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By Rory L. Aronsky | May 31, 2006

AtomFilms Studio, a new program from, recently launched with four short films spanning video games, beloved pets, boobs, and an enormous bug that disturbs a hapless guy who just wants to get laid. The best facet of this program comes from AtomFilms being even more interactive with filmmakers, as the Studio dispatches filmmakers to create the very short shorts they’ve always dreamed about.

Megan O’Neill, VP of Acquisitions and Production for AtomFilms, and in charge of the Studio, has a lot to say about what makes it run and how hungry filmmakers can become a part of it.

How did this idea happen?

I actually had been pushing the idea for original programming for almost three years. I kept saying at the company that if you watch the trajectory of pay cable, you would notice that at the beginning, it was enough just to have great movies or movies in general on HBO. But ultimately, the way to keep subscribers on HBO, they needed to invest in original programming. Most subscribers on HBO ultimately are subscribing the original programming and I think that’s what’s ultimately going to happen online. I think the way that we can make ourselves unique is to invest in the creators and original programming. That’s how it started and ultimately, they said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”

How did you come upon the filmmakers for the first set of shorts?

I knew all four of them. Three of them were Atom filmmakers already and basically, when I got the green light internally for this program, I wanted to go out to filmmakers who I knew, who I believed would create terrific content, terrific films, really. And I asked for pitches and ideas. And I went out to a group of filmmakers and these were the four whose ideas I thought would work. I had specific reasons why I picked each of those filmmakers and I think they all came through beautifully.

What were the specific reasons?

I wanted to be sure that a few of the films were going to be viral films. Pes, who did “Game Over”, I think he’s extremely talented. I’ve been talking to Pes for about three years. AtomFilms acquired his short, “Roof Sex”, and it did incredibly well on the site and it did incredibly well on the festival circuit. And so I was looking for somebody who I thought who would not only create a viral film for us, but whose short would play well on the animation film festival circuit.

And then with the Project Greenlight guys, I had acquired a short of theirs years ago called “They Came to Attack Us”, and I loved the fact that Efram and Kyle know how to blend sort of horror, creepy, sci-fi stuff with humor, kind of Evil Deadish. They have that sensibility and I knew that would work online and it’s hard to find shorts like that. They were sort of a perfect example of whom I thought if we commissioned them, I know it would work and it did, obviously.

“Dog Years 2.” I had acquired their first short, “Dog Years.” I think that that duo, that writing/directing team, are really clever writers, really witty dialogue and what I really like about “Dog Years” is I knew it would play great at film festivals and in fact, “Dog Years 2” premiered at this year’s Aspen Short Fest, the premier festival for shorts, one of the toughest festivals in the country to get into.

And then the final film, “New Boobs”, I had spoken at a panel last year at Aspen, talking about how if this program happened at AtomFilms, what I would be looking for is films that worked for our audience. The audience is more young men, they like humor, and that films with good titles really work well on the site, catchy titles. And I loved the fact that Matt and his writer, Sophia, came back to me with a pitch specifically for AtomFilms. They were not intending to make this film. They came up with this idea in which they thought the title was catchy and they wanted to have a pretty girl and they got the idea of who our audience was. And I also love the fact that Matt is a self-taught filmmaker and I think that’s what the Internet is also about: Anybody can create a film.

And when they gave the pitch I said, “Yeah, I really want to do this with you.” That was the thought process with the four of them.

For filmmakers that want to pitch an idea to AtomFilms Studio, how do they go about it?

It’s very easy. There’s a section on the site, under “Submit A Film.” You’ll find information on where to send your pitch and you can just send us a one-line description, you can send us a script, as long as it follows certain criteria.

And what are the criteria?

It has to be five minutes or shorter, the filmmaker has to have all of their talent and music clearances, and no porno.

What genres are you looking for?

Obviously online, comedy and animation work the best, so those are the preferred genres, but honestly, I’m considering a great documentary idea. Horror and sci-fi are also popular. Pretty much anything that we think would interest the AtomFilms audience.

So let’s say that you get a pitch from a filmmaker in Chicago that is reflective of what you want and you greenlight it. What happens next?

They sign a contract with us, we pay them 50% upfront. They go off and make the film, they deliver the film, and we pay them the other 50%. Honestly, once we say yes, they have total creative freedom.

Does AtomFilms contribute to the budget?

We agree on a price beforehand. The reason we pay 50% beforehand and 50% after is because we have to make sure that we receive the film from the filmmaker.

What do you like the most about AtomFilms Studio?

We’re really tapping into who are going to be the next creators in this medium, who are going to be the next potential stars. Who’s the Steven Soderbergh of online? We’re looking for the people who really have a unique voice. They’re saying something that really works for an online audience and a mobile audience. I think the amazing opportunity for young filmmakers is that they are not competing right now with big feature filmmakers to make these pieces and if they create something in our original program and it clicks and millions of people see it, they have the opportunity to get incredible exposure for their career. Some of these kids are going to get picked up! The smart development people are trolling online for talent. That’s what I do. I’m online, trying to figure out who the next Jib Jab, who the next really amazing director is, the next Tarantino, and I think those people can be found online! It’s an opportunity for these filmmakers to create work that can get them more work, without having to go through the whole rejection process or getting your script sold. It can take years to get those projects made.

What’s coming up for AtomFilms Studio? Who’s next?

We have said yes to two series that are both in production now. One is a live-action series called “Casual Encounters”, kind of loosely based on the Craigslist “casual encounters” idea, dark, uncomfortably funny. That’ll launch in the fall. We have also said yes to our first animated five-part series called “The Kinzai Ninjas” and it’s about a group of ninjas who escape Japan and are hiding out in the O.C. It’s created by the team that made and I think these guys are going to be huge, I think it’s going to be hilarious, and that’s also going to come out in the fall. I am actively looking for more pitches, and there’s money to fund stuff, and I’m looking for talented people to create it. It’s an ongoing program and it’s a matter of finding great projects.

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