Thu 11.7.2013

Power to the People: Tongal and Spitfire Invite Filmmakers to Pitch the Next Great Documentary

“You never know where the next great story will come from.” That’s how Alex Brunner, Deputy Chief Operating Officer at Exclusive Media, parent company of Spitfire Pictures, describes the idea behind The Spitfire Documentary Project.

The project kicked off in September, when Tongal and Spitfire launched an experiment/competition based on the concept of “creative populism.“ The goal was to find the next great story with the potential of becoming the next great documentary feature film. It started with an idea submission phase: anyone and everyone were invited to submit documentary subject ideas (after first joining the “Tongal community” by signing up on the company’s website)—expressed in less than 500 characters. From nearly 300 submissions, the five best subjects were chosen, with $1000 going to each winner, who also stand to receive 5% of any of Tongal’s net profits if a film based on that subject is distributed.

Today marks the launch of the pitch phase: filmmakers are invited to submit pitches (by December 17)—in the form of text, past work samples, images and a video—based on one of the top five ideas, or you can also submit a pitch based on a whole new “wildcard” idea of your own.

The winning subjects: Geeks of Twin Peaks, explores the lives and obsessions of Twin Peaks super fans and the show itself; The Viral Age, an examination of “viral videos” and what impact it has had on our culture; A Matter of Lights and Death, the story of the housing community in Texas, whose intense and outrageous holiday lights competition is a lighting rod for controversy; The Mole Man, the story of Ron, a grown man with mental illness (likely autism) whose parents decided to avoid institutionalizing him and fulfilled his simple requests for building materials. He has since built a 28-room maze/structure in the backyard and created his own world; and Life Changer, which follows a lottery winner and the impact it has on his life.

In the next phase, the best eight directors’ pitches will be awarded $2,500 to produce a sizzle reel. The top two sizzle reels will be “green lit” for production, and those filmmakers will be offered the opportunity to enter into a production agreement with Tongal and $35,000 budget each to produce a director’s cut of their films. Finally, at least one of the two directors will receive $15,000 in funds to complete his or her documentary.

The strength of creative populism is that different people contribute to the same content at the phase where their individual strengths lie. “There are people who are very good at coming up with good ideas and people who are able to execute them,” explains James DeJulio, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Tongal, “and they are rarely the same people. Skill diversity and collaboration leads to better outcomes—in life and creativity.”

Tongal’s partnership with Spitfire (Exclusive Media’s documentary production label, which produced the Ocsar-winning Undefeated) is its first foray into the feature film space. Since 2009, Tongal has pioneered the concept of crowdsourced advertising and promotional content. The web-based platform connects writers, producers and directors everywhere with brands seeking content by breaking down creative development into a series of challenges, from idea through execution. The most visible ad created by the Tongal community: the 2013 Speed Stick Super Bowl commercial where the guy at the laundromat gets caught holding an attractive stranger’s panties.

“We really want to level the playing field by allowing anyone to participate,” says DeJulio. “That’s where power is.”

“We love to experiment,” said Brunner. “James had built this brilliant platform so we thought, let’s try and find next great documentary with this platform. We were excited to see where the stories come from and we’re excited to see the results.”

By Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager