SPOKESMAN: Where are you going to be? Can you sit up without doing all that right now?
ACTOR: Well, no, I'd be up here. You could probably do A...
SPOKESMAN: I need you to slide back, though.
SPENCER MICHELS: In a tiny San Francisco backyard, filmmaker Rob Nilsson is directing two actors in a film called "scheme." It's about a homeless man and his father, a cop. And it's being produced for a fraction of the cost of a high- budget Hollywood film.
SPOKESMAN: We're moving, so I want to probably keep this live.
SPENCER MICHELS: Nilsson's cameraman is using a digital video camera, a D.V. Cam that records images much like a computer does. The camera itself is cheaper than a traditional film camera, and costs about a third that of a professional video camera, and the tape is cheap. Filming digitally encourages the spare approach-- a far cry from the techniques of most movies or TV shows that employ legions of extras, stand-ins, gaffers, camera operators and assistants, caterers and makeup artists. For Nilsson, who follows the action through a monitor built into his goggles, the advantages of the new equipment amount to a revolution.
ROB NILSSON, Digital Filmmaker: Nowadays, having small, little cameras that get you into every little nook and cranny without having to worry about a whole lot of lights and a big crew and a big truck-- cheapness, accessibility, and I contend that it's a more intimate medium.
ROB NILSSON: And action.
SPENCER MICHELS: Nilsson says it works well for his style of filmmaking, where the focus is on the actors' spontaneity rather than special effects. A host of filmmakers like Nilsson are using the new technology to produce hundreds of new films and documentaries that would never have been made otherwise, because now the filmmakers can afford to experiment.
ROB NILSSON: In terms of its cheapness for young people starting out or even old people still... still with the fire in the belly, this is the art of the possible. This is something you can do. No matter what Hollywood says, no matter who doesn't want to fund what idea, we as artists can go out and we're going to make our film no matter what the world says.
SPENCER MICHELS: As for the video quality, Nilsson says it's different than film-- more gritty, more real.
ROB NILSSON: It does have those qualities. Now will it, when it's blown up on the screen coming from D.V. Cam, be quite as lustrous and Hallmark card-like? Probably not, but we've seen that, so do we need to see it again and again?
ACTOR: I heard he was out playing games again, counting...
SPENCER MICHELS: After a day of shooting, Nilsson takes advantage of another aspect of the digital age.
ACTOR: And they're unhappy with you...
SPENCER MICHELS: He gives his rushes to an Internet company that immediately puts them on its Web site so that anyone with a connection to the Internet can look at them and comment.
SPOKESPERSON: We got ten in yesterday, 15 today.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Web site distributing Nilsson's rushes is I-Film, founded by Rodger Raderman. He says that because of digital technology, film distribution is undergoing a revolution as profound as filmmaking.
ROGER RADERMAN, CEO, I-Film: It's been enormously difficult for those filmmakers and artists out there to take their films and put them in front of a mass audience. The up side is that every film doesn't have to be totally commercially viable anymore. It doesn't have to go on television, it doesn't have to go on theater. There's another outlet right now. What we have to remember is, it's the very early days, and we're going to see more and more prominent directors and filmmakers and actors begin producing films for the Internet. (Indistinguishable)
ACTOR: I hope you go blind and... And I hope you die! Now die! Get out of here!
SPENCER MICHELS: Raderman says you can watch most movies on the Internet for free today, but eventually there may be a charge. One problem he faces is that not everyone can easily watch movies posted on Web sites.
SPENCER MICHELS: I tried this on my computer this morning, and I had a hard time getting any motion in the picture. What's going on?
ROGER RADERMAN: It could have been a number of things. You might have had an older computer that didn't have enough processing speed. It didn't have enough horsepower to deliver the goods. More likely is that you didn't have what's called bandwidth.
ACTOR: ...Could be closing all the time.
SPENCER MICHELS: "Bandwidth" means getting lots of information-- pictures, sound, text-- into your computer by using a direct high-speed, high-capacity connection to the Internet-- not just a modem and a phone line.
ROGER RADERMAN: When you're talking about high-resolution video and audio, it's a lot of data that has to go through that pipe, and most people don't have that, a fat- enough pipe yet in their home.
SPENCER MICHELS: Raderman predicts that in ten years or less, most movie fans will be able to bypass the video store and maybe even the cinema and get films off the Net. In fact, some Hollywood heavyweights are already investing millions in distributing movies over the Internet.
