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'It all started when the cost of producing video dropped way down," says Ben Cote, "digital media guru" for DIVX, an online digital media company. "People had access to things like home video cameras. Avid, a big [film editing] program used in the film and television industry for years, was expensive and hard and only available to people who could pay $50,000 for a copy. Now there are smaller programs and versions, like iMovie from Apple, or products from Pinnacle [a division of Avid] -- third-party video applications that are affordable and available." Cote will participate in the REEL TALKS panel discussion, "Online Cinema: Film in the Age of YouTube and Vlogs" (video blogs), on Saturday, March 10. The panel discussion is part of a workshop series hosted by the 2007 San Diego Latino Film Festival.

Cote says that with the tools available today, filmmakers can find their audience through their audience. He cites as an example the film Four Eyed Monsters, which debuted at the Slamdance Film Festival two years ago. The filmmakers, Cote explains, produced two episodes a month, which they posted on a website that they created for the film.

"They involved the audience on the website, building a buzz. Through that they were able to do some screenings locally in various cities by asking their audience, through this website, 'Would you like to see this? Where are you located?' Once a certain amount of people in a certain zip code responded, they would rent a theater in that area and sell out the theater."

The filmmakers are working on getting the film to DVD, but fans can already purchase the feature film direct-to-download. "Eventually, I do think DVDs will become obsolete," says Cote. He recently observed a friend's 18-month-old child send photos via a Blackberry. "These kids growing up won't own physical copies of their media, they will download everything directly. Personally, I love it. I hate CDs. I'm very rough with my CDs. They always break and crack. My wife just bought me a couple that you can't buy on digital download. I put them on my computer, I throw them in a closet, and I never look at them again. They just take up space."

Cote believes that those who are wary of purchasing items they can neither see nor touch are in need of a paradigm shift. "I have older neighbors who are still confused by letterbox [widescreen]; they want to know why they can't see the whole picture." Cote is sure that people like his neighbors "will swing the way of digital when they see the convenience, the easier access to more videos and audio files. Once a really good user experience comes into play and appears in the marketplace, I think the resistance will abate."

Cote says that for nearly every imaginable subject, there is an audience, and he describes the number of categories as infinite.

"For filmmakers, that's great. There are already fan pages for people who like roller-skating films. They may not have [videos] on their site, but someone can make a film and post it there, and there's already an interactive community to reach out to."

How might a growing online cinema presence affect Hollywood movies? "They're not going to die out completely," answers Cote. "But they will adapt and change. So many movies will need those huge $100 million budgets. No one is going to create the next Superman with a video camera in their bedroom. [Hollywood] will be able to make more pictures with smaller budgets and use online tools and online communities to help market to their audience better."

Cote notes that Hollywood is releasing Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3,and Pirates of the Caribbean 3 at the start of this summer. "This is kind of a statement of where they're at," he says.

Novice filmmakers can produce a film with very little capital. High-definition cameras are available for $1000, and basic movie-editing software comes free with most new computers. "It levels the playing field, allowing smaller filmmakers with smaller budgets to create great films, and the audience is given more choices for what they want to see."

The major cost of making a film, Cote says, is time. "Doing a regular vlog is a lot of work; it takes time to shoot and edit. You'll see more regular blogs occasionally feature a video here and there." Cote estimates that of his friends, 85 percent have blogs, and 40 percent of those people have vlogs. "Of the 40 percent, 90 percent are doing it full time, or that's what they want to be their full-time job, so they're spending full-time hours on it. It's a time-consuming thing to create that media." -- Barbarella

Online Cinema: Film in the Age of YouTube and Vlogs Panel discussion workshop at the San Diego Latino Film Festival Saturday, March 10 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. UltraStar Mission Valley Cinema, Hazard Center 7510 Hazard Center Road Mission Valley Cost: $15 general admission Info: 619-230-1938 or www.mediaartscenter.org

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