With digital video cameras selling for not much more than $500, and access to the worldwide web — via a halfway fast DSL line — going for $40 a month, the time is ripe for an explosion of alternative media. And we are getting it, via the antics showcased on YouTube and a million Sunday sermons and college science lectures now also being “podcast” to a computer near you.
But I keep waiting for someone to successfully emulate and compete with the mainstream movie industry, or the established wasteland of network television. Last week two attempts passed through my electronic horizon and I clicked right over to them.
First came an E-mail press release heralding a new movie, “Last Stop for Paul,” being screened this Friday, September 28, at the Wildwood by the Sea Film Festival at Wildwood Convention Center, and on Sunday, September 30, at the First Glance Film Festival at the Adrienne Theater in Philadelphia.
The PR buzz on this movie is the “story behind the story,” as relayed by a professional publicist. In an E-mail to us in the media, the movie making of “Last Stop” is described as “nothing short of amazing:”
“In the spring of 2005, veteran writer and director Neil Mandt and cinematographer Marc Carter set out on an around-the-world journey to shoot a movie about two guys” spreading the ashes of a recently deceased friend (Paul, we presume) at scenic spots near and far. “All they had was one camera, two wireless microphones, three batteries, and a rough story outline. They traveled without a crew, a cast or having scouted one location; all of this was done on the fly.
“There weren’t any casting calls along the way, just strangers picked up on the street to either act in a scene or hold the camera as Neil and Marc delivered their improvised lines. The experience of making the movie was like none other in the history of Hollywood. No cast, no crew, no script, great movie. See for yourself.”
And thanks to the Internet you could see for yourself — in episode after episode posted to the website: www.laststopforpaul.com. The next stop for “Last Stop” will be in real movie theaters sometime in March of next year. Claims the press agent: “It will be the first time in history that an Internet ‘webisode’ series has received a theatrical release.”
I was intrigued. I remember visiting the set of “Sommersby,” the “Return of Martin Guerre” remake starring my ex-brother-in-law, Richard Gere, and Jodie Foster, and being amazed at the take after take after take and take that were required to film a simple scene. That repetition, in fact, Gere had told me at the time, was one of the challenges of modern filmmaking. People see the finished movie, Gere pointed out, and they think “hey, I could have done that” just as well as the star. What they don’t consider is the need to repeat that line 5 or 10 times over, as camera angles are shifted, lighting is changed, and so on. That’s where a professional actor comes in — to keep the line somehow uniform, but still apparently spontaneous.
But how bad could it be, I wondered, if you just bottled the natural spontaneity — shot it once and ran. The $500 camera and the Internet make it possible. So I checked out “Last Stop for Paul” and, well, I was disappointed. The spontaneity that I imagined instead looked like the silliness of the junior high play. To be fair, I only saw a handful of webisodes, and often the characters in a Hollywood film have to grow on you before you come to appreciate them. But for now I’d prefer the big budget approach.
While all this cinematography was playing out, I received another E-mail alert — this one touting a new sports show, “a live show, with picture and sound from a basement somewhere in Pennsylvania.” I especially liked the plea from the host: “Please try and get the word out. I’m tired of pumping gas.”
More alternative media, I thought. A few clicks later I was at www.newcenturytv.biz/bradysports/ and watching Dan Brady, host of an interactive sports show that did indeed appear to be broadcast from a basement, a real-life sports imitation of Saturday Night Live’s Wayne’s World.
And so I caught parts of the first two episodes, on September 17 and 24 from 8 to 8:30 p.m. Brady, older and less slick than the glib and coiffed sportscasters who dominate the commercial channels, wore a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball jersey and held a towel to wipe his brow as the show progressed. It was shot by a single cameraman. Another off-camera person relayed text messages from the online audience to Brady. All of it was coordinated by a company in Newtown, PA, New Century Television.
After watching Brady I switched over to television and checked out ESPN. When stripped of all their make up, fancy clothes, and expensive sets, the pretty boys had no more substance than Brady. They were berating Rex Grossman for the Chicago Bears’ 1-2 record. “What do you have to do to turn this season around?” they demanded. “Play better, I guess,” the young quarterback answered.
Brady could have told us that from his basement “studio.” It’s a fun show but I don’t know how you build an audience. For every 10 viewers you attract you have to figure that a certain percentage will say, “hey, I could do that,” and then set out with their $500 camera and DSL line and — even without Nike as a sponsor — just do it.