Interesting BusinessWeek story on digital video, which is making it much easier for independents to shoot movies on a low budget, though it notably mischaracterizes the cost of Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi. While it may have been shot for only $7,225, post production work pushed to cost into the hundreds of thousands, still miniscule by Hollywood standards, but out of hobbyist reach:
- Rodriguez, 34, keeps costs down by harnessing the power of digital technology. He shoots on high-definition video, not film, because the latter is pricey to buy, develop, and edit. Video cameras, however, can be held in the palm of a hand, which allows far more intimate filming than is possible with traditional 1,000-lb. cameras mounted on dollies.
ONE-MAN SHOW. Most important, though, by keeping costs low, Rodriguez can demand full creative control — a dream for all but the most high-powered directors in Hollywood, most of whom have to answer to profit-driven media conglomerates. In his most recent film, Spy Kids 2, Rodriguez gave himself nine production credits, including director, writer, co-producer, cinematographer, editor, and co-composer of the movie’s score. He also edited sound effects and supervised heart-stopping visual effects from his home computer.
Although everything Rodriguez has done makes sense in the bottom-line world of moviemaking, no herd is following in his footsteps. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the average film budget in 2000 was $54.8 million, up from $9.4 million in 1980. Directors and cinematographers, who have built their reputations on their skilled use of film.
….On Jan. 3, Hollywood will get a bigger taste of this trend, when digital screening lounge CineSpace opens. The supper club/screening room will let patrons dine while taking in indie films and documentaries. Its first feature will be American Pimp, a hard-hitting documentary about prostitution in America. In February, Cinespace will host a weekly New Film Makers’ Series that showcases the best local directors to industry reps and the general public.
It may be a decade or more before digital video upends the Hollywood status quo. In the meantime, new technology is helping creative but underfunded filmmakers carve out new markets and build an audience for films that don’t fit the Hollywood formula. “Every one of these ideas is a great step forward because it allows filmmakers to begin and end in digital,” says Michelle Byrd, executive director for New York’s Independent Feature Project, an organization that supports independent filmmakers. Ultimately, she predicts, “true digital production and distribution will give rise to a new golden age for film.”
Remember the scene in Broadcast News where Joan Cusak, the dedicated news assistant, tears madly down the hall to deliver the crucial news tape in time for the nightly broadcast? If Gordon Castle, CNN’s senior vice-president for technology, has his way, that scene will soon seem quaint, just as today’s reporters find it hard to imagine that news was ever produced without a computer and e-mail. At CNN, in fact, physical tapes are becoming a relic of a bygone era.