Trends: The Digital Video Revolution

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You now have the power to both create and distribute digital video. Whether you're interested in making a home movie or you're an aspiring filmmaker, affordable iMac DVs with FireWire connections, DV camcorders, inexpensive storage, and simple software such as iMovie can help you create movies more cheaply and easily than ever before. And with high-bandwidth Internet connections and new storage media such as DVD-RAM, you can share your work with the world.

We asked Roger Ebert--a staunch Mac user and the influential reviewer of Chicago Sun-Times and Roger Ebert & the Movies fame--about the future of digital and desktop movies and the role they'll play in your life.

Q. People can now make films on the desktop and swap them online--what impact is this going to have on movies?

A. It's got to have a good effect. John Cassavetes should have been alive to see what's happening now--he's really the godfather of the making-movies-yourself movement. In the 1960s, he showed you could make a movie without the support of a studio. Now, anyone can make a movie for as little as $3,000--$1,500 for the iMac and $1,500 for the digital camera.

Q. Will the work of a new wave of amateur filmmakers mean we'll all soon be watching better, more creative movies?

A. The fact that people can make movies doesn't mean they'll make good movies. I don't think there will be any appreciable difference in quality--it takes a tremendous amount of skill and artistry to make a really good film.

I was talking to a director at the Sundance Film Festival who was bragging that he used six handheld cameras to shoot a bathroom scene. But unless you have at least one person who really knows how to use a camera, you have six cameras' worth of useless film.

But a lot of kids are growing up visually literate because of all this technology, and they will probably grow into a number of good directors. They have some role models--Spike Lee, Richard Rodriguez--who made films without raising lots of money, and I'm very encouraged.

Q. So what kinds of movies will people see on the Web?

A. Short films seem to be very happy on the Web, but longer films haven't found a place yet. The Quantum Project is a movie that was made entirely for the Web, but it cost too much. The movie was only 32 minutes long and they charged, I think, $5.95 for a high-resolution version and $3.95 for a low-resolution version. If you are going to the trouble of downloading, you should pay less than you would on pay-per-view television.

Q. Then how will the aspiring home moviemaker use the Web to get his or her works out?

A. I've suggested there could be a site where movies are pooled and they could be seen for free for a certain amount of time, say one or two months. Someone sees them and tells a friend. After two months, some movies will have gotten a lot more hits than others--Darwinism is the word I've used. At that point, those ones may be distributed on the big screens.

Q. So will people watch movies online instead of going to the local cineplex on a Friday night?

A. People won't stay away from the theater. They like to be in a crowd, get out of the house, go on dates--they like the whole moviegoing experience.

I do see online and theaters as different release patterns. The online films will not be considered as good as what's in the theaters. Today, if a movie is released directly to video, or on cable, it is seen to be subtly inferior. That's not always the case, but that's the way people see it. If you made a really good movie, you wouldn't release it online. Theatrical releases will still be the way filmmakers want to get their films out.

Q. Have you tried to use any moviemaking software yourself?

A. I used a G3 to make a movie of our family vacation in Jamaica--it was just for the four of us. The key was the camera operator, and I think I did a fairly good job. I was more interested in making a documentary than a video about our vacation.

Q. Any tips you'd like to give aspiring iMovie filmmakers?

A. The problem in shooting and editing a movie at home is discipline. You don't want to use every effect and every wipe in the book. Don't let the editing upstage the content--even 90 percent of what I shot didn't make it into the final cut.

Q. Fast forward a few years. How and where are people going to watch movies?

A. Convergence is the key word at home. Broadcast, cable, the Internet, and satellites will somehow magically come together and seamlessly blend. People will move files around over high-bandwidth networks. Really high-quality home theater systems are common now and will become more common within five years, with an 8-foot screen and a projector. It will become very common for people to sit in their living room, pull down the projector, and watch a movie with very high-quality video and sound--movies available on demand.

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