One day in 2005, Andy Wilton was flipping channels and caught a glimpse of Lost in La Mancha, a documentary about Terry Gilliam's doomed attempt to film Don Quixote. For some reason, he couldn't look away. "It was fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time," he said recently. "It stuck with me and for days I kept thinking about my own disasters."
After a little consultation from Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew, he made the movie himself with an unpaid cast, equipment borrowed from his film-company day job, and an opulent budget of a thousand British pounds from personal savings. The film was Behind the Scenes of Total Hell, a mockumentary in the vein of The Office focusing on disastrous film shoot for a horror movie called Total Hell. The film-within-a-film was saddled with a non-existent budget, a ludicrous premise and a borderline psychotic director named Jamie Gunn (not coincidentally, Wilton's two middle names) —only some of which overlapped with the actual film. A year and a few catastrophic equipment failures later, Wilton had a movie on his hands. He shopped it to a few distributors who found it hilarious but completely unmarketable. After dreaming of an indie festival unveiling, he settled for a premiere in the same Newcastle-on-Tyne theater where Jamie Gunn's fictional film premiered.
For most movies, that's where the story ends, but Wilton had an idea. Searching for unconventional alternatives, he connected with a California-based developer called Stonehenge Productions and got his film made into an iPhone app, suddenly available to anyone with five dollars and enough wit to search for it. Within a few months, almost as many people had seen the movie on iPhones as saw it in the theater (a few dozen in total, in case you were getting excited), and Stonehenge was getting him ready for the next step: the iPad. Set to arrive in the app store this summer, Total Hell will be the first indie film on the iPad. If enough others follow suit, it could be the start of a whole new era for film—provided Apple doesn't stomp it out first.