MySpace has launched many music careers, can it do the same for film-makers?

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The Independent Culture

Barely a week goes by without our being asked to believe that another young musician's overnight success has come to them via their MySpace page. If the social networking site's latest creative endeavour comes off, the online community may soon be held responsible for the ascent of one lucky British film-maker.

The MySpace MyMovie Mashup aims to produce the world's first user-generated feature film, by giving a £1m production budget to a first-time feature film director, voted for by MySpace users. The process began early this year, when budding directors were asked to submit short films to the site, which users then voted on to produce a longlist of 12.

These have been whittled down to a shortlist of three by a professional panel, which includes the actress Sienna Miller and the directors Nick Love and Kevin Macdonald.

The shortlisted trio have gone back to MySpace to canvas support for their short film and the feature they would make, should they win. Voting closes on 8 July, but only once the winner is chosen will the MySpace amateur community really get involved – helping to pick the title of the film, suggesting script developments, or submitting music for use on the soundtrack. MySpace users will also be used as production crew, as cast members, even as editors, and finally as the grass-roots promoters of the finished film, which should be ready for release at the London Film Festival in autumn 2008.

The £1m budget has been stumped up by MySpace, Film4 and Vertigo Films, who will help to produce the film. Love, the director of The Business, Outlaw and The Football Factory, is also one of Vertigo's owners.

"It's so tough to get a feature made," Love says. "But when I was trying to get my first film, Goodbye Charlie Bright, off the ground, I made a 15-minute short and within four months I was shooting my feature. That showed me that if you have a decent showcase you can get your film made. I've always seen short films as a means to an end, a calling card for someone who wants to make a feature. The internet is a great place to find an audience for them."

The most successful films are often the work of a director with a strong vision, so one could be forgiven for expecting a "user-generated" film to end up a sorry mess. The judging panel has anticipated that danger. "We're trying to weed out a really strong-willed director," Love says. "There's so much bureaucracy involved in making a film, so many interferences, and whoever ends up directing this feature will be surrounded by other film-makers. I'm looking for someone who'll be able to turn round and say 'fuck off!' to all that. My other priority was to find a commercial film-maker. It's a waste of time and money if you make a film that is uncommercial. The three that have been picked have strong individual visions, but they also have the potential to make commercial films."

MySpace were overwhelmed with more than 800 short film bids for the Mashup directors' chair, according to James Fabricant, the site's UK head of marketing and content. "You might think we'd end up with a lot of dogs on skateboards and wacky camera phone videos," he says, "but I found the competency and skill of the film-makers astounding."

The finalists all have considerable film-making experience behind them. Tom Harper's entry, Cubs, was funded by the UK Film Council after he'd made a series of no-budget shorts in the spare time he found between odd jobs. His fellow directors Vito Rocco and Mat Kirkby have made music videos for the likes of Faith No More and Basement Jaxx.

Cubs is a dark coming-of-age story following a teenager's initiation into a gang of inner-city foxhunters led by former So Solid Crew-member Ashley Walters. "I thought it was interesting to take a country sport that's considered upper class, transpose it onto the city streets and see how the sport might be seen differently if it was practised by a different sector of society under different circumstances," Harper says.

Goodbye Cruel World is the beautifully photographed tale of a bullied schoolboy's relationship with his best friend, the recently deceased pensioner Mr Carter. Rather than melancholy social realism, director Rocco goes for touching black comedy, as the boy devises a novel way to deal with his companion's death. Situated somewhere in the previously unmapped territory between Cinema Paradiso and Weekend at Bernie's, it has the bittersweet feel of a Wes Anderson movie.

Hard to Swallow features some familiar faces from television comedies such as Nathan Barley, The IT Crowd and Man Stroke Woman. It's a comic, knives-out take on the social lives of a number of middle-class thirtysomethings.

Kirkby, like the other directors, has embraced the mass participation element of the project wholeheartedly. "It's great to have feedback after sitting in an editing suite on my own with the film for so long," he says. "I had all sorts of positive posts on the MySpace page for the film, which was great because I was in a vacuum until that point; I had no idea if what I'd made was fantastic or crap."

However, the final say over all the creative decisions will rest with the winning director. "It's not as if the MySpace community is actually going to dictate the film-making process to the director," Kirkby says. "It's just a platform where people can give their opinion, or I can ask questions. If I've been sat on a script for six months, I might want people to read certain bits of it to get their ideas."

The later stages of the production process will see more direct participation from the MySpace users, specifically when the time comes to cast and crew the selected script.

MySpace has undoubtedly become an invaluable forum for musicians wishing to showcase their work. The website itself has used the talent search format in the past, to find acts for MySpace stages at festivals, for example. But producing a feature film from scratch is a more challenging proposition.

James Fabricant, with whom the project originated, says: "I analysed other talent-search formats that had been developed before, and where they'd fallen down – like Project Greenlight in America. I've tried to ensure that we steer clear of the mistakes but still maintain the huge pool of creativity that is the MySpace community. I think the checks and balances are in the right places to allow that to happen... I hope this mashup between the professionals – MySpace, Film4, Vertigo – and the film-loving public will harness the expertise and creativity of both and come up with something great."

To see the shortlisted films, vote, or take part, go to www.myspace.com/mymoviemashup

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