April 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Donna Terek

Detroit duo collaborates on United Nations of filmmaking

One film, multiple directors worldwide
One film, multiple directors worldwide: Detroit filmmakers Ian Bonner and Marty Shea have pioneered a new film genre, the "CollabFeature," a film made by multiple filmmakers around the world contributing via the Internet to a single feature film.

Detroit — Imagine 40 film directors coming together to make one film. Then imagine that those filmmakers are based in 23 countries on five continents.

Impossible? But it's exactly what happened on a film that just wrapped shooting in Midtown.

Independent filmmakers Marty Shea and Ian Bonner, both Detroiters, have pioneered a new genre of film that brings indie directors from all over the world together on one project.

They named it CollabFeature, and the film they just finished shooting — with the working title "Train Station" — is their second collaborative film.

"A lot of people think filmmakers are the worst people to have a collaboration with, because they're all egotistical control freaks," says Shea. "But in some ways filmmakers are the best [people] to collaborate because that's all we do. We collaborate with our director of photography, with our actors, with our lighting people…it's the only way to make a good film."

The creative consortium has one film completed. It's in the editing phase of the second and is making plans for a third project, which will be a TV or Web series with the working title "A Billion to One."

"The first time I started thinking about something like this was in college," says Shea, 36. "I was very attracted to the idea of artistic collaboration on any level."

'We had no idea where it would take us'

Shea has worked as a production manager, assistant director, and many other job titles on more than 70 productions, including commercials (Budweiser, Chrysler, GM), features ("The Upside of Anger"), TV shows ("America's Most Wanted) and music videos (Eminem, Snoop Dogg) and independent films.

Bonner, 35, is a Web designer for an ad firm. Besides developing and curating the CollabFeature website, he is the principal writer on their projects and "my closest collaborator," says Shea.

It occurred to the duo that collaboration could be the perfect opportunity for independent filmmakers who usually have to scrounge funding and favors to pull off even a short film that takes two to three days to shoot. For these artists, making a full-length feature is a dream that may never come true.

"It was 1998 when we started to pursue this," Shea says. "We had no idea where it would take us." But they put up a message board for filmmakers asking "What if we put a bunch of short films together, we write them together, we write them for a specific concept?" Shea said.

"Initially we had no intention of this being international," Shea says.

When the message board went up, they were thrilled to see filmmakers responding from all over the world. To date, more than 1,000 filmmakers have expressed interest and 140 are active collaborators. Eventually, Bonner designed a website where they could all interact and collaboratively devise a project.

Their first film, "The Owner," was made by 25 filmmakers from 13 countries on five continents. It was completed by a film editor in Orlando, a sound design team in Berlin, a composer in Spain, and a post-production house in South Africa. Then Shea and Bonner did the final polishing.

Diversity of voices

"The Owner" follows a backpack as circumstances shunt it from country to country as different people try to return it to its owner.

After two years of filming, editing and scoring, "The Owner" premiered on May 25, 2012, an homage to the 25 filmmakers on five continents. Each filmmaker procured a local theater for their first showing, so the film premiered simultaneously around the world.

It came out on DVD in January — the same month they found out they'd made the Guinness Book of World Records for most directors on a film — and Shea still hopes to find a distributor to get the film back into theaters. But for now it's available to purchase or rent on their website, collabfeature.com.

Their most recent project, "Train Station," presented new challenges as everyone worked to integrate their segments into a single story line. They obviously couldn't send actors around the world, so in each country the main character is played by a different actor or actress and the director had to make an audience understand this was the same person inhabiting different bodies in different cultures.

The number of women directors went up from four on "The Owner" to 12 on "Train Station."

"It's been great because this can be such a male-dominated industry," said Bonner. "We've always wanted different perspectives ... we spent a lot of time trying to make sure we were representing everyone who wanted to be a part of this."

Now that all the segments of "Train Station" have been shot, the group hopes to complete editing and post-production polishing by winter.

"We're doing everything from the internet, so we could be anywhere. I could be on the moon working on CollabFeature," Shea says, but "We want to be from Detroit."

"It's cool to remind the world that Detroit has a history of producing some of the coolest stuff in the world."

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The complete film "The Owner" is available for purchase or digital rental on collabfeature.com. The trailer is also available there: http://www.collabfeature.com/theowner/

Writer Ian Bonner, left, and director Marty Shea, pose on a set with green screen TVs that will each show a scene shot by a different director. They were shooting the final scenes of the collabfeature at the Hastings Street Ballroom in Detroit. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Cinematographer Lon Stratton was the director of photography for the ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
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