Will "Crowd-Sourced" Be The Next Big Indie Film Buzzword?

The term 'crowd sourcing' has been around for a few years, but it has been mostly applied to technology (software coding and testing, for example) and then new versions of news media and things like Wikipedia. But we're starting to see some high-profile crowd-sourced work applied to movies, and the potential is interesting. When web tools like Facebook and Twitter can easily unite budding content creators with access to high-quality cameras and post-production suites, why not put all that distributed power to work making a film?

Just a couple of days ago I reported on This Movie is Broken, the Bruce McDonald and Don McKellar project that aims to set a semi-documentary performance by the band Broken Social Scene within a summertime Toronto built by user-submitted footage. Now the New York Times reports that Live Music, a crowd-sourced animated short film project, has not only come to fruition, but will be distributed by Sony in front of the studio's animated Planet 51 this fall.

Live Music was put together by an animation house called Mass Animation, founded by Yair Landau, a former animation exec at Sony. The company provided downloadable Maya animation software to about 17,000 people, out of whom 51 were chosen to contribute to the film. Each 'winning' contributor is credited and was paid $500. When indie films are suffering budget and distribution woes, the distributed creation model could be a way to keep costs low and provide a marketing hook.

This concept isn't even foreign to big filmmaking. Take your average massive studio event movie, which probably features effects done by a handful of FX houses, and perhaps contributions by a dozen or more. Functionally, that's the same model, where the content creators are paid pros rather than credited amateurs. And what better way for young animators to learn to be part of the workflow process than to be tasked with creating one shot for an animated short? It's a great skill-building system.

Building a project using the crowdsourcing model allows producers to sidestep anything that doesn't directly come to bear on the creation and delivery of a shot. There's significantly less overhead, for one. And where animation houses are often male-dominated workplaces, Live Music featured eleven female animators, ar 20% of the workforce.

There will be limitations; it's a method that will work much better for animation, and perhaps documentary, than dramatic films. While I love the people behind This Movie is Broken and I am thrilled that they're experimenting, I'll be surprised if the final result truly works. But there is potential, even for dramatic films. With a thorough audition/editing process, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone eventually build a compelling film where much or all of the footage is user-submitted.

Here's the trailer for Live Music: