By Sue McAllister
Mercury News

Want to know where to find good falafel in Manhattan? See the sights of a trendy neighborhood in Montreal? Or perhaps glimpse the wares at the farmers market in downtown San Jose? TurnHere, a new online video company, wants to show you around.

TurnHere’s motto is “short films, cool places.” The Emeryville company, started in June, plans to produce about 25,000 short videos this year, most of them about neighborhoods and their local attractions. Some are advertisements for small businesses, but with a movie-like feel. All are shot and edited by professional filmmakers and available online.

TurnHere syndicates its films through partnerships with portals like Yahoo and Google, licenses them to other Web sites, sells ads on its own site, and acts as both production studio and distributor for businesses that want to use video for marketing. The company is exploring many other potential revenue-generating uses for the films, including running ads with them.

“The idea is that you would be able to go into TurnHere and see just about anything, anywhere at any given time . . . and get an authentic local narrator,” founder and Chief Executive Bradley Inman said. “When you go travel you want a local to tell you where to eat. You don’t come back and say `Oh, I had a wonderful Starbucks.’ You come back and say, `We found this cool little place.’ ”

Wide-ranging topics

TurnHere films — most of which are less than four minutes long — depict everything from art galleries on Geary Street in San Francisco to a skate park in the Cayman Islands. There’s a “Sopranos’ Tour” film of notable New Jersey spots featured in the HBO series, and a three-minute video about the National Yo-Yo Museum in Chico. Restaurants and coffee spots are popular topics as well.

Inman, an entrepreneur and former journalist who founded and then sold the real estate Web site HomeGain, started creating videos about the real estate business about two years ago, including profiles of industry leaders and of notable homes. He soon realized that videos could provide unique travel and tourism information, and appeal to small business advertisers.

“What’s key to us is authenticity and trust and believability, because that is the next generation of the Web — `I want the truth, I want transparency,’ so show me that street with the homeless guy, not try to pretend he’s not there,” Inman said. “It’s what people see every day, so you want to replicate that experience.”

Even the videos promoting businesses accentuate the unique character of the proprietors or the venue.

“The owner comes through well because they have passion about their business,” Inman said. In addition to syndicating videos and selling advertising, TurnHere hopes to find a niche creating high-quality advertising films for small merchants, who in the past typically couldn’t afford that kind of treatment.

Digital cameras and editing programs have reduced the costs of making films, and wide adoption of broadband means more people are watching video online every day.

“It’s a whole different way of thinking about advertising,” Inman said.

Tom Cole, a partner with venture capital firm Trinity Ventures in Menlo Park, said TurnHere appears to be building two business models — one providing filmmaking services for people who want them, and the other building a library of videos.

The first model offers “an opportunity for people to find labor resources they didn’t have before — people will pay for that,” he said.

But building a large-scale library is an expensive proposition given the high quality of the films, he said, meaning profit margins will likely be much lower than if TurnHere were amassing a library of stock photographic images, for example.

`Bold vision’

“It’s a very bold vision,” Cole said. “I think there are multiple interesting themes, and what shape and form they take is `TBD’ ” — to be determined. Trinity Ventures has no investments in any sites that compete directly with TurnHere, Cole said, though the firm funded Photobucket, an online photo- and video-sharing service.

Inman said he doesn’t know of any other companies working on the same model as TurnHere but said he is grateful that the site YouTube has so swiftly increased consumers’ awareness of online video. TurnHere differs from online video sites such as YouTube in that its films are shot and edited by professional filmmakers, not by amateurs. They are designed to tell stories, rather than “sell” viewers on the charms of a location or business, according to the guidelines given to TurnHere filmmakers.

TurnHere filmmakers are selected based on a review of the work they submit, plus their ability to obtain the proper agreements to use the music and images of people they depict in their films. They are usually paid $500 and up for their work, depending on the complexity of the project. TurnHere owns the distribution rights to their films.

Custom production

For several hundred dollars, Turn Here will produce a high-quality short film for a small business, then charge the company a distribution fee of $25 a month. Projects for larger clients can cost up to $10,000, and TurnHere charges for distribution on a “per stream” basis — meaning each time a film is viewed, TurnHere collects a fee from the client.

The company’s three-year goal is to produce about 90,000 short videos. TurnHere is privately owned, but Inman said he is negotiating with potential investors.

“Video can really be this powerful conversion tool, using the emotion of Hollywood to show people `place,’ ” Inman said. “ `Place’ is travel and shopping and it’s clubbing, going out to dinner, it’s real estate, it’s kind of everything.”


Contact Sue McAllister at smcallister@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5833.

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