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Independent producer opens a window on the filmmaking process

June 9, 2010 |  9:00 am

Saddle ranch About 40 film crew members and actors are crowded into a small Brentwood apartment, taking a short break in the middle of a 12-hour shoot for an independent feature film called "Grooming Giselle."

One of the actors is slumped in a chair rehearsing his lines, another is munching on a bowl of cereal on the front porch that has been converted into a makeshift concession area. A third actor, dressed in drag, is strutting across the small living room in nothing but pink underwear. He is joking with the makeup artist about the painful wax job she just gave him.

"You have a great butt," one of the producers observes.

Normally, such behind-the-scenes banter would be off limits to movie audiences or maybe only available in the bonus features of a DVD.

But the producers of this ultra-low-budget romantic comedy about a deadbeat actor and his sister who becomes mixed up with the mob took an unorthodox approach: They decided to turn the cameras on themselves, using a live video stream to let viewers watch the production from beginning to end and interact with the film's cast and crew through a chat room.

For a fee of about $10, viewers can log onto the website www.SulSet.com and "see everything that happens behind the scenes on a real Hollywood movie set," said Kim Sarubbi, president of Saddle Ranch Productions, a Los Angeles company that is producing the film. Saddle Ranch, a newcomer to feature films, is better known for making documentaries and short videos about pet care and healthcare that are shown in the offices of veterinarians and doctors.

Sarubbi initially launched the website as a way to recoup some of the $200,000 invested in the film, which doesn't have a distributor and features a cast of unknown actors. She figured it would mostly be of interest to friends and family of crew members who were curious to follow the production.

"I thought if we could create a built-in audience and an additional revenue stream, why not?" said Sarubbi, a veteran advertising and marketing executive.

She said about 800 subscribers have signed up since the service went live Saturday. She hopes to eventually attract 20,000 subscribers by marketing to film schools and other groups.

That may be an ambitious goal given that watching the movie-making process, with its multiple takes and downtime for cast and crew, can be as exciting as watching paint dry.

Still, Sarubbi sees potential for a new business. She has a patent pending on the SulSet concept and aims to license the software to filmmakers and TV networks, capitalizing on the growing interest in harnessing the Internet to promote films and TV shows, as well as consumers' voyeuristic interest in Hollywood.

It's hard to imagine that many privacy-obsessed Hollywood stars would consent to being filmed when they're off camera. " Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are not going to want to do this," Sarubbi said.

She said all the actors in "Grooming Giselle" consented to the live streaming under a Screen Actors Guild contract for ultra-low-budget features.

The concept at least has garnered some high-profile supporters. Among them is veteran production executive Michael Helfant, the former president of Marvel Studios.

"I think it's an idea and a technology that is cutting edge," said Helfant, co-chief executive with film production company Troika Pictures. "Everyone is looking to talk to their audience in more finite and effective ways and this gives them an opportunity to do that."

-Richard Verrier

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