GEORGE LUCAS: IS FILM DEAD?
George Lucas led the digital revolution. His Lucasfilm computer division innovated digital hardware for editing picture and sound, an effort followed by Avid and other firms. Lucas also established the THX standard, which certified superior digital theater sound. His Industrial Light & Magic was at the forefront of computer-generated visuals, working on almost every major special-effects film of the 1990s.
Characteristically, Lucas was eager to screen Star Wars: Part I: The Phantom Menace digitally. More radically, he shot part 2 of his saga wholly on Sony high-definition video. Settings existed only in the software, and actors performed individually before bluescreen, to be pasted into the same shot together. Lucas was even able to erase unwanted expressions and eyeblinks. He envisioned digital tools as allowing more people to take up filmmaking. "It's going to be more like novels or plays: if you have the talent, you can express yourself" (quoted in Benjamin Bergery, "Digital Cinema, By George," American Cinematographer 82, no. 9 [September 2001]: 73).
Did this mean that film was dead? Lucas compared the shift from photographic to digital cinema to the shift from black-and-white to color cinema. The new medium offered different creative options, not a cancellation of what went before. "I still love black-and-white movies. I don't believe silent movies are dead, either—any more than the pencil is dead" (ibid.: 74). Interestingly, Lucas did not write the Star Wars scripts on a computer but on yellow legal pads, in longhand.
AUTEURS ON THE WEB
One prototype of Internet filmmaking was launched in spring of 2001, when BMW announced "The Hire," a collection of five brief digital films shown exclusively online at bmwfilms.com. The films were made by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Wong Kar-wai (Chungking Express), Guy Ritchie (Snatch), and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores perros). Each spot cost about $2 million, becoming on a per-minute basis the most expensive films that most of the directors had made. BMWs were prominently featured, but the company claimed that these were not commercials but rather "short films" with true plots. Lee showed a chase to carry a young Buddhist lama to sanctuary, while Wong explored hints of an illicit love affair. The films were so successful that two more series followed, recruiting Tony Scott, John Woo, and other directors. By the time the website was shut down, the BMW site had recorded over 100 million downloads.
Over the 2000s, surprisingly few established directors became involved in Web-based projects. Most granted requests to bloggers and Net journalists for interviews, but few set up personal sites or undertook to shoot films for online circulation. Peter Jackson participated in two online Q & A's with fans during the run-up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and he posted video journals of the making of King Kong (2006). Alfonso Cuarón, director of Children of Men (2006), created a YouTube video based on Naomi Klein's 2008 book, The Shock Doctrine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSF0e6oO_tw). Wayne Wang posted an entire feature film, The Princess of Nebraska (2007), on the Net, gaining 160,000 views in a weekend. The film's launch was preceded by trailers and webisodes scattered around YouTube pages.
Kevin Smith (Clerks, 1994; Zack and Miri Make a Porno, 2008) was perhaps the first filmmaker to exploit the Web fully. After setting up his Viewaskewniverse site in 1995, he expanded his Web presence to include daily blogging (on "My Boring Ass Life") and writing on other sites, including MySpace and FaceBook. At michaelmoore.com, the controversial documentarist linked to current news stories, wrote stinging polemics, and provided lists of data sources for his films. David Lynch set up a site (davidlynch.com) that offered DVDs, ringtones, posters, hats, photos, mousepads, and organic coffee. The site promoted Inland Empire (2006) as well as Lynch's social causes. Occasionally he posted a brief video in which he sat at his desk commenting on the weather. In fitting their sites to their public images, Smith, Moore, and Lynch showed that the Web could promote not only a film but a director as a distinctive brand.
JUST KEEPING UP
As in all spheres of life, digital technology for filmmaking develops rapidly. No book could hope to remain cutting-edge for long. The best ways to keep up with changes are to follow specialized journals and to consult the Internet.
American Cinematographer has long been the main professional journal covering the technology of cinematography and post-production. At the beginning of 1998, it changed its subtitle from "The International Journal of Film and Electronic Production Techniques" to "The International Journal of Film & Digital Production Techniques." Apart from including case studies of current films, both mainstream and independent, the AC reviews new equipment and interviews filmmakers. It also issued three supplements on "Authoring Images: The Future of Filmmaking Design." These summarized state-of-the-art equipment and approaches: "Preproduction (May 2007), "Production" (August 2007), and "Postproduction" (March 2008). The AC is published in a print edition and an online one, available only by subscription: http://www.theasc.com/magazine_dynamic/November2008/current.php The main journal covering current special effects is Cinefex (http://www.cinefex.com/), available only in a print edition. This magazine is read by both professionals and keen amateurs, since it gives very detailed descriptions of how the effects in current movies were accomplished. Cinefex writers have the cooperation of filmmakers, who describe their techniques, and its articles contain numerous behind-the-scenes photos.
Companies that make software programs sometimes include archives of press releases. Pixar's site, for example, traces the development of RenderMan: https://renderman.pixar.com/products/news/index.htm.