Dot-coms share the wealth

The fliers touted “The Human Buffet,” “Aliens,” “Body Painting,” and “Frogpond,” all brought to you by AntEye.com. Depending on how closely you follow local music or the Internet, this alternatively looked like a four-band bill, or a night of Jim Rose-style side circus antics. Fortunately, since everyone from the club kids who own the Granada on Saturday nights to the just plain curious came out in droves to see this show, there was a little something for everybody — especially Lawrence’s Ethan Shaftel.

That’s because Shaftel’s short film, Hula-Hoop, screened in this area at last year’s KAN film festival, was chosen by AntEye out of hundreds of entries as the best project from this area, a distinction that carried with it a little more than your typical contest parting gift. What exactly is it? As stated on its Web site, AntEye.com is an “interactive community where viewer is creator is viewer.”

“I’ve entered a lot of video contests but nothing that would provide me with an opportunity like this on winning,” admits Shaftel of the $100,000 development deal he received from AntEye.com. “Usually you get, like, a savings bond or a camera or something.”

$100,000 is a far cry from a savings bond to be sure. It’s even more unbelievable when you consider that Shaftel was 17 when he made the film last year and is currently enrolled in only his first year of film school at the University of Southern California (USC) after graduating early from Lawrence’s Free State High School. So the question has to be asked: What would motivate these dot-coms to take an interest in developing undiscovered talent, especially from, as the fine folks at Buddyhead.com once put it, “one of those places where no one lives”? Being a child of the ’90s you almost instinctively answer “exploitative marketing ploy” to that query, but luckily, AntEye.com’s Patrick J. Doody is here to offer another explanation.

“We did a lot of research and picked apart the cities we felt had burgeoning creative communities on the cusp,” explains Doody, “that is, those that are untapped but we knew existed in the hopes that we become their soapbox to be heard.

“So why take the tour to L.A. or Chicago or New York when those cities are already tapped in and have the connections when we can go somewhere like Lawrence or Kansas City,” where Doody claims he saw the best entries. But I’d bet he says that to all the towns.

While Doody and his cohorts at AntEye did choose the winning entries in all six cities in this inaugural contest, future winners will be chosen by viewers on the Web site. According to AntEye’s model, this takes the decision-making process out of the hands of puffy-shirted studio execs and into the hands of this culture’s creative consumers.

In the meantime, Shaftel plans to finish a few projects at USC, begin working on the film with AntEye.com, and take some time off the bond-and-camera circuit. “Last summer I probably spent $400 sending Hula-Hoop in to different festivals,” says Shaftel. “And the one that I won, and got a great deal, I entered for free.”