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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Living | Arts / Cyberlinks
Filmmaker goes Hollywood on Internet

By Patti Hartigan, Globe Staff, 05/14/99

ust when you're getting pretty efficient about dismissing breathless announcements of Internet ''firsts'' - such as the first on-line radio station for boomers with bad musical taste or the first Web site to market mediocre paintings on line - along comes a genuine breakthrough that could shake up The System in Hollywood. Imagine: no more power lunches. No more groveling to get a foot in the door at the major studios. No more jockeying for quality time with the head honchos.

Meet Mark Tapio Kines, the first aspiring filmmaker to announce, fund, cast, and market his screenplay on the Internet. His first feature film, ''Foreign Correspondents,'' was completed in February; it stars Melanie Lynskey (''Heavenly Creatures'') and Wil Wheaton (''Stand by Me''). Kines, 29, raised a sizable chunk of the film's $500,000 budget from complete strangers who visited his Web site (www.forcor.com); he located some of the props by posting notices on line; and he courted cast members with e-mail. Now, the young director is peddling the film at indie film festivals, where he hopes to attract a distributor.

If his feature, which intertwines two bizarre love stories, achieves even modest success, it could inspire other scribes to trade in their film degrees for certificates in Web design. And it could prompt the Hollywood studios to find more innovative uses of the Internet than glitzy fan clubs and mandatory marketing sites.

Kines earns his daily keep by designing such Web sites. After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992, he launched a career designing entertainment sites; his credits include ''MADtv,'' ''12 Monkeys,'' and the ill-fated ''Waterworld.'' So when he finally got around to writing his own screenplay back in 1996, he designed a Web site to announce it.

''If you know how to juggle, you use your juggling to promote your film,'' says Kines, now art director for Paramount Digital Entertainment. ''I know how to make Web sites, so it seemed like the most natural and cheapest way to market my film.''

At first, he figured he could make the film himself, using his personal savings of about $40,000. But while surfing the Net one day, he discovered a Lynskey fan site, which noted that the actress was eager to work in American independent films. Using that nugget, Kines contacted her agent and, in a few months, the actress agreed to make the film. Producer Julia Stemock signed on soon after, and Wheaton and other actors joined the cast. Lynskey's letter of intent is posted on the site, along with storyboards and other behind-the-scenes details.

After the cast was signed, Kines posted a ''quiet little plea'' for potential investors on his Web site. He expected a few donations of $10, maybe even $100. Instead, several people kicked in six-figure sums. One Canadian family that admired Wheaton's work in ''Stand by Me'' sent $10,000. A computer consultant in San Jose agreed to donate $5,000 a month until the film was completed; he eventually anted up $50,000.

''It's crazy, isn't it?'' asks Richard Klein, the computer consultant, who discovered the ''Foreign Correspondents'' site while randomly surfing. ''I don't know a damn thing about the film business. It's kind of crazy, don't you think?''

Well, yes. But Klein was named executive producer of the film, and he will recoup his investment plus a percentage of the profits - if the film ever gets off the ground. ''I'm a single guy. My salary is good, and my expenses are low,'' he says. ''I've been in the computer business for 20 years, and I was looking for something different, something that involved interacting with artists as opposed to computer geeks.''

Kines circumvented the system with his film, but he's not convinced that the business is going to change overnight. Studio executives share the fear that is rocking the music industry, which is being forced to realign because of technology that enables artists to distribute their music on line.

''There are a lot of fat cats in the industry who have made their fortune through traditional ways, and they're afraid these young guns are going to steal their fire,'' Kines says.

Even so, Kines is already launching two future projects on line, this time before the screenplays are even written. (Those sites are www.scarredforlife.com, and www.typhoidmary.com.) And he continues to raise money to pay back the debts he racked up while shooting ''Foreign Correspondents.''

''Could you mention that I sell photos of the stars on the Web site?'' he asks.

There's certainly nothing new about trying to make money on line, and Kines is unapologetic about turning into a sort of cyber P. T. Barnum. ''I had to make sure that I exploited everything I possibly could, and the Internet is an interactive medium,'' he explains. ''I had to go out and lure people in like a carnival barker.''

If this cyber barker gets his way, his film will be coming to a theater near you.

Send e-mail to cyberlinks@globe.com.

This story ran on page C01 of the Boston Globe on 05/14/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.

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