Is YouTube the new film school? CBC News reports that Fede Alvarez, a Uruguayan man who made his 5-minute sci-fi short Panic Attack for $300 and “just for fun,” has landed a deal with Sam Raimi’s GhostHouse Pictures to direct a feature-length film, presumably set in Uruguay, and rumored to be budgeted at $30 million.  No doubt Raimi is hoping to find the next Neill Blomkamp, whose 6-minute short film Live At Joburg was adapted into the summer hit District 9. (Blomkamp actually had considerably more experience, of course.)

Panic Attack isn’t the first viral video to stir up interest this year either. Back in March, the Internet – and many Half-life and Lost fans in particular – went giddy for a jaw-dropping nine-minute short curiously titled What’s In The Box? Shot in Cloverfield-like first-person, Half-life fans noted the imagery in the film mirrored that of the videogame series while the sharp ears of Lost fans heard pieces of Michael Giacchino’s score for the TV series used throughout. This led to a month-long mystery with YouTube viewers pondering whether the short was the start of a viral campaign for the video game or TV series, a new movie promo, or just a commercial for the myriad cell phones on display in the film. It was neither of these things. According to this interview, it was just a short created for 150 Euros by a physics student in the Netherlands called Tim Smit who taught himself how to create special effects on his computer – again, for fun. Twentieth Century Fox called him up.

Slashfilm proposes an interesting scenario: Is this the start of up-and-coming directors submitting their work on spec as viral videos? In the 1970s, guys like Scorsese, Lucas, and Coppola made film-school attendance the norm for young people looking for a gateway into Hollywood. Since then, dozens of noteworthy directors have emerged from the halls of NYU, UCLA, AFI, and USC. With modern advancements in digital photography and special effects, however, making a movie seems as easy as sitting at your computer and fiddling with software. Is film school really necessary? Are guys like Tim Smit and Fede Alvarez the next Neill Blomkamp? Or is there a much wider difference between $300 and five minutes and $30 million and 100 minutes than studio heads seem to realize?