By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Brad, 42, used to be in the film business (he named VIC after the venerable Old Vic playhouse in London), but since founding VIC five years ago, he has become the man responsible for much of the offline networking done by online professionals in L.A. "For me, VIC has always been about stimulating people's business and social development at the same time," he told me after we'd reconnected, sounding like a party planner with a degree in behavioral psychology. "The Old Vic was the hub of the theatrical community, a place for people to exchange information and entwine their lives. I put VIC together in the hopes that it would do the same thing, and beyond my expectations it has done so. Like in the entertainment business, good personal relationships lead to good business opportunities. When you're pioneering in a new area, you need friends to support you."
"I hardly ever see any black people at these parties," I told him. "I don't see many Indians or Asians, either. It's almost always a very white crowd. Why is that?"
"It's perhaps more a state of the industry," he replied. "There are less blacks in the industry, for sure. Why I don't know. I guess it goes back to the digital-divide saga. People joke about it being an upper-middle-class male industry, and it was, but now the state is -- look at all these great-looking women in the industry. Women are having tremendous opportunities in leadership roles."
"And what about content providers?" I asked with just a hint of anxiety in my voice. "I don't see any of them at these parties, either."
"There's not a lot of original content creators, because there aren't business models to support them. When you write a screenplay, there's a definite market for it and standards of pay. We don't have that yet."
"And what would that content be?"
"I have to be honest with you, that's what I don't know. Maybe short vignette-type animations, interactive storytelling, gaming . . . What I'm waiting for is something that's equivalent to what Myst was to CD-ROM and Star Wars was to the movies."
AH YES, "CONTENT" -- THE MOST vexed of questions as far as the Internet was concerned -- at least if you wanted to make money off it. I'd already witnessed one attempt to put major-league content on the Web, and that was at a party held by SightSound.com to celebrate the premiere of Quantum Project, "the first original motion picture ever to be instantaneously released worldwide via the Internet with a simultaneous gala celebration."
For a gala celebration, it was a pretty dismal affair. The party was held at the MiauHaus on La Brea, where, a few weeks earlier, a Web site called iFuse had thrown a particularly lavish bash, complete with a trapeze artist and so much dry ice that, from the street, the place looked like it was on fire. Now the NASDAQ had sunk dramatically, and the SightSound bash looked as if it had succumbed to some drastic last-minute cost cutting. The theme seemed to be an unhappy mixture of sci-fi and low-rent Americana. The waiters wore lab coats and hardhats, the women just lab coats, and they walked around with trays of miniturkey burgers, minicorn dogs and elaborately carved pieces of Jell-O. There was wine, beer, and Guinness on tap, and two battered Volkswagen beetles, evidently rescued from a junkyard and spray-painted a deep red, were parked anomalously in the courtyard. No one knew why they were there (until they'd seen the film at least), but they were obviously part of the "theme."
Naturally, the genre the filmmakers had chosen for the world's first Internet movie was science fiction. This brought to mind "Show Off Your Shorts," the short-film competition sponsored by iCAST, which included the categories "action/adventure," "mock/rock/documentary," "horror," "comedy" and "romance," but didn't include drama. A telling omission, when you think about it. In my dictionary, drama is defined in part as "a composition . . . intended to portray life or character," and the very vagueness of that definition is what leaves the fledgling filmmaker free to make a film on his own terms. Whereas the other categories can all be seen in the strictly utilitarian terms beloved by niche marketers. In action/adventure, you excite people; in horror, you frighten them; in comedy, you make them laugh . . . But in drama -- the stuff of life itself -- you try to move people, and that may be too uncontrollable for the Web.
Predictably, the film was depressingly bad: a festival of geek-friendly special effects masquerading as a story. It was made even more depressing by the knowledge that at that very moment people were watching it in countries as far away as Egypt -- or so John Cleese assured us in his filmed introduction. There was excitement in the room when the film started, but it dissipated rapidly. After 10 minutes I walked out, bitterly regretting that I hadn't walked out after two minutes: That way, I could have gone down in history as the first person ever to walk out of an Internet movie. As things stand, I suspect that somebody -- an Egyptian with a good head on her shoulders, perhaps -- may have beaten me to it.