot in the door and gives you the ability to establish yourself.
MP: Can you give me a sense of the current state of internet video from the Hollywood perspective?
DB: Essentially, it used to be just like America’s Funniest Home Videos that people would email around. That’s what ultimately started viral video and what still thrives online. Now it’s starting to skew towards produced content with webisodes and material made specifically for the internet. We’re kind of in the Wild West these days; we’re determining where it’s going to go. What is happening with iTunes, Amazon and Netflix streaming video — and people hooking their computers up to plasma screens — that’s where distribution is eventually going to go. People will still watch the viral clips and send them around, of course.
MP: What needs to happen before that kind of produced online content goes totally mainstream?
DB: It’s not what needs to happen, but what’s going to happen. Kids these days are growing up on computers, and the technology is growing rapidly and quickly with them. One of the biggest complaints about internet videos used to be the little small box you had to watch them on. The bit-rates were so ridiculous and the pictures were all pixilated. Early adopters put up with it and tolerated it and became accustomed to it. Kids now are watching full-screen and they’re accustomed to that. That’s why piracy is such a problem: They [internet users] can go online, and they know how to download it and put on a DVD. They’re also accustomed to watching on smaller, mobile devices; they’re used to watching material in short segments. There’s a formula for a 30-minute TV show; there’s a formula for a two-hour movie; there’s a formula for all different things. But [internet video] doesn’t have to fit those formulas, and it’s only a matter of time before people become accustomed to the new formula. Then there’s going to be an even bigger market for [internet video]. People are going to come to expect it.
MP: The videos on are short films. Can you talk about the difference between them and what you find on YouTube?
DB: There’s definitely a difference. The majority of the films that are on (or sites like are exactly what they’re called: short films. They’re made to be displayed online, but also to be displayed at Sundance. They can be shown in a variety of venues, and they’re not necessarily as viral as a guy getting kicked in the nuts. A short film usually has much more on the artistic, creative and production side of things. They’re done with some production values. At least they should be.
MP: So why put them online?
DB: Well one issue with the site initially was that people didn’t want to upload [their screenplays] because they wanted to protect them. But if it’s sitting in a drawer and no one’s seeing it, it’s not going anywhere. Same thing with a short film. You want as much exposure as possible in order to get it in front of the right set of eyeballs—that one person who says “There’s something there, I want to meet with that filmmaker.”
MP: What are some of the “dos and don’ts” of using the web to get your work out there.?
DB: What you want to be careful of are sites where you lose all the rights to your film. You don’t want to upload to a site where they own it and profit from it, and you can never do anything with it. Most sites don’t do that anymore, but they used to. Now any legitimate site just has rights to use your film in the form that you upload it. Also, get it on as many sites as you can. Granted, YouTube has a different mission than, but they’ve got a lot of eyeballs. So you might get the right kind of eyeballs there, too. is obviously more focused than the YouTube crowd, so you’re probably going to get better exposure in terms of the type of industry people you’re trying to target. YouTube,, and even MySpace aren’t necessarily geared towards short filmmakers although they’ve tried to be. They’re more about the guy getting kicked in the nuts, or crashing his truck while riding on the hood. It’s all about getting your name out there and displaying your talent: That’s what is.
MP: How hard is Hollywood looking for viral video stars to make the transition to the big(ger) screen(s)?
DB: You may have some people doing that, but I don’t think that’s a trend yet. The audiences for online video don’t really translate that well. People go to see movies because of celebrities and directors. People don’t go to see movies because of a writer or producer or other people. That’s a lot of the reason why studios hire actors the way they do. Is there an internet celebrity out there yet who has an audience and a draw like that? Maybe, but it hasn’t been seen. They have no box-office draw, in terms of their history. I don’t think [the studios are] going to take that chance. Will the studios take someone because they think they have potential to make them a feature film star? Yeah, you’re definitely going to see that.

(P.S. – Thanks to Sammy, Jonny, Peter, Julie and Chuck)