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WORKING WEEKEND: Bruce Apar, Digital Evangelist

25 Jan, 2002 By: Bruce Apar

Knowing Your Assets from Your LBOs

Sometimes market analysts say things that sound reasonable at first blush, but raise questions when considered at length -- for 30 seconds or more. At least that's how I felt when reading a remark by Nick Donatiello, president of San Francisco research shop Odyssey, in The New York Times of Jan. 24, 2002. As The Times put it, he "said that just as video rentals failed to make much of a dent in box-office sales … ."

The rest of the comment is irrelevant -- almost a non-sequitur, in fact -- but that one observation got me to thinking: how can anyone, even a market analyst, calculate something that does not happen, meaning, a la It's A Wonderful Life, what would the box office look like today if the VCR never was born?

As it is, annual b.o. dollar grosses have been relatively flat the last few years, and that includes steady increases in ticket prices. Home video has not had anything to do with that?

Donatiello apparently believes the box office today could not be any larger than it is, even if the VCR or an equivalent home playback format never materialized 26 years ago. If it were larger today sans rentals, it strongly implies rentals have dented the box office.

Conversely, were it not for the VCR and its pervasive democratization of movie watching at home, might not today's box office be even smaller than it is currently? An argument can be made that, just as the box office has long coattails for video releases, the halo effect of home videos has helped get people out to the box office more than they would have without VHS and DVD.

In either case, we'll never know. Not even Donatiello.

Dreaming In Hi-Def + Green Light

A couple weeks ago, Sony Electronics and ad agency Young & Rubicam hosted a screening in New York City's coolly elegant Museum of Modern Art. The octet of under-five-minute works by leading TV commercial filmmakers was inspired by the assigned theme "Dreams." They were a mixed bag, funny to achingly poignant, but each was brightly original and diverting. Oh, and the eight movies happened to be shot using Sony's CineAlta 24P(rogressive) high-definition video camera.

Sony's point, as confirmed later by executive Larry Thorpe, was that the equipment and technology are not the point. What you can do with it is, and it's fair to say few, if any, of the several hundred at the screening seemed to be unnerved by watching a non-film image. No doubt a film-hugging director of photography would tell you he could discern the difference, but most anybody else? Not likely.

That's one way movies will be made differently. Another welcome change is obtained in the heavily mediated Project Greenlight, star of film (Miramax), TV (HBO) and Internet (Live Planet's projectgreenlight.com).

Its obvious attributes notwithstanding, this experiment to democratize the closed-door moviemaking process also is a tad contradictory. Its clever conceit of cracking Hollywood's secret code of getting a movie greenlighted was conceived and enabled by two deservedly hot young Hollywood stars, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Without their sponsorship -- and the corporate largesse of industry standard bearers Avid and Deluxe -- winning entry Stolen Summer auteur Pete Jones would still be keeping up with all the other obscure Joneses.

Still, the message of Project Greenlight is worthwhile -- Hollywood is a culture-locked point of origin that can do more to nurture a more diverse spectrum of thought and talent wherever it resides.

While the Sundance Film Festival proper often seems simply a snow-capped suburb of 90210, the Sundance Online Film Festival (SundanceOnlineFilmFestival.org) is closer to the spirit of Project Greenlight.

Post Magazine, along with sister publication Video Store at Advanstar Communications -- and trade group Video Software Dealers Association through its Advanstar joint venture, Home Entertainment Events -- are doing our part with home entertainment initiative Filmmakers of Tomorrow, which doubles as the name of a new department debuting in the February issue of Post with the Project Greenlight story. For more information on the call for entries for the Filmmakers of Tomorrow program at the July 16-18, 2002 VSDA Convention, visit vsda.org or call VSDA at (818) 385-1500.

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