Neill Blomkamp may not being making an Alien 5 movie anytime soon, but he does want his fans to help choose his next project. The South African-Canadian director, known for his sci-fi films District 9, Elysium and CHAPPiE, has created a series of short films, under the Oats Studio banner, in the hope that audiences will enjoy them enough to want to help choose a future instalment.
So far, Blomkamp has released three short films on YouTube, Rakka, Cooking With Bill and Firebase. The first 22-minute film is set in 2020, in the aftermath of an alien invasion, where humanity has been enslaved and a resistance is being led by Sigourney Weaver and an escaped prisoner named Amir. While Cooking With Bill is more of a seriously weird infomercial - at just over three minutes in length - Firebase (26 mins) continues the obscure and non-linear structure of Rakka but this time set during the Vietnam War. After a series of irregular deaths, and witness accounts of tanks floating in the air, the CIA send in a team to take out the thing responsible - the River God.
Rakka has so far notched up over 2.8 million views since it was released two weeks ago, while Firebase has earned just under a million since it was published on June 28 - so clearly there's an appetite for these experimental short films. Blomkamp's goal is to continue releasing shorts in this way in order to bypass major studios, and their control over creativity, to make truly independent films for the audience. Blomkamp explained to Nerdist:
“The main goal eventually, if it’s possible, is to raise enough money from the audience to make films independently. 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.”
Another option, Neill detailed, is to make every volume free, then raise capital to fund the production of a movie based on the short film most popular with the audience. That feature-length movie would then be given a theatrical release and the profits earned would go towards funding even more Oats Studio volumes. The director did mention crowd-funding as a third option, but didn't think it would be a "viable" choice.
There is certainly something noble in the way Blomkamp is hoping to change the business model of movie-making but right now the way he's working, and using his own words, it's "like a dumpster fire of money." However, the director is not being hindered by studio input, thus able to create obscure and challenging cinema that is rarely seen onscreen. He's taking chances and putting it online so that the audience can be the judge of what works, not a load of execs unwillingly to open their mind to his creative vision. That's pretty empowering - and whether Blomkamp succeeds or fails in this endeavor, at least he's created authentic cinema.