Average Joes make casting calls on what they want to see

Monday, July 17th 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

Many entrepreneurs see the Internet as a way to deliver movies to the home. Clifford Werber sees it as a way to get homes involved in making movies.

The 42-year-old former Warner Bros. executive says he knows that Hollywood may scoff, but he wants to let people in the Heartland play a role in bringing a story to the big screen. In the beginning, all they'll have to do is log on to www.publicstudios.com and fill out an online "producer profile" about their movie tastes. Then more questions and interactions will follow as the movie begins to take shape.

"We hope to make the site the public studio," says Mr. Werber, who has already raised financing for the first flick, with guaranteed domestic distribution and a budget of up to $6 million.

"It won't cost the public anything. They'll tell us what types of movies they want to make, what types of scripts they want to see, which stars they want to see, which directors, and we'll go out and try to get them.

"Hollywood would never do this. They would never let consumers have such a voice." So far, Mr. Werber has been traveling to college towns in Texas and Minnesota, trying to spark interest in the site before it's completely up and running later this year. His goal is to have about 2 million regular visitors who will give directions about what kind of movie they want to see - and make.

"I really believe that if I build it, they will come," Mr. Werber says. "The reaction we've had has been great. The beauty of the site is that it says to the public, 'We can do this.'

"Mr. Werber has worked in movie acquisition departments and has helped produce such films as Shiloh, Shiloh 2 and Family Tree.

"Hollywood is a very insulated community. They don't get out enough. Every set is closed, every lot. So the consumers have an existing appetite, a pent-up appetite for Hollywood information. The process is so guarded, and for no good reason. So this is a site that says to the public, 'This is yours.'

"To get the ball rolling, Mr. Werber plans to select five scripts and post summaries of them on the PublicStudios site.

Then members will vote on which movie to make.

Picking stars and directors will be more complicated, Mr. Werber acknowledges.

"Let's say our community picked a comedy, and they've also named their favorite comedy director. I'm going to call up [the director's agent] and say, 'Guys, the people want [him] to direct a film. It's got guaranteed distribution. The script's going to be pre-approved by us, but most importantly, by our distributors.

"I think that two years ago that it would have been very difficult to expect a top-caliber director to be willing to do these films. But from what we've seen commercially in the low-budget realm, from Road Trip and American Pie, it isn't unrealistic.

"If we don't get the director or star we want, then we'll go back to our members and ask them to consider lesser-known directors. Perhaps one is a young Sundance director. Perhaps one is a young commercial director. You'll be able to see their reels, and the consumers will vote, and they'll be the ones to decide which one directs that film. And at that level, we'll go to those directors first.

"I think there will be plenty of directors to choose from."

Ultimately, Mr. Werber says, he hopes the site will not only provide valuable input about making movies but also serve as a market research tool for other companies.

The idea for the site was born after last year's surprise summer hit The Blair Witch which used the Internet to create a cult following.

"There was something smart that happened," Mr. Werber says. "It seemed that Blair Witch was the antithesis of an overproduced, formulaic Hollywood big-budget movie. And consumers saw that film and thought, 'I could have made this movie.' And creatively and economically, many could have.

"So I thought: 'How do you instill that feeling retroactively. How do you create a prospective pride of authorship in a film? And how do you do it with a site that lives on beyond any single film?' So that was really the initial inspiration for this thing."

Mr. Werber says he's aware some people will question whether he can make the site work.

"It's a really audacious proposition. But it's honest, and I know I'm not wrong.

"We'll have kids going to mom and saying, 'I helped make that movie.' I think they'll get a huge kick out of it."

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