Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Technology lets anyone be a moviemaker

By Byron Acohido
USA Today

Jonathan Caouette was a 28-year-old computer illiterate living a Bohemian lifestyle in New York City until a friend gave him an Apple iMac computer.

Do-it-yourself filmmaker Jonathan Caouette's independent documentary "Tarnation" drew rave reviews at The Sundance and Cannes film festivals. Caouette made the film using a digital camcorder and Apple computer's free iMovie software.

Robert Hanashiro • USA Today

Caouette quickly mastered iMovie, the consumer-level video editing software that comes free with Apple computers. He used it to digitize the home videos, answering machine recordings and family photos he'd been saving since age 11. Using iMovie's editing and special effects tools, he transformed two decades of mementos into a bio-documentary, "Tarnation," which revolves largely around his troubled mother. The movie received rave reviews at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and has been playing in art house theaters across the country. The DVD will be released in May.

"This literally went from my desktop computer to a worldwide distribution deal in less than a year," Caouette says. "It's really something of a miracle."

Computer chips have become so inexpensive and speedy that power-hungry video and audio editing software now run smoothly on the average home computer. At the same time, everyday folks have become more comfortable with computers — thanks to the popularity of the Internet — so they are more likely to embrace digital tools for music, photos and movie making.

This combination of accessible tech tools and pervasive Internet usage has touched off a do-it-yourself revolution in movies, music and art. Amateurs are using computers and multimedia software to create a panoply of digital content. And they are proving to be dexterous at drumming up fans and patrons over the Internet.

"The beauty of all this is you don't have to wait around for people to give you money to create art," says Bruce Haring, founder of the DIY Convention, a popular do-it-yourself-themed trade show.

The influence of digital do-it-yourselfers has begun to reverberate through popular culture. Respected movie critic Roger Ebert hails Caouette's documentary, made for less than $300 in out-of-pocket expenses, as a "powerful and heartbreaking ... collage that envelops us in his family story."

The pinnacle of do-it-yourself financial success: the hit movie "Open Water," produced by Chris Kentis and Laura Lau for $120,000. To make the shark thriller, the New York City-based husband-and-wife team invested $6,000 on two Sony "pro-sumer" digital camcorders, aimed at serious hobbyists, and $10,000 on an Apple Power Mac G5 dual processor computer, with Final Cut Pro editing and special-effects software.

Kentis and Lau did all of the camera work, and Kentis did all of the editing at home on his Mac G5. The film earned $31 million in U.S. theatrical release last fall, and is expected to more than double that in DVD sales and foreign screenings.

Kentis hopes do-it-yourselfers begin to rattle the Hollywood aesthetic, which seems to favor formulaic blockbusters. "We wanted to expose a sense of realism and immediacy," he says. "The whole point was to use the affordable technology and give the audience a real experience, something Hollywood doesn't seem interested in doing right now."