[ Digital cinema, democratization, and other trends remaking the movies ]

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Morning news: Interactive DVD movie ... Decent Opening for `Open Season' ... Netflix Bounty ... TV/Web Synergy

- The NY Times writes about a straight-to-DVD movie, starring David Strathairn and made for under $200,000, with an interesting twist: two viewers may see the movie unfold in the same way, yet its basic facts, characters and message will permeate the experience.

    The DVD features nearly 400 scenes of up to a few minutes in length, adding up to five hours of film in total. A late-model Windows computer is needed for viewing (plus, presumably, some sort of rigging for simultaneously handling a mouse and snacks).

    Available today as a DVD priced at $23.95 at, the disc and movie are meant to use fairly straightforward software concepts to take storytelling beyond such interactive stalwarts as video-gaming and bonus features on DVD’s.

- Sony Pictures Imagework's first feature, `Open Season,' won the box office sweepstakes this past weekend, earning $23 million. The animators and execs in Culver City are breathing a giant sigh of relief this morning; there has been a glut of talking animal buddy pics this year, and they've got two other projects in the pipeline. The performance of `Open Season,' if it holds up over the next few weekends, will put the wind at SPI's back -- even though it earned about one-third what Pixar's `Cars' did in June and just over half what DreamWorks Animation's `Over the Hedge' did in May.

- Netflix is offering a $1 million prize to the tech whiz that can help improve the company's movie recommendation software by at least 10 percent. Already, I think it's pretty good.

- Finally, from yesterday's NY Times, a piece about the pressure TV shows now feel to produce content for the Web and cell phones. Lorne Manly writes:

    Podcasts, blogs, cellphone episodes, Web-only content, DVD extras: they all mean more work for already harried show runners. But many of them wouldn’t have it any other way.

    The offshoots provide an escape from some constraints of commercial television. “The Office,” NBC’s mockumentary about the Dunder-Mifflin paper company, concocted 10 short Web-only episodes, or Webisodes, that focused on some of the show’s secondary characters. “If we had more room on the show,” said Greg Daniels, the “Office” show runner, “I’d love to do more with them.” Webisodes allow for that, he said, and give the writers license to be a little zanier.

    For Webisodes of “Battlestar Galactica” the writers tailored their storytelling to the medium, eschewing special effects and emphasizing close-ups for the small window of a computer. They too focused on supporting characters. “Ultimately it wasn’t a story we were going to do on the show,” said Ronald D. Moore, an executive producer and co-show runner.

    Greg Garcia, the creator of NBC’s “My Name Is Earl,” developed an alternate pilot, to be included in the DVD set of the show’s first season, in which Earl embarks on a spree of revenge rather than repentance. The producers of “Heroes,” NBC’s new drama about ordinary people with supernatural powers, are creating online comics to accompany the television show.

    Exploring the storytelling possibilities in these nontraditional forms is an intellectual and creative challenge. But that isn’t the only reason that show runners are so interested. “There are also business opportunities that are going to arise,” Mr. Cuse said.