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e-Briefing | Celebrity Setup

Critical Acclaim

February 15, 2001

Though Roger Ebert embraces many technological conveniences, he thumbs his nose at some ubiquitous devices.

Roger Ebert's thumb is both revered and feared in the film industry. As co-host of the film review show that is the top-rated syndicated half-hour on television, his trademark thumbs up or down on a new movie can affect the outcome of a flick's all-important opening weekend.

Ebert, who has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975. He became a nationwide celebrity because of the TV show that he co-hosted for 23 years with fellow critic Gene Siskel, who died in 1999. The show is now co-hosted by Richard Roeper.

In addition to Ebert's newspaper and TV work, he is a lecturer at the University of Chicago and has sat on the juries of numerous film festivals.

DESKTOP: I have a G3 Mac. I want to get the new G4 that allows you to cut your own DVDs. Actually, we have six Macs here in my office at home. Life is too short to use anything but a Mac; Windows is just not a human environment.

LAPTOP: One of the early G3 models. I saw the new titanium one at Sundance, and I'm ready to switch to that when it comes out. I'll use AirPort [for a wireless network] so I can move around the house and FireWire to import video.

Q. You make your own films?

I do a pretty good job on home movies. But they are just for family use.

Q. It's so inexpensive now to make a quality video movie.

The entry level is down to $2,000. You can get a computer with FireWire for about $1,000 and a good camera for about $1,000. With that, you can make a real movie.

Q. Has making movies for yourself changed the way you look at professionally made movies?

I don't think so. For 30 years, I've been doing a shot-by-shot analysis of films at various schools and festivals, first using 16-millimeter, then with laser disc and now DVD. We freeze-frame every shot and look at it, then talk about the grammar of film, composition, why the film was put together in a certain way.

We have all seen so much film and television that the grammar has entered through our skins, it seems. Even the average person who puts together a movie on a home computer is not going to just transfer the film they shot without cutting out the bad parts, making more of a narrative.

Q. With digital filmmaking so inexpensive, will a lot more people attempt to be professional filmmakers?

Last year at the Sundance festival, everyone was talking about digital, and some people predicted there would be 6,000 entries this year. But there were 898 submitted, about the same as the year before.

The fact is you still have to have a script, actors, a crew, locations. You have to take time off from your real life. It's not easy, even if the equipment is cheap and you don't have to pay people.

Just because people can get their hands on equipment does not make them filmmakers. A lot of people can type, but it doesn't make them writers.

BOOKMARKED SITES: The Internet Movie Database [http://www.imdb.com], Variety [http://www.variety.com], Salon [http://www.salon.com], Slate [http://www.slate.com] and Yahoo Movies [http://movies.yahoo.com]. I look at Ifilm [http://www.ifilm.com] and AtomFilms [http://www.atomfilms.com] for short films, and I read James Berardinelli [http://movie-reviews.colossus.net], who is the best Web-based movie critic I know.

For my search engine, I use Google [http://www.google.com].

Q. Most of your bookmarks are movie- or media-based.

I have EthnicGrocer [http://www.ethnicgrocer.com], where I get Indian and Thai spices. I have Terraserver [http://www.terraserver.com] marked, which allows you to call up satellite pictures of almost any place on Earth. I like Cartoon Bank [http://www.cartoonbank.com], which has a database of cartoons that ran in the New Yorker. You can order them as a print or a T-shirt. It's great for presents.

Q. How many of these sites will still be around in a couple of years?

Advertising has deserted the Web, and only a limited number of sites will ever be able to stay alive through subscriptions. I believe the answer is a system of micro-payments--a penny or less a page.

Someone might not subscribe to a whole newspaper, but would I pay a penny to read "Nancy," one of my favorite comic strips? Yes.

SCREEN SAVER: We use the SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] screen saver that uses computer downtime to analyze a packet of information from a radio telescope. It does it automatically and sends a report. So far, my computer has not turned up any aliens. [For information on the project, go to http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu.]

CELL PHONE: I refuse to use one. I think they cause brain cancer. And I think they basically make people look pathetic. You see them at Cannes, falling over things. And you know all their secrets--they don't seem to realize people can listen in while they talk.

Q. Do you use a beeper?

No, because I'm nobody's slave.

HOME AUDIO/VIDEO: We have a home theater with 16 real theater seats in the house. The projector will take a wide-screen DVD film and fill the screen--it doesn't look letter boxed. And we have THX sound.

Q. Do you watch films you review there?

Not new films. First of all, we don't have film projection, just DVD and tape. And the studios are uptight about privacy; they don't want to hand out copies of new films.

But once a month, I write about a classic film, and I look at them at home.

*

--As told to DAVID COLKER

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