Vito Rocco says he has had nothing but help from the MySpace users who collaborated on his debut feature, Faintheart. Matt Mueller reports.
“Faintheart is about men standing up for themselves,” says Vito Rocco. “I'm very fond of losers and I love stories about people trying to better themselves.”
Tagged as the 'first user-generated feature film', Faintheart is a romantic comedy set in the world of Viking battle re-enactments that follows weekend warrior Richard (Eddie Marsan) and his efforts to win back his wife (Jessica Hynes). It is also about bullying, with Richard tormented at work by his odious boss and his son persecuted at school for his dad's hobby.
Rocco won a UK competition - the MySpace MyMovieMashUp - devised by the social-networking site and producer/distributor Vertigo Films to find a rising director and give him or her a $2m (£1m) budget to make their feature debut. For the public vote, Rocco won with more than 500,000 votes on the strength of his short Goodbye Cruel World.
The director, who first developed Faintheart with screenwriter David Lemon at digital studio Slingshot (another backer of the film with Vertigo, MySpace, Film4, regional funder Screen WM and the UK Film Council), boosted his cause with a video pitch spotlighting his research into re-enactments, including a Viking festival on the Isle of Man.
MySpace users had input into script development and some smaller roles were also cast via online auditions. “It was a fantastic tool,” says Rocco, who insists the MySpace connection was never intrusive. “I've been very free. We haven't had to put in any pop-up banners or people wearing MySpace T-shirts.”
With Rocco locking down the picture in mid-April, just nine months after winning the competition, he is hoping Faintheart could land a prime slot at the Edinburgh film festival in June; Vertigo is likely to launch theatrically in September (Protagonist is selling internationally).
“One of the fears of this scheme was that it was going to create blandness,” says Rocco. “In some ways I was daunted by having to cope with all these other opinions. But it was a way of having access to your audience before you finish the movie. It really helped me.”
It has also helped kick-start his feature film career. Rocco now has original scripts in the works - one is a dark comedy set in the world of amateur dramatics, and another follows a nobody who pretends to be a famous director to impress a girl.
“I want to make black comedies about dysfunctional families,” he sums up.