Note: print copy was front page of the business section, w/color photo
The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION
Festival Honors Low-Budget Films Made With New Technology
January 10, 1996
by Amy Harmon
NEW YORK — Eric Henry was working at Kinko's last year when he copied some software manuals and taught himself how to manipulate digitized video on a computer. The Oberlin College English major borrowed his dad's surveillance camera and the Kinko's scanner to make his “Bored Project Movie.” He had no budget.
Bart Everson, 24, of Bloomington, Ind., is a telemarketer by day. But with a palmcorder, a “video toaster” and an ancient Mac SE, he and three friends also produce “Rox,” the first TV show to be distributed on the Internet. It's already developed something of a cult following.
Alan Edward Bell had spent nine years as a film editor in Hollywood and realized he might never get the chance to direct. So he scraped together a few thousand dollars and used Hi-8 film and his digital editing skills to create “The Honeymoon.”
All three of these works were among the featured attractions here last weekend at a pioneering event called the Low-Res Film Festival.
Hollywood's fascination with digital technology is well-documented. In recent years, movie moguls have employed the new tools of high tech to dazzle us with 3-D talking toys, modern-day dinosaurs and ever-more expensive explosions.
But the real impact of the digital revolution in pop culture may come from an emerging group of low-budget “filmmakers” (and they use the term loosely) who suddenly find themselves able to exploit Hollywood's medium without needing its sanction.
The Low-Res festival showcases the work of more than two dozen directors whose movies and videos--spliced together with Hi-8 cameras and 9-gigabyte hard drives--were made possible by new and increasingly affordable digital technology.
The “Low-Res” idea was born a year ago in Jonathan Wells' San Francisco basement, where he and festival co-director Bart Cheever assembled the digital film efforts of some of their friends to show with their own “Slacker Cop 3.”
“As we started looking around, we realized there was this whole movement happening, people editing in their basement or home offices on Macs or PCs,” Wells says. “The availability of a lot of these tools is letting artists do things they couldn't do before, and it's enabling people to get messages and thoughts out there that wouldn't otherwise be there.”
The technologies on display included non-linear editing systems such as Avid or the Apple Macintosh-based Media 100; software programs like Apple's QuickTime; Adobe's Premiere, PhotoShop and After Effects; and relatively inexpensive Hi-8 and Pixelvision cameras.
And there appears to be an audience. Several shows in a San Francisco art gallery last year sold out, and more than 200 aficionados of the new hybrid medium packed into The Kitchen club here Saturday night. Even a hastily scheduled second show during the blizzard Sunday was surprisingly well-attended.
Next stop is Rotterdam, N.Y., and Wells hopes to bring the festival--sponsored in part by Film Threat magazine and Columbia Records--to Los Angeles in the spring.
Low-res directors are seeking other forms of distribution as well. Everson's “Rox” is shown on cable access in three cities, but he says about 200 people a day see it in its QuickTime form on the World Wide Web. Episodes include “Global Village Idiots” and “J&B Get Baked.”
“It's a show that could only be made with camcorders because it's basically real life passing a video camera around,” Everson says.
Several other entries in the festival eschewed the traditional narrative form in favor of more personal takes on life and perception. Some, such as “Coming Attractions” and “Dog Fiction,” were overt spoofs of Hollywood's more cherished cliches.
Others blended technology with traditional storytelling. In Michael Kelley's “ . . . and Then I Woke Up,” three children recount their dreams. As they talk, the stegosauri and monsters and moms of their subconsciouses appear around them in animated form. The QuickTime movie was created entirely on a Macintosh computer.
Artistic demands are pushing the development of technology as well as exploiting it. The Electronic Broadcast Network, a band and video production company, has helped develop “video sampler” software that will enable them to more easily string together the quick cuts and loops of video that make up their “Electronic Behaviour Control System.”
“The old method of production really sucked the life out of ideas because they took so long to implement,” says EBN's Gardner Post. “The video sampler allows for much more spontaneity.”
Many of this crop of digital artists hold day jobs as self-described “digital slaves” at commercial multimedia or Internet companies.
“They work all day on a Web site or CD-ROM, and after hours they might use the equipment to do something artistically they really believe in,” says Wells, who produced “Slacker Cop 3” while he was employed at Digital Pictures, a San Mateo, Calif.-based video game publisher.