The Makers Of Smartphone-Shot Feature Film Olive Hope To Rethink Movie Distribution

Nine months ago, we wrote about Olive, whose makers hoped to make it the first feature-length film shot on a smartphone (specifically a Nokia N8 fitted with a special 35MM lens) that made it into movie theaters. Now, co-director Hooman Khalili says he has a different goal — he and his co-director Pat Gilles have rethought movie production, so they’re hoping to “democratize distribution” too.

The movie probably has the connections to make that happen — after all, one of its executive producers, Chris Kelly, is also involved in the “indie Netflix” site Fandor and movie distribution startup GoDigital. (Kelly was formerly Facebook’s chief privacy officer, and he isn’t Olive‘s only link to Facebook — Randi Zuckerberg also has a small part.) Khalili suggests that a a low budget, independently-produced movie with a sincere message just isn’t a good fit for Hollywood executives, but it does play well with the elderly, soccer moms, children, and people of faith.

And Olive has found some big-name supporters. In fact, Dolly Parton apparently loved the film enough that she agreed to write four new songs for it. The new version of the film, recut with Parton’s music, will debut in September at Stream, the annual “unconference” organized by advertising conglomerate WPP and hosted by WPP CEO Martin Sorrell and investor Yossi Vardi.

I actually got a chance to see the pre-Dolly version of the film last weekend. Beforehand, Khalili kept emphasizing that I needed to watch it with an open mind, because if I looked at it cynically, I might not like it. And yes, it’s an earnest, sentimental film, as you can probably guess by the plot description: It’s about a mysterious girl who doesn’t talk, and how she improves the lives of three strangers (including one played by actress Gena Rowlands). But the movie is also sweet, funny, and charming. Within a few minutes I completely forgot that it was shot on a smartphone. Plus, it’s an impressive first film for Khalili (who’s a morning host on Bay Area radio station Alice 97.3).

As for what’s next, Khalili says there’s Stream, and he’s also hoping to show Olive at the Dubai Film Festival. After that, his plans are less definite. He says he’s still open to the possibility of showing Olive in theaters, but it doesn’t sound too likely, and he argues that the importance of the theatrical release is overstated anyway. Look at most independent films, which increasingly go straight to video/digital distribution, or debut digitally before a very limited theatrical run. So Khalili’s more excited about figuring out the right way to release Olive with a big push through video on demand — hopefully before the holiday season, which is really the perfect time to watch the film.