With high-speed, broadband Internet technology, filmmakers can potentially show their movies directly to viewers via their computers without ever dealing with studios or theaters. The Independent Film Channel has already experimented with this process on the Internet, and TNT screened "Casablanca" in its entirety on its Web site early this year.
The broadband technology that would give consumers the kind of fast Internet access they need to receive movies through their computers is at least two to five years from being widespread. The popularity of digital distribution also largely relies on the projected convergence of televisions and home computers.
Nonetheless, the potential is overwhelming.
"The future of digital distribution is probably the most exciting opportunity for filmmakers that I've ever seen come along," said Austin Harrison, a panel member and an executive producer at Santa Monica-based Hollywood Online. "It creates more opportunities for filmmakers to get their work seen, and it offers cost efficiencies when it comes to marketing."
Meanwhile, theater distribution remains the industry's brass ring. A documentary, "The Cruise," which premiered at last year's independent film festival, is considered the digital movement's biggest success story to date.
Director Bennett Miller shot the entire film without a crew, which would have been impossible using cumbersome traditional film equipment, and created an award-winning film. He got his first offer 15 minutes after screening the documentary, which Artisan later bought and released across the nation. Director Reiss hopes to replicate Miller's success.
"The stigma that used to surround shooting on tape is dropping away, both from the studios' and filmmakers' point of view," Miller said. "People are becoming blind to the technology. Now it comes down to the quality of the story told, which is the point of filmmaking in the first place."
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