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Hollywood is seeing fans pull a power play

January 23, 2007|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

In the past, networks have tried to squash YouTube's access to their clips. Before the relaunch of the Viacom-owned iFilm site last fall, lawyers had YouTube take down thousands of clips from popular Viacom-owned Comedy Central shows, hoping to steer fans to iFilm or Comedy Central's site. Yet the morning after O'Reilly visited "The Colbert Report," YouTube was full of clips of the appearance.

At a site like iFilm, which specializes in packaging topical mass media events, whether it's the new "Spider-Man 3" trailer or coverage of the Rosie-Trump feud, the hope is to attract viewers by offering a more streamlined experience than YouTube, which is often a chaotic jumble of clips. "We're betting that people do want a guide to help show them what's cool," says iTunes chief Blair Harrison. "But we want to allow our community to do that, so that it's indistinguishable whether the content that's elevated on our site is from our staff or our active audience members."

But will this audience want a new kind of entertainment? Will the art created on the Web have a different aesthetic than the kind of storytelling forms we watch on TV and film? Internet enthusiasts think so. United Talent Agency digital media chief Brent Weinstein, who heads UTA's groundbreaking unit devoted to scouting online talent, is convinced that the Web's interactivity will usher in a new kind of shared creativity.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday January 24, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
iFilm: The Big Picture column in Tuesday's Calendar section identified Blair Harrison as the chief of iTunes. Harrison is chief executive of iFilm.

"We'll see a form that will exist specifically on the Internet," he says. "TV is very linear and passive. But because your computer can talk to other electronic devices, whether it's your mobile phone or your BlackBerry, it opens up a whole new world. And we'll see even more creative freedom, because these new platforms allow artists to bypass big media institutions and speak directly to consumers."

One of UTA's discoveries is a filmmaking collective called Big Fantastic that recently produced 80 episodes of a Web murder mystery called "Sam Has 7 Friends." Designed as a video podcast that ran in 90-second daily installments last fall, it had an irresistible hook: "Samantha Breslow had seven friends. On Dec. 15, one of them killed her." In keeping with the ethos of the Web, the story is slyly voyeuristic, exploiting our inexhaustible fascination with other people's lives. We are cast as eavesdroppers in Breslow's life, seeing her avoid her ex-boyfriend and quarrel with her agent -- her character, of course, being an actress. (The episodes are available on iTunes or at

The five members of Big Fantastic all have Hollywood day jobs, but they clearly believe in a Web-fueled form of storytelling. "Short and sweet is the way to go," says Chris Hampel, who worked as Michael Mann's assistant on "Collateral" and "Miami Vice." "Five minutes can feel like an eternity on the Internet. This was consciously geared for people who could watch the show in their office when they had 90 seconds between phone calls."

Hampel and his cohorts wrote for the medium, creating 90-second bits of drama. "Whatever was the most emotional thing that happened to Sam that day, we focused on that," he says. "We saw this as a soap opera with someone dying in the end. But no one has the patience to watch a whole soap opera anymore, so we just cut out all the fat."

Even their website is designed so all the information is on one home page. "Who wants to scroll?" says Hampel. "It's a bona fide way to lose people."

Because their story unfolded on the Web, they received instant feedback from message boards. The strongest reaction was inspired by Willie, Sam's ex-boyfriend. "People really loved him or hated him, so we wrote him into more episodes. Everything was immediate. We could shoot something one day and have it on the Net the next."

No one has yet stepped up to fund a new batch of shows, but the show's buzz earned the group meetings with various young studio executives. "We think this is the year people start jumping in the pool," says Hampel. "But at most of our meetings, people said, 'Come back and see us in a year. I get it, but my boss doesn't.' "

Hampel and his buddies shouldn't worry. In Hollywood, big changes are afoot. And the bosses are always the last to know.

"The Big Picture" runs Tuesdays in Calendar. Questions or criticism can be e-mailed to

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