FESTIVALS: Perspectives from the Front Lines of the Digital Future
by Eugene Hernandez
RESFEST went Hollywood in 1999, kicking off at the famed (and newly
restored) Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. At a full day of panel
discussions later in the week, organizers welcomed members of the Hollywood
community to discuss the future of entertainment in the digital age.
On the minds of many over the past year, as developments offer a glimpse at
new solutions, is the crucial subject of distribution. 1999 saw the true
impact of e-cinema (digital projection) as this summer George Lucas' "Star
Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace," Disney's "Tarzan," and Miramax's "An
Ideal Husband" was projected digitally in regular movie theaters, as
part of their regular theatrical release. While over the past nine months,
led by the high-profile debuts of iFilm and AtomFilms, a crop of online
entertainment websites debuted, intending to establish their brands as the
household distribution names of the new century. Such was the subject of a
discussion moderated by AFI's Maija Beeton and welcoming Cinecom Digital
Cinema COO Russell Wintner, Quickband Networks V.P. Jan Cox, and Kevin Foxe,
executive producer of "The Blair Witch Project."
Wintner, who worked on the digital release of "Star Wars" this summer,
imagines his company as the "truckdrivers of bits and bytes, in the same way
that Airborne ships (film) prints." Acknowledging that the studios feel
threatened by these advances and are frightened about losing control.
Wintner is in the process of meeting with studio executives to reassure
them. The move is inevitable explained Wintner, but he added that its "not
going to be an overnight revolution." In the meantime, Disney and Pixar's
upcoming animated feature, "Toy Story 2," will be released in half a dozen
theaters via digital projection, and on the indie side, Wintner hinted at a
coming announcement involving a handful of arthouse theaters that will be
projecting digitally from DVD.
A streaming video website representative was unable to attend the
discussion, stacking the deck against the emerging format. Cox, who is
investing her time into DVD these days, was rather critical of the platform,
instead pushing the "broadband model on DVD." While only 6% of the
households that have VCR's also have DVD players, according to Cox, she
maintains that the medium is ideal for short films. Quickband Networks
distributed "Short Cinema Journal," a DVD publication for shorts. During a
separate seminar, MediaTrip.com's Patrick Lynn, a former executive at Samuel Goldwyn and producer's rep who has made the leap to the Internet, touted the possibilities for short films online. His site's debut movie, "George Lucas
in Love," has already been viewed 130,000 times, he boasted. "Selling your
film is still a very hard process," he explained, "Hopefully we are going to
break the bottleneck of distribution."
Movie producer Foxe has become a poster boy for the Internet as a
result of his association with the landmark "Blair Witch," which was fueled
by its popular website. During such conversations, Foxe quips that in the
numerous studio meetings following the success of "Blair Witch," he is
invariably pulled into the company's marketing or Internet department to be
quizzed by executives looking for answers on how to replicate the success.
"The studio job is to market a film," explained Foxe, "(We) bucked that
trend and Artisan went with it." Determined to create a website that would
be more of an entertainment spot rather than a marketing tool, the "Blair
Witch" team also wanted to build a potential audience and make it harder for
a potential distributor to say no, according to Foxe. "Their job is to say
no," he quipped, "Until they hear how good it is."
"We want to set up a situation where people can bring information to the
movie," explained Foxe, "We want to bring back that love of movies -- we're
stupid and young -- maybe we'll fail miserably."