Neill Blomkamp is a director who's enjoyed immense success with the genre-defying District 9, yet also faced severe criticism for Chappie. While rumors of a Blomkamp-helmed Alien 5 circulated before being muted by the director himself, he has been busy creating Oats Studios — an experimental space now up and running on YouTube.
Through Oats Studios, Blomkamp has created a series of unique short films provided to his audience for free. Since this project is not being backed by a major production house, it begs the question: How can the director maintain a certain quality while also generating enough revenue to be sustainable?
Discussing Oats Studios with Nerdist, Blomkamp touched upon the transparency of YouTube and what his ultimate goals are regarding the creation of independent films:
"The main goal eventually, if it’s possible, is to raise enough money from the audience to make films independently.
“The goal is to communicate with and make films for the audience as if I was an audience member. So I thought, all free, see how it goes, is the best approach. Figure out the insane business model later. The business model right now is like a dumpster fire of money. That’s the model. But you do end up with interesting creativity through it.”
Oats Studios recently released two explosive 25-minute shorts, Rakka and Firebase. Fans of Blomkamp have come together to laud his approach to cinema, but comments and likes aren't enough to cover the costs for digitally generating slimy lizard aliens and skeletons with godlike powers. So what's next for Oats Studios and how can it become a sustainable production company?
It Won't Be 'A Dumpster Fire Of Money' For Long
Since Blomkamp has always pushed the boundaries of realistic VFX while touching on sociopolitical themes, he certainly doesn't want to cut corners for his latest ventures, which deal with surrealism relying heavily on special effects.
Although the rest of his projects coming out of the independent studio have been kept under wraps, Blomkamp provided a rough outline about his plans and the level of involvement he expects from his fans:
“There are a few different ways that we speak about it internally. There are four films in [Oats Studios] Volume 1, and then there are other weird, smaller pieces that go between them. So if the audience online has seen four films by the time Volume 1 is done, and there are enough people who liked what they saw, one option is we make Volume 2 and charge for it so we can make Volume 3.
"The other way is that Volume 2 is free and Volume 3 is free and Volume 4 is free. All of the volumes are free forever. And we raise capital to make a film that’s based on whichever one of the shorter pieces that the audience is most receptive to that I would love to direct. Then, release that in theaters and use the profits of that to fund several more of the volumes.
“The third option, which is the most unlikely option, but is also kind of the coolest, would be to ask the audience to pre-buy or fund the development of Volume 2 or a film. But I don’t think that’s viable. I don’t think you’d raise enough capital from that directly.”
Rakka benefitted from the star power of Sigourney Weaver and has garnered more than three million views to date, while Firebase is at a million views and counting. Although these numbers are impressive, it's uncertain whether they will continue once viewers start getting charged to view subsequent shorts.
With the ever-changing landscape of YouTube's monetary rules and its community, Blomkamp is depending on his fans to share his short films in order to reach a wider audience. He has also opened a PayPal channel for Oats Studios where fans can donate directly to the director's ventures.
Will This Gamble Change The Sci-Fi Genre?
This isn't the first time a movie with big names attached has been crowdfunded, and it won't be the last. Stars like Don Cheadle and Zach Braff have already stepped outside the boundaries of studio-led projects for Miles Ahead and Wish I Was Here, respectively. One of the biggest contributors of crowdfunded movies is Indiegogo, a site whose popularity played a part in funding the Oscar-nominated Last Days in Vietnam and BAFTA-winner Kajaki: A True Story. However, this is the first time the approach has been considered by a big name within the sci-fi genre.
Since #scifi movies tend to rely on visual effects, producers usually look to take the safest route by rehashing tried-and-tested tropes — something that sci-fi filmmakers are often directly opposed to. According to Blomkamp, Oats Studios allows him to not only gauge the popularity of certain sub-genres, but also explore the possibilities due to the technological advancements of the 21st century:
“Working in a studio environment for huge films, that really are $100 million films, makes sense to me. It’s something that I want to go down the road of doing. But I think there’s another space where technology is opening up the way you can distribute and interact with audience members and there seems to be a way where it may be possible to live in an ecosystem where you can be creative as you wanna be and know whether you’ve succeeded or failed based on how the audience feels about things–to make stuff, see if it works or not, and be surprised by the ones that work and surprised by the ones that fail.
“You could probably make something that was as streamlined to getting a positive response from the audience as possible, but we haven’t really done that, so whatever happens happens. Either people like it or dislike it.”
Because this method takes the filmmaker off the producer's leash and gives absolute power to the creators, the success of Oats Studios could prompt more directors to opt for this route in the future.
There is no denying that Oats Studios is a gamble, but it is a risk the director wants to take for the sake of providing creative content. As Hollywood is slowly creeping into franchise fatigue, Blomkamp's brand of originality is likely to stand out from the crowd. Most importantly, Oats Studios brings the content to the viewers directly, so the success of this experiment solely depends on us.