Don't feel bad if you haven't heard of Artemis Eternal. I hadn't, until I received an email from Jessica Mae Stover, the project's mastermind, berating me - gently - for continuing to give coverage to Uwe Boll's latest hack-work while other filmmakers, far more skilled and dedicated than he, toiled away in obscurity on projects much more deserving of the attention. Projects like, for instance, the aforementioned Artemis Eternal.
Straight from the website's mouth: "Artemis Eternal is a professional sci-fi fantasy short intended for film festivals and traveling screenings. The film is the premier crowd-funded, professionally-led, studio-quality film with absolutely no studio intervention, and the way production is approached tackles issues of media consolidation, independence and a lack of diversity in cinema as well as eliminating the middle-man and connecting artist to audience in a direct, meaningful way."
It's quite a mouthful, but the whole thing essentially turns on the central idea of "crowd funded." The project is being financed entirely by micro-donations from individuals who contribute to the cause in exchange for nothing more than the opportunity to see, and in some way be a part of, the creation of a professional-level film outside the purview of the studio system. The idea seems simple enough: With no profit-driven obligations to a studio, a filmmaker can tell her stories free of outside influence or interference. But could it actually work? I was curious - so I asked.
"After seeing that the studio system is absurd and broken, I took a trip further into the dark side in order to understand the nuances of how it came to be this way and why it remains so incredibly unworkable," the gregarious Ms. Stover told me in a recent email exchange. "I understood that I was in a unique position to investigate anything that I didn't already know about Hollywood strategy and economics since I have had access to experts in those areas for nearly a decade."
If the idea of "crowd-funding" sounds vaguely familiar, you can thank the most recent U.S. Presidential election, which saw both Ron Paul and Barack Obama employee similar strategies to mobilize grassroots support. "Their campaigns came to a similar conclusion and opened up to micro-donations," Stover said. "The difference with this style of funding in the recent election vs. previous years was the emphasis put on audience participation and the focus on the positive takeaways from the decision to micro-fund." And what are those positive takeaways? "If one funds via micro-donation from like-minded folk, then one can free herself from special interests and achieve the goals she set forth without unethical interference," she explained. "Smaller, lower amounts allow more people to be involved; people who traditionally have no say in who gets to run and who does not."
Stover also noted that Darren Aronofsky financed his 1998 film Pi in a similar fashion, albeit through friends and family rather than an online appeal to like-minded strangers, and pointed out that the basic principle can be seen in operation all around us. "Taxes and the government for one, gyms for another. And theaters. Or how about fraternities, sororities or any club and team a lady or gent chooses to join? Not to mention churches. More people using these communal spaces and paying to do so allows for the spaces and events to be better and for the user to participate in events they could not create and afford on their own," she said. "It's the spirit of potluck dinners."