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Filmaka.com Seeks Aspiring Auteurs Online

Sandy Grushow, the guy who brought American Idol to the States as head of Fox Television Entertainment, is now seeking undiscovered superstar auteurs—on the Internet.

He’s the newly named president of Filmaka.com, a site that solicits short films from aspiring directors on specific themes. The clips are then judged by a panel of industry notables, including directors Neil LaBute (Nurse Betty), John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Zak Penn (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire); writer Paul Schrader (Raging Bull); and actors Colin Firth and Bill Pullman.

The idea: Create an “Internet studio” that unearths show-biz diamonds in the rough, attracted by Filmaka’s Hollywood cred, and give them real TV and movie production deals. On April 28 the company expects to announce the winner of its first competition to direct a feature film, produced by Filmaka and repped by the William Morris Agency.

The model isn’t new. Other Web-based studio ventures include Michael Eisner’s Vuguru (Prom Queen) and EQAL, formed by the producers of “lonelygirl15,” which last week secured $5 million in funding.

But Grushow’s ambitions extend beyond Web video: He wants to land on basic cable TV and in movie theaters.

Filmaka has struck a deal with FX Network, which is sponsoring a contest to develop a half-hour sitcom. Entrants will submit 3-minute comedy shorts, along with a fleshed-out synopsis for the show plot, and the eventual winner will receive $40,000 to create a pilot that FX will have the rights to buy for its fall season. Beer giant SAB Miller has signed on, too, with a contest seeking video clips promoting Miller brands.

Filmaka was founded by film producer Deepak Nayar (Bend it Like Beckham) in November 2006, and since then the site has compiled a library of more than 80 hours of content, with contributions from 3,600 filmmakers in 95 countries.

Rather than trying to be a YouTube-like destination, the company’s goal is to be a community site for filmmakers. It makes sure only serious (or semiserious) filmmakers apply, by charging a $10 contest-entry fee.

Filmaka then distributes that contributed content, which includes 40 short-form episodic series, to other outlets. It currently has agreements with Google’s YouTube and Vuze, and with British IPTV provider Play TV UK, which will carry Filmaka-branded video-on-demand and linear channels.

The company’s backers include advertising companies, film financiers and individual investors, such as ad agency founder Tim Delaney and Kurt Woolner and Steve Ranshoff of Film Finances, which provides production-completion guarantees.

For Grushow -- who was a principal in the 1990s telco content venture Tele-TV that essentially was overrun by the Internet—the beauty of the model is Filmaka can develop content far less expensively than typical production houses.

The company, for example, has just eight Los Angeles-based employees. Said Grushow: “We have a studio with essentially no overhead.”