Neill Blomkamp doesn’t just want Steam users to watch and financially support his new experimental film project, but he also wants them to get involved the creation process.
When Blomkamp, best known as the director of Chappie, District 9 and Elysium, announced last month that he was launching his own company, Oats Studios, to create experimental short films and feature-length projects, one of the points that stuck out was his commitment to working with fans. The company releases a movie through Steam and sells “building materials” as part of a downloadable content pack for $4.99, encouraging others to remix the footage and contribute their own ideas to future projects.
This is where the collaboration process kicks in. In an interview with Polygon, the director said that if his team at Oats Studios decided to use an idea or remixed version of a project created by someone online, that person would be compensated in some way. The issue, Blomkamp explained, is that until the company made money, the definition of what the compensation looks like is questionable.
“The company isn't getting compensated right now, so it's hard to compensate people,” Blomkamp told Polygon. “We're not looking to rip people off, though. If we make money, they should benefit. Right now, everyone is just doing it for fun.”
Blomkamp said the company doesn’t want to treat people wrongfully or disrespectfully. Since coming up with the idea to get fans involved, Blomkamp has been trying to think of ways to pay them. The director is hoping that with the introduction of a new series, which he calls “Top Gear but with two clowns reviewing a weapon” that he’ll have a way to compensate people.
“These two morons that basically review weapons that they review weapons for the company they work for,” Blomkamp explained. “So we thought, ‘What if we shot two episodes, put them out and if anyone in the audience has an idea for a better weapon, we can use it.’ They'll send us their ideas and we'll pick the best and do an episode. What we can do is build the prop, 3D print it at full scale and give it to the person who designed it.”
It’s not exactly paying people for their services, but it’s a way of acknowledging that their work is worth something and giving back to the community. Trying to figure out how to work with contributors while not making money — yet — is something that Blomkamp wants to do. During our conversation, Blompkamp referenced HitRecord, a company founded by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Looper) that has found success in the various art it creates while also paying contributors to help to “remix” projects.
“I know Joseph and I really want to talk to him about HitRecord,” Blomkamp said. “I don’t know too much about it, but it’s an interesting idea.”
When it comes down to it, however, Blomkamp’s main goal is to create feature-length, $50 million films without having to rely on a studio. During our conversation, the topic of how directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were recently fired from the Han Solo stand-alone project came up. We talked about what it was like to work with studios on big budget films and the stress that can sometimes come with making a director’s personal style reflect the vision the studio has for that picture.
When asked if he ever encountered problems similar to those that Lord and Miller experienced, Blomkamp said he couldn’t speak about their experience, but did offer some retrospect on issues that he’s dealt with.
“I would say that typically in Hollywood, the way that it looks to me at least, is that the directors interact with studios with less friction and more ease than I tend do,” Blomkamp said. “I can only judge it from my own personal point of view. I have to be in the right mindset to be working with a studio on a major picture. But I also want to have another system where I can be my own boss and not worry about that.”
Being able to make the movies he wants without friction from studio executives is a major reason behind why Blomkamp launched Oats Studios in the first place. One of the more attention-grabbing stories that’s come out in recent years is the issues Blomkamp went through trying to get Alien 5 made. After years of “will it, won’t it” questions circulating, Alien: Covenant director Ridley Scott confirmed Fox wasn’t going to go through with the movie.
When asked how he felt about what happened with Alien, Blomkamp sighed, admitting that he doesn’t like to talk about the project because it became a negative experience and he wants to move forward.
“I doubt that it will ever see the light of day,” Blomkamp said. “It's essentially dead. Strangely, that project has become kind of negative and I don't want to be dwelling in it. That's just life in the big city.”
Without Alien 5 to worry about, Blomkamp is dedicating his attention to Oats Studios and the company’s first project, Rakka. Rakka was released a couple of weeks ago, making its premiere after Blomkamp’s appearance during Geoff Keighley’s E3 livestream, and follows a post-apocalyptic world ruled by aliens. The movie was released for free on YouTube and Steam, with an option to purchase DLC. Since its release, Blomkamp said that the company has seen some profit, and that’s a positive sign for what he and his team want to accomplish going forward.
“It's not enough to making another Rakka,” Blomkamp said when asked how much they had made. “But we assumed we'd be giving away things for free and getting nothing back. People giving us $4.99 for DLC stuff ... the goal is to kind of try and test things. Some people see some value in some of the stuff that we're putting up in the DLC pack.
“Is that a viable business model? No, but we knew that going in. And it looks positive that people want to pay at all.”
While Blomkamp is pleased with the success so far, it will be a while until the director will be able to tell if this is a viable path. As he put it himself, “only time will tell.”