September 14, 2000

Internet Cinema: coming soon to a computer near you!

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The year is 1967. A young George Lucas sits in his dorm room, waiting for inspiration. In walks his asthmatic hall mate with a bathrobe over his head, saying something to the effect of “George [deep inhale, deep exhale], I am your neighbor.” Throw in a romance with a girl donning bun-braids strikingly similar to Princess Leah, a bong-hitting roommate, and an advisor who speaks in backwards sentences, and you’ve got the nine-minute Shakespeare in Love parody George Lucas in Love.

While the plot and the acting are solid, the question remains: How would filmmakers Joe Nussbaum and Joseph Levy market and distribute such a film? The answer: netcaster, one of the many Internet sites now providing venues for independent filmmakers to launch original video content online.

The Reel Deal

Online entertainment companies like,,, and are just the next step in the use of the Internet. And all of these sites have been launched within the past year. In fact, there are already web guides, like TV Guide, giving viewers daily directories for videos on the web, including,, and Default.asp.

This may not sound too surprising. After all, there have already been online newscasts (, streaming cameras following people throughout their daily lives (, and movie trailers ( And this is also aside from pornography, which is already extremely prevalent on the Internet. But what I’m talking about here is different.

Original video content is not just a new feature available for consumers. These movies are not available on every television station like newscasts, or fifteen minutes of fame for one person, or a promotional tool for big industry. This is a new venue that has enormous potential for aspiring filmmakers. While many of the short movies launched on these entertainment sites are far from worthy of critical commentary, or even worth your critical time watching them, some are demonstrations of great talent, just waiting to be discovered.

The Good

George Lucas in Love is not only special because it is original video content online that is available for home screening, but has further set a record as the most watched film short on the Internet, with 150,000 streams in three weeks. Due to viewer demands, this movie was released on VHS onto, where it reached number one in the sites video sales area on April 21, the first day of release (beating Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace and Stuart Little).

Lucas in Love is now also available at national retail chains across the country. More importantly is the movie deal that came as a result of its Internet success. Nussbaum recently made a deal with Nickelodeon and Imagine Entertainment to direct How to Eat Fried Worms. Levy has been named an executive at Bandeira Entertainment.

And Nussbaum isn’t the only one signing deals. Filmmakers David Garrett and Jason Ward (Sunday’s Game,, whose film shorts were

rejected by all of the film festivals, recently signed a development deal with Fox, then sold an animated series to Fox Family Channel and an untitled comedy about the mob to Disney’s Touchstone division. describes this movie as “A darkly-comic short film about five elderly women and their unusual Sunday Afternoon Game.” This film is a good one, and there are sure to be more successes to come.

The Bad

Of course, every video on the Internet can’t be a Lucas in Love or a Sunday’s Game. One example of Internet animation that is not as successful as the technology and talent contributed could allow is Hard Drinkin’ Lincoln,an animation short featuring an animated bottle-hitting version of the 16th president of the United States. The animation is at the same level of artistry as many cartoons on television, but poor writing makes for a waste of two minutes.

Much of the cinematography is still rudimentary, where the camera handling is more like The Blair Witch Project than Rear Window. Ifilm’s Love of the Father is a corny family vacation movie using editing techniques that look like a poorly made camp video or one made by high school students. It is set to music, and is a nice dedication to someone’s father, but as long as it’s not your father, there is no reason that anyone would want to watch this film. The site’s synopsis of this movie reads “While on vacation to various Parks of Western US the Heise family acted out the words to one of their favorite songs.” Sounds like a winner.

But this is simultaneously an advantage and disadvantage of having an open forum for filmmakers. It is a key tool for great talent — a way to get themselves into the public eye and perhaps catch the eye of a prestigious film company light-years faster than they would using traditional methods. However, in order to have this extraordinary opportunity, they must also put themselves next to crude animation and corny home videos. But finding a good film is worth wading through the masses of unprofessional, unentertaining videos that abound on the net.

The Future

Unfortunately, one of the main problems with netcasts is that different videos require different software for viewing. Most videos require Quicktime or RealPlayer, both of which do not come with most computers. In effect, without these plug-ins and a computer capable of using them, you would be better off going to film festivals than utilizing these new sites.

The Internet has potential to change the nature of the film industry. It is a novel way for scouts to find new filmmaking, acting, and writing talent. There are already short dramas, comedies, documentaries, and animation. Some of the movies are not even four-minute film shorts, but rather full- length features. They take time to download, but this is sure to be worked out as computers get faster and other technology improves. And for now, some of them are worth the wait. This new technology is exciting, but there is sure to be more to come. And the digital world continues to expand, so will the level of quality of these films on the Internet.

It is interesting to hypothisize what can come of this technology. With Napster peaking the interest of almost everyone nowadays, one has to ask what would happen if the same were to happen with movies. While videos are more difficult to reproduce than songs, at this point it is not out of the realm of possibility. Original videos are beneficial to everyone, even if the surplus of bad video content is slightly annoying to viewers. If major motion pictures become widespread (some movies are probably already online), the film industry could take major losses.

Industry execs will just have to cross their fingers that consumers will value their time more than money, and respect laws protecing their product.

Maybe one day soon we will be getting our popcorn and soda, and paying eight dollars to sit down at home in front of our computer screens to watch the latest movie. Maybe we’ll be paying to watch the newest indie flicks. But for now, we’ll just have to settle for entertaining parodies and smile for the filmmakers, and for George Lucas, in Love.

Archived article by Sara Katz