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Tom Brook Sunday, 19 December, 1999, 01:20 GMT
Year of living digitally
The Blair Witch Project proved the marketing power of the internet
By BBC News Online Entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

The year 1999 may well go down as the one in which the digital revolution finally began to transform virtually every aspect of cinema - from the way films are shot and projected to the use of the internet to market them.

Among those at the forefront of this revolution is British director Mike Figgis, who has spent the last few weeks roaming the streets of Hollywood shooting an all-digital film for Sony Pictures, one of the first ever for a big studio.

Mike Figgis was nominated for an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
It is called Time Code 2000, and because Figgis is using four digital cameras he shot it all in real time, so the final picture will consist of uninterrupted takes lasting 90 minutes.

In cinemas, all four takes will be projected at once so audiences will see four different images on the screen - possibly in horizontal stripes - enabling them to edit the film in their heads.

Digital techniques have become routine in Hollywood in recent years for creating special effects and in editing, but use of this technology to shoot a film is relatively new.

Thousands fell under the spell of the Blair Witch Project
More recently, digital technology has been adopted to promote films. For the studios it was The Blair Witch Project that really demonstrated the power of the internet as a marketing tool.

Prior to its release, a sophisticated Blair Witch website fuelled an interest so intense that by opening night the film was sold out.

Blair Witch co-director Daniel Myrick says the internet was "hugely effective" in generating a large advance fan base.

Cottage industry

Recent advances in digital technology have also created a mushrooming cottage industry of small filmmakers who find they can now make pictures with Hollywood production values more cheaply than ever before.

Among them are Philip Pelletier and Verne Lindner, who are creating a virtual studio from their home in the Hollywood Hills. Their biggest achievement to date was using computer desktop editing to put together a short film called New Testament which has since won numerous awards.

Dogma star Salma Hayek features in Time Code 2000
New Testament is a satirical look at the spread of advertising that involved a cash outlay of just $2,000.

Pelletier says: "We were able to shoot a short film with a fairly daring creative ambition and then realise it with Hollywood production values on a very inexpensive desktop system that allowed us to take a lot of creative risks which otherwise we never could have done."

Digital filmmakers find they can now also distribute their pictures via the internet through online companies.

The quality isn't great, but the potential audience is a vast worldwide network of computer users.

Proponents believe that the digital revolution will democratise the business of movie making by giving filmmakers tools that in the past only the big studios could afford.

Creativity dominant

There are also claims it will improve film artistry. But Carl Goodman, Curator of Digital Media at the American Museum of The Moving Image, takes a more sober view.

He says: "There is nothing I think about digital technology that makes films more compelling. It does take a certain amount of talent, know-how and skill to create these kinds of expressions."

George Lucas plans to take Star Wars further into the digital age
In 2000 and beyond, what will really give the digital revolution impetus is adoption of this new technology by the major players.

Mike Figgis's new film is a starting point in that it is being digitally shot by a big studio.

George Lucas, having already experimented with digital projection of The Phantom Menace earlier this year, says he also plans to shoot future Star Wars epics with a digital camera.

Someday, it will be possible to create a Hollywood film in which moving images travel in an entirely digital procession from the eye of the camera to the eye of the viewer.

By the time that system is perfected, celluloid will have become obsolete and the film projector an idle relic of a bygone age.

See also:

23 Aug 99 | Edinburgh Festival 99
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