July 9, 2007
The West Side, Urban Westerns, and Independent Distribution

Some say that the Western is dead. With the lack of quality Western movies in recent years (and, yes, I know some people are going to debate Open Range, but there was a strong negative response to the quality of that film), there has been a fascinating online collaboration from Ryan Bilsborrow-Koo and Zachary Lieberman called The West Side.

It is a series of online short videos, a collection that the creators call "a contemporary version of the serial novel." The series is being funded personally by the two creators and presented online for free, distributed through their Web site and through RSS subscriptions. And it is an urban western set "in a unique, alternate universe," melding the American Western style with an urban setting.

In all, there will be 12 episodes of the series, with the first one posting on Independence Day. The creators plan to have a blog for the series run alongside the distribution of the 12 episodes, located here.

Bilsborrow-Koo has his own blog in which he writes that they have been working on the show for a full year. Find more about his history here.

John Oakhurst calles this "THE NEW MODEL...for DIY content creation, creativity, and distribution."

He points out that "this concept would have made a great low budget feature, but without any budget to speak of, RBK and ZL took matters into their own hands. It's a film, it's a 'podcast,' it's an episodic, it's a series. It's feature length, in portions."

I share his enthusiasm for this project and am excited to see more from the Web series as it unfolds, just as I will be interested to see if it creates any buzz around it. This ties into my post earlier today about alternate forms of distribution for films and what this might mean for film's future. One has to think that there will continue to be shifts in the balance of power as independent creators develop an increasing number of ways to reach the audience while bypassing traditional forms of content.

You can look back to the series I wrote about at this time last year, Soup of the Day, for one model. I wrote, "the show is likely done with a meager budget, without major name talent, but has gained a following through clever transmedial marketing, through its being a unique venture in the first place, and Iron Sink Media's ability to make compelling episodes that people want to follow--and with pretty impressive production values for a small independent project like this."

The amount of seriality and connectedness that draws the 12 West Side episodes together will make for an even more interesting series, that idea of breaking a feature-length film into 12 online episodes. The success of the product can only be speculated about at this point, but it seems worth a look as a potential model as the episodes progress.