While all the critical attention is focused on Spike Lee's Bamboozled, another recent release of his has gone unmentioned: "The Harlem to Martha's Vineyard Special," which stars his wife and their very own weekend estate. You won't be seeing the four-minute vignette in theaters, however. In fact, you can see it only on Jaguar.com. Filmmakers like Lee are beginning to see dollar signs -- and increased audiences -- in the production of "Webisodes," streaming mini-movie commercials that play on corporate Websites.
"It's part of the evolution of advertising," says Jon Kamen of @radical.media, which matches commercial directors with ad agencies. "I call that 'back to the future,' like single-sponsor programming in the early days of television. Web shows are a crude form of that same concept, 50 years later."
Last winter, Galt Niederhoffer, 25, and Daniela Soto-Taplin, 24, pictured, producers of Given Films (Hurricane Streets and the upcoming Prozac Nation, with Christina Ricci), came up with a commercial character, Rocket Jones, a kung fufighting varsity athlete by day and stilettoed party girl by night. They imagined Web surfers watching Rocket Jones's escapades and clicking on, say, the sports bra she's wearing to buy it. Nike signed on for 30 one-minute episodes, for which the pair are being paid what they get for a feature film "if not slightly more," according to Neiderhoffer. "They're very much in touch with where young women are going," says Jackie Thomas, Nike's director of U.S. women's marketing. "It's a consumer segment we need to get as close to as possible."
Another consumer segment that companies want to get as close to as possible is Internet users, and as more of them have the capabilities to view so-called rich media, more filmmakers are being courted to entertain them -- and sell them stuff. "All rich media," says Jason Heller, CEO of the online-media planning, buying, and management firm Mass Transit Interactive, "is just a catalyst to get desensitized Internet users to respond more to your message." Call it the new soft sell.