This was published in the yesterday.

The Transmedia Equation, Part 2: Grassroots with Lance Weiler

Depending on who you ask, Lance Weiler is either the face of a new, visionary breed of filmmaker, or the poster boy for the transmedia hype machine currently enveloping the indie film industry.

Wired magazine named him “One of twenty-five people helping to re-invent entertainment and change the face of Hollywood” and Business Week called him “One of the 18 Who Changed Hollywood.” That sort of praise might be what some critics latch onto—changing the face of Hollywood is no small task, after all, and without the results to-date of some of the more noteworthy names (others on the Business Week list included Thomas Edison, George Lucas, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney), it can rub people the wrong way, be they studio insiders or indie aspirers.

(In fairness to Weiler, the Wired label points to his late 90’s film The Last Broadcast, which was one of the first desktop features ever made—for about $900 on consumer gear—and which then became the first all digital release of a motion picture, distributed theatrically to multiple theaters via satellites close to a year before George Lucas would do the same withStar Wars: Phantom Menace. Business Week attributed the praise to Weiler’s 2006 film Head Trauma, particularly its use of gaming, remix and serialized content to reach over 2.5 million people via live events, in theaters, online and though mobile devices.)

But, in speaking with the approachable Weiler, you don’t get the sense that he completely buys into the proclamations or has any sort of grand plan for the industry. “A lot of the things I’m involved with are trial and error,” says Weiler. “Just trying to connect the dots and help bring creators up to speed on the next models of filmmaking and film distribution.”

It’s a fitting statement, given the nature of his films and the sprawl of community projects he spearheads.

As a writer and director, he’s known not as much for the content of his films as he is for their interactive/cross-media nature and the methods by which they are distributed. In fact, he successfully self-distributed The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma to more than 20 countries while grossing over $5 million in the process. Pocket change to the studios, but enticing to indie filmers struggling to find profitable models and audiences.

It’s been a while, however, since the Weiler actually made a film. The past four years have been spent operating his for-hire transmedia shop Seize the Media, and rolling out an admirable if not slightly confusing myriad of community based narrative projects. According to Weiler, that’s about to change.

His in-development feature film/transmedia project HiM—coproduced with Ted Hope (producer of 21 Grams, American Splendor, In the Bedroom and countless others) —won the Arte France Cinema award at the 2009 edition of CineMart and was also put through the paces just a couple of weeks ago at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab, marking the first such Sundance foray into a transmedia based initiative, and perhaps the return of Weiler to the director’s chair.

Weiler also just released what he calls a “feature” of the HiM mobile app, while at the Berlinale Talent Campus, taking place during the 60th Berlin International Film Festival. “This storytelling / gaming app places people in the HiM story world while at the same time, enabling them to virtualize the real world. It’s like a MMO [Massively Multiplayer Online] in your pocket,” says Weiler.

“Over the last few weeks almost 10,000 people have downloaded the android version of the app [which is a single feature of the whole HiM app] that enables user to shoot a 360 degree panoramic of spaces. Those using the app have opt’d in and are allowing us to collect a variety of useful data that helps us to further develop the game. The full version [of the app] will launch later this summer. But in the meantime those using this single feature are already creating spaces that will be used in the game world—in a sense it’s crowd-sourced game development.”

Whether HiM shapes into something that proves Weiler’s name belongs permanently engraved on that elite list of Hollywood revolutionaries remains to be seen (at this stage, a 2011 or even 2012 film release would be most likely), but the contributions he’s made towards new distribution models and in rallying the indie community to get off its hump and take charge of its own destiny speak for themselves.