ACTOR: I've been in situations where...
SPENCER MICHELS: Documentary filmmakers are also benefiting from the digital revolution.
SPOKESMAN: It's very Berkeley.
SPENCER MICHELS: John Else, who teaches graduate students filmmaking at the University of California, says digital video encourages more production at a time when funding has dried up. Some of those documentaries he says are very good. (Singing) This one-- "Long Night's Journey into Day," about South Africa's struggle with its own apartheid past-- was shot with inexpensive equipment and won an award at Sundance, an independent film festival. Else, a judge at that festival, says making that film was possible only because the producers could act quickly.
JOHN ELSE: When an idea strikes, a documentary filmmaker does not have to hunker down for a year or two to raise a half million bucks to make the movie. They can bite the bullet, go with their credit card, you know, buy a cheap little camera, cheap little editing system, get on an airplane, go to South Africa, go to Thailand, go to Alabama, make the movie -- at least get it started, at least get it off the ground.
SPENCER MICHELS: And Else says that's good for American society.
JOHN ELSE: You know? I mean, the more documentaries that get made, including lousy ones that'll never get shown, the more documentaries that get made, the better off American citizens are. It's like having... You know, it's better for the country to have more newspapers rather than fewer.
SPOKESMAN: You already know the best actors, the best comedians...
SPENCER MICHELS: While most people may never make a documentary or a feature film, the new technology is now available for parents and grandparents to make and edit home movies.
SPOKESMAN: Maybe you should be a director.
SPENCER MICHELS: Apple Computer's CEO Steve Jobs introduced its new system last year.
STEVE JOBS: We think this is going to be the next big thing-- desk top video. (Applause)
SPENCER MICHELS: The I-movie is a system to edit home movies on an I-Mac computer, costing less than $1,500.
JOHN BASS: Okay, so we've just captured the video from the camera, and now we're going to start assembling it.
SPENCER MICHELS: For Apple, the key to selling I-movies is the simplicity. Marketing manager John Bass contends that editing home movies will bring out the director in any hobbyist.
JOHN BASS: We're looking at a software application that's called final cut pro.
SPENCER MICHELS: Apple and several other companies have also come out with new digital editing systems for professionals. Selling for $9,000 to $15,000, they are ten to 20 times cheaper than many editing systems in use today.
JOHN BASS: You can pick up all of these components for less than $10,000.
SPENCER MICHELS: That's much less than the industry standard: This avid editing system, which costs about $200,000, allowing for very high-quality work. But for some filmmakers, quality is less important than getting inner-city youngsters involved in the process. In San Francisco's tenderloin neighborhood, these teenagers are making movies about their own lives, in a program run by Spencer Nakasako at the Vietnamese Youth Development Center.
SPOKESMAN: Now say you want to do that edit and you want to lay it down and get it into the clip. So we've got...
SPENCER MICHELS: On this day, the kids were being taught how to edit the material they shot on digital DV cameras that they were given to document their personal stories.
SPENCER NAKASAKO, Filmmaker/Teacher: Where the sort of DV revolution is, is helpful is that we're able to get stories that we'd never could get in, say, 16 millimeter or with... when beta cam first came out, simply because, you know, working with young people, you know, and this small format is accessibility. Number two, we can fail. I mean, you try something, it doesn't work, you try something else. I mean, it allows that experimentation. It allows us to go after stories that maybe are chancy, and we start them up and they don't work, and so we just dump them and go onto something else.
SPOKESMAN: Let's go...
SPENCER MICHELS: Nakasako and the kids have had some of their documentaries broadcast on national television.
SPENCER NAKASAKO: In many cases, a lot of times the kids will think, "my story's not important," or "my story isn't very interesting." And then when an audience sees it, they actually go, "wow, people are interested, people are, you know, do want to know what's going on in my life."
SPOKESMAN: All the video that we shoot we end up digitizing...
SPENCER MICHELS: For Nakasako's teenagers, just as for independent filmmaker Rob Nilsson, the digital video is simply a tool to enhance the artistry.
ROB NILSSON: It's the poet's stubby pencil, is what we have now. And the poet is not sitting there wondering well, how much lead he's got left. He's doing it passionately, immediately, right there. And that's, that's what video is to me.
SPENCER MICHELS: While the digital video revolution is encouraging independent filmmakers, no one is predicting it will replace Hollywood's blockbusters. But it has already had an impact that will only grow as the technology improves.