In what is being billed as "the first photography-inspired film festival in history," Canon U.S.A. (NYSE: CAJ) on Tuesday announced that it has wrangled up five disparate celebrities to direct short films under the tutelage of the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard.
The films will be based on consumer photographs entered in Cannon's "Project Imaginat10n" contest, which invites shutterbugs at all levels to submit still images based on various aspects of storytelling. The five celebrities -- including Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, music producer James Murphy and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone -- will each direct a film based on the winning submissions. The films will premiere in 2013 at the "Project Imaginat10n" Film Festival, at a yet-to-be announced location.
For Stone, who co-founded Twitter in 2007 at the age of 33, the contest is a chance to temporarily put aside technology and rediscover some of his more creative passions. "I started out as a painter and a graphic artist," he told Fast Company's Co.Create website. "I only sort of accidentally became a technologist, so I think of myself as an artist first and a technologist and entrepreneur second."
While Stone admitted that between his entrepreneurial endeavors and a 9-month-old baby he has little time left for side projects, he was drawn to the opportunity to work with Howard, a show business stalwart career whose spans more than 50 years.
Howard, who is almost universally liked among Hollywood denizens, was a draw for Oscar winner Foxx as well. "When I saw what Ron Howard was doing last year with Canon, I knew the project had integrity," Foxx said in a statement.
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Rob Altman, a manager of camera video marketing at Canon, told Co.Create that choosing successful non-filmmakers to participate was a means of showing how creativity can span various disciplines. "We wanted not just some big names but people from diverse backgrounds who are not necessarily directors but who were creative and driven and leaders in their fields," he said.
Cannon will provide a full support crew for the filmmakers while Howard mentors the budding auteurs throughout the process. The project is an extension of last year's "Project Imagin8ion" contest, for which Canon received some 100,000 photo submissions. The eight that were chosen inspired the short film "When You Find Me," directed by Howard's daughter Bryce Dallas Howard, which went on to play at SXSW, Tribeca and Sundance, before airing on the IFC channel.
The once-noisy din surrounding user-generated contests has somewhat quieted in recent years. In the early days of YouTube and Myspace, such contests soared in popularity, as brands discovered they had a new way to connect directly with consumers. Heinz ketchup (NYSE: HNZ), one of the pioneers of this kind of branded entertainment, first began soliciting user-generated commercials in 2006. Perhaps the format's peak moment, however, came in 2010, when Frito-Lay (NYSE: PEP) aired three user-generated Doritos commercials during "Super Bowl XLIV."
Users wishing to submit their photos to Canon's "Project Imaginat10n" contest must choose one of 10 storytelling-related themes: setting, time, character, mood, backstory, relationship, goal, obstacle, the unknown and a 10th theme to be announced. The winning images will be chosen this fall by Howard, Canon and through community voting on the Canon website.
The deadline for the contest is Sep. 24.