Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

From boob to You(Tube)

I know I am stating the obvious here, but what a great thing YouTube and other video posting sites are.

Not only are they a way for people to share individual video creations on the internet—the same way they share opinions, photos and family trees—but they have turned out to be a way to make obscure video literature available to anybody looking for it or to release videos and short movies that, for whatever reason, are not commercial enough to be screened in cinemas or released as DVDs. Not only do they approach the “video on demand” promised years ago by software, cable and satellite companies, but they are an alternative to cable and satellite and terrestrial broadcasting. They represent the narrowest of narrowcasting. The model supports (and I’m sure it has happened) literally one person making a video for viewing by literally one other person. Try getting a project with those audience dynamics greenlighted by a major studio.

The sticky problem for YouTube and its ilk has always been intellectual property rights. It’s all right for somebody taping himself playing a song he wrote himself on his own guitar in his own bedroom. But some of the most interesting stuff online has always been snippets from movies and classic TV shows. If there has been a must-see moment recently on the airwaves, you can usually find it and watch it without too much trouble. There has always been something passive/aggressive about the relationship between the studios and the people who upload snatches of TV programs. In some cases, it seems to be tolerated because it builds interest in the TV show, working somewhat like a commercial. But, other times, the studios get tough and have uploads yanked—as has happened in the case of The Daily Show—for fear that it becomes a way of watching the show, or the best parts of it, and bypassing advertisers and Nielsen ratings. And that leads to web sites like Hulu, which legally stream TV shows and movies, along with advertising. It’s a way of watching TV on demand rather than having to make an appointment with your TV set or remembering to program your TiVo or VCR. (Come to think of it, does anybody record with VCRs anymore?)

One thrill for me personally has been to find that someone has been posting old episodes of Dark Shadows on YouTube. I have serious doubts about the legality of this, but nobody has forced them off yet. Besides, they are not the whole episodes. What the person has done is cut each one down to about ten minutes, mainly by eliminating duplicate material (long stretches of scenes at the end of one episode were often repeated at the beginning of the next—and this even happened to some extent, as well, around commercial breaks), boring or repetitive bits and (of course) the commercial breaks. In the early days, they really dragged out the action in the series, keeping the pace downright glacial. Cutting them down to ten minutes works out about right.

Something else I enjoy doing on YouTube (forgive me, I came to it late because it took me years to get broadband) is finding old Dick Cavett interviews, with everyone from Truman Capote to Mick Jagger.

What has really impressed me about YouTube is how many quality short films can be found there, apparently legally. I say “apparently” because I (perhaps naively) assume that they would be forced down pretty darn quickly if the people owning the rights weren’t okay with it. I tend to assume that these films are uploaded by the filmmakers themselves, out of generosity once the commercial benefits of the work have been exhausted, or by people who have tacit approval from the powers that be. I have come across such impressive Irish shorts as Anthony Byrne’s Meeting Che Guevara and the Man from Maybury Hill and Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-winning Six Shooter. Usually, these films have to be streamed in multiple parts, which is not optimal, and of course the quality cannot compare to seeing them in a cinema. But seeing them this way is definitely better than not seeing them at all.

Just a few days ago, I happened to get an email from the filmmaker of a short film about which I wrote a few terse lines eleven years ago. She had just discovered my comments among a summary I had written of shorts screened at the 1998 Women In Cinema film festival in Seattle. She informed me the film, The Clearing, will be launched on a web site called in the next month or so. It will be divided into four “webisodes.” It is worth checking out. After more than a decade, I can still remember the impression of seeing, among the typically arty and/or experimental and/or amateur shorts that often show up in these programs, a movie that felt like a real feature film (The Clearing ran 26 minutes) that had been directed by a master filmmaker. I recall thinking, if she can do this in less than a half-hour on a low budget, what will she be like when she makes a proper feature film?

I had another email during the week which, like so many that I get, was posing a movie question. But I have to confess that, not only did I not know the answer, I didn’t really understand the question. But I am gratified that the writer had enough confidence in me that I might know the answer even though, assuming he had perused my site, he would know that I have seen neither of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. If anybody reading this should happen to know the answer (will there be an extended version release of the first Transformers movie?), by all means feel free to send it to me and I will pass it back to my correspondent.

But back to the YouTube phenomenon. One interesting thing that has happened is that actual television (well, web) series are produced and aired online, without ever having been aired on telly. One that has been on for a while but which I have become aware of only recently is called The Guild and is advertised as being made by gamers for gamers. The episodes are short, but there have been nearly two dozen of them and its third season is starting soon. The production qualities are high, and the episodes are entertaining—even for those of us who do not consider ourselves gamers. The new season is being hawked by a rather catchy music video featuring the cast. The series is produced under the auspices of Microsoft’s Xbox, which suggests that the episodes are really commercials for that product, although other corporate sponsors are highlighted at the beginning of each episode. It gets launched through Microsoft’s MSN Video, Xbox and Zune platforms.

I actually heard about The Guild from Wil Wheaton. No, he’s not a friend of mine. But I have been following his blog for a while. If you haven’t kept up with him, then you probably mainly remember him as a child star whose most prominent role was as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But he’s all grown up now (has been for a while) and is married, has kids and still works as an actor, although he mainly seems to be a writer, and a pretty darn good one. He has written books and columns and, as I mentioned, blogs. A self-described geek and gamer, he is a fan of The Guild and was recently approached to have a role on it—to which he immediately said yes.

Wheaton’s blog is fascinating for those of us with an interest in things Star Trek and television and movies in general. He quite candidly describes what it’s like to be a guest star on a TV series (he recently guested on the series Leverage) but he also shares quite openly what it was like to be a child and actor and famous at a young age. He is a man who can tell others what it has been like to work with the likes of Rob Reiner and River Phoenix (on the movie Stand By Me) as well as Patrick Stewart and others from the Star Trek franchise. The funny thing is that his reactions to these things do not seem to be any different than yours or mine might have been, had we be in the same situation. He seems as mind-blown by it all as we would be. Particularly poignant was his account of his last evening with Stewart when he had finished shooting his scenes for Star Trek: Nemesis. Stewart’s attitude toward child actors seems not to have been much different from Capt. Picard’s attitude toward children on his ship. But Stewart was quite kind to him, on what was a difficult night. Wheaton’s small role in the movie was essentially eliminated, and he wound up appearing in only one (much populated) scene, of Riker and Troi’s wedding.

But, living in the age that we are, fans interested in seeing the deleted scenes could reasonably look forward to finding them, if not as extras on a DVD release, then (where else?) on YouTube.

-S.L., 27 August 2009

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