the dark horse - pilotThere’s a lot of talk about money in online video lately. Who’s getting licensing deals, 7-figure advances, funding rounds—yet in the hubbub it’s too easy to take our eyes off the broader context of how the internet is reshaping entertainment.

Last night in LA, at Celebrate the Web’s screening of hastily-made web series pilots was a welcomed reminder that the independent, cooperative, sure-I-can-help-you-out attitude that underlies this whole creative revolution is alive and well. And that’s a very good thing.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that there was some cash on the line—$500 grants to each of the two overall winning teams—along with a development deal with online comedy network My Damn Channel. But ultimately this was as festival about just getting out there any shooting something, rather than just talking about shooting something.

Enough burying the lead. Out of the sixteen pilots in the competition, two took home overall honors—one from the Audience voting online and another from a judges panel that included CTW organizers Jenni Powell, Taryn O’Neill and Stephanie Thorpe along with My Damn Channel CEO Rob Barnett, Molly Templeton, myself, Bernie Su and Olga Kay.

Taking the overall judge’s prize was The Dark Horse, from a sharp Aaron Sorkin-styled walk-and-talk political drama loosely based on the forthcoming re-election campaign of Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Writer and regular Tubefilter reviewer Logan Rapp created the series alongside Jehu Garroutte, with Jared Hoy directing the “Whiskey Riot” team.

Winning the fan voting online for the audience prize was The Epic Hunt from Jeff Ketcham and the “Infamous McKinley” team, which I can only assume is made up of stuntpeople given the tumbles and fights in this 5-minute fight-and-chase about four characters trapped in a deadly outdoor reality game.

With just five days to write, cast, shoot and edit these pilots, there’s some necessary handicapping that viewers must take here. It’s amusing to see how each of the teams incorporated the festival’s overall theme (a quote from Steve Jobs), the number 11:11, and a fictional consumer brand called Weblets.

Some of the entries suffered from a cocktail of regrettable ingredients—be it in the acting, editing or physical production camps—but to write it off as a amateurism in the increasing professionalized world of online entertainment is shortsighted. Is this an elite competition of the best creatives on the internet? No. But that’s not what it’s trying to be.

Sitting in the sold out ACME Theater last night, filled with a vibrant independent community of multi-hyphenates, I was pleasantly reminded that despite all the rush of Hollywood onto the internet, it still is today—as Felicia Day said in her 2009 Streamys acceptance speech—just as possible to get off your ass and not wait for anyone’s permission to make something creative.

Watch all sixteen of the pilots through their links below. And speaking personally, I’d say Purgatory has the strongest shot at an overall series potential as an existential spin on Quantum Leap, with an everyman loafer (Jareb Dauplaise) leaping into people’s lives trying to karmatically earn his way out of purgatory.

Unlawful Behavior by Amazeballz
The Dark Horse by Whiskey Riot
Maja and Ike by RedHoffa
The Family Curse by Team 818
Just Fresh High School by Just Fresh
Turning a Prophet by KATR Pictures
Frendz by Formosa Cinema Club
Hero Treatment by Bryan Cranston Overdrive
Douchebags by Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
The Epic Hunt by Infamous McKinley
Nerdom by Nerd Enterprises
Shopping for Genes by The SugarCoop
Purgatory by Team First World Problems
Rent-Your-Friends by The Roommates
Entwined by MovieFilm Productions
Tiny Prophecies by Believerville

UPDATE: We asked The Dark Horse creator Logan Rapp what it was like to be on the other side of the creative fence for a change and why he went after such a tricky subject matter.

“When it came to this competition I wanted to take a shot at something that hadn’t been done before,” Rapp told us. “We’ve seen outlandish, sci-fi, action-comedy, rom-coms and so many different genres, but we hadn’t had one that took politics seriously. I knew that’s the direction I wanted to take this, and when it came time to write for the competition, I was struck by an article about Gabby Giffords, and I knew then and there that this was someone I’d be willing to watch again and again, fighting her way back into service.”

“Celebrate The Web took a big leap forward this festival,” he added. “and to have run against so many wonderful pilots (Turning A Prophet, Maja And Ike and Frendz being some of my favorites out there) and be selected out of them is – to use the cliche response – an honor. I’m terrified to see what the next festival will bring – the competition will only get stronger from here.”