The Way Old Guard

Part One of "Bits and Bytes and Flickering Lights" by Brian Dennis.

Hooray for Hollywood.

Hollywood. The word itself inspires visions of stars and starlets, of bright lights and pretty pictures, of grand art and stupefying trash. When considering the entirety of what Americans call Hollywood, the studios, the guilds, the film schools, etc. Tinseltown may be the country's single most profitable artistic institution. While fine cinematic art is not produced by happenstance, it clearly has taken something of a passenger's seat to the bottom line.

Buy Early, Buy Often.

This mentality may explain why studio web sites are so stupefyingly marketing oriented. Web sites for such storied companies as Universal Studios, MGM,  and Twentieth Century Fox, are almost uniformally oriented towards marketing their current feature releases. You can guarantee a front page link to a studio store at any studio site.

In and of itself, this is not horrible but the studio web sites give absolutely no credence to the vast repositories of cinematic tradition that they hold. The web allows for depth as well as breadth in providing information. Wouldn't a web guided tour of some classic Warner-Brother films be interesting? How about some commentary on the history of Bugs Bunny and other Warner-Brother characters? Even a listing of the films that Warner-Brothers simply holds the rights to would be interesting.

Instead, we've got all the Space Jam you could want. Alternatively, you can check out  PolyGram online and talk to some "reelly" big movie fans. And of course our friends at Disney have all sorts of new toys for your kids to buy.

These guys own the fucking movies. Why don't they promote the art? You'd never know that Disney helped make Toy Story ,  a technically, if not artistically, ground breaking feature film.

Talent On Loan.

Maybe the talent side of the equation is a bit better then. In fact such pre-eminent professional societies as the Writer's Guild, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and the Director's Guild, are chock full of information. I suspect that since these organizations ostensibly have no profit making imperative their sites actually have to provide a service to someone: their members! At least as long as you're not in the Screen Actor's Guild.

More interesting is the relatively free access to the information. They may be hiding information on internal web sites that I don't know about (in fact the WGA has restricted portions of their site), but at least the guilds collect and catalog the most obvious information about their field. Thus, if you were trying to become a budding writer for example, at the least the rudimentary skills and processes can be discovered on the Web.

And What of the Academy?

Given the purposes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, you'd think they might have a web site as impressive as some of their member's employers. However, the site isn't much more than a brochure for the Academy. Their are some interesting tidbits here and there, but nothing truly inspiring.

Then again if the Academy actually made a push for a better web site we'd probably wind up with a gaudy celebration of the Oscar ceremonies so maybe it's for the best.

In stark contrast to this rather bland offering from the AMPAS is the incredible effort put forth by the non-profit American Film Institute. This site should stand as a model for how a national arts organization can establish a presence on the Web and actually take advantage of the technology. Serving the casual fan, the enthusiastic hobbyist, and the industry professional, the AFI truly captures the American cinematic instution online.

Back to School

Of course in a more traditional sense academy means universities. Here the impact of new technology seems to be taking a bit of a hold. A number of the more prominent film schools seem to be adding "new media" programs and degrees. USC has the funky little ideaLab. NYU has a whole program devoted to animation. The UCLA Film and Television Department has an interesting new offshoot entilted the Laboratory for New Media. San Francisco State University's Cinema Department moved into a new building in 1994. One of the building's principal features was a whole floor devoted to new media technology. Clearly the next generation of filmmakers will be imbued with a sense of what digital technology can do.

The academy is also responsible for criticism which is actually one of the easiest things to transfer online. Such magazines as the Millenium Film Journal simply dump large portions of their text files on a web site and voila', they're online with little loss of information.

Bottom Line

While the stodgy old farts who currently run the Hollywood show may not be doing a whole lot with the Web, there is definitely a new generation of professionals being trained to take advantage of digital technology. Thus, it may not be until four or five more film school graduating classes emerge that we see really profound effects on Hollywood.

The question then will these effects be somewhat freely accessible and independent of massive marketing campaigns or will it all be folded into promotional material for "Batman Forever".