The Platypus Meets the Blair Witch 
Editorial By Dirck Halstead

The Blair Witch can't miss's everywhere. It's on the cover of Time and Newsweek. It's on every business page, and most important, it's pulling in money...lots of money...INCREDIBLE amounts of money as the summer's hottest movie. So what? Titanic was doing the same thing the summer before last, and Saving Private Ryan set new box office records a year ago. 

The difference is that those last two megahits cost the studios hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. The Blair Witch Project, on the other hand, was made by a couple of guys using jumpy hand-held video cameras. Oh sure, they spent a lot of cash by amateur standards--$30,000 they say. Wow! you can buy a new Jeep Cherokee with that kind of money. The only thing is, in return for that investment, as of last week, they had made $80 million dollars. That's right, 80 plus six zeroes. And it hasn't stopped yet. 

Hollywood is having a massive panic attack just thinking about it. How on Earth can you support a studio president's super-perks, not to mention the huge sums paid out to directors, producers, and big-time stars, when you can make a movie for chump change? 

Well, the guys sitting around their pools in BelAir aren't the only big shots getting a bit unsettled these days. The suits at the broadcast networks--remembering the days when they owned 24-hour-a-day airtime split between the three nets--are suddenly having to compete for audience share with cable networks like A&E, Discovery, CNN, Lifetime, MTV, the list goes on and on. Worse yet, they are losing control over who produces the content for these programs.  

At the Maine Photo Workshop this summer, I watched as a classroom full of would-be Steven Spielbergs spent a week learning how to make feature films. Instead of using the traditional Airriflex 16mm camera, they used a mini DVCamcorder. The point is, the storytelling process no longer depends on how much money you have to buy or rent equipment costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, but rather, how well you construct a story. The means of transferring ideas to the screen is now within reach of the average filmgoer. 

This process is what we have been writing about in these webpages for the past two years--with television in mind. Over the last couple of weeks we have produced three half hour network specials in our basement studio at The Digital Journalist. They have all aired on ABC's Nightline. We aren't bragging, we're just proving a point. The shows were shot on the Canon Xl-1 digital camcorder, edited off-line on a Sony DVCam deck, and finished on a Mac G3 with Mac's new software program Final Cut Pro. The total production cost on these three network shows (minus an editor's salary on one of them, simply because we couldn't handle three projects in post at one time) came to less than $15,000. This included travel (one show had a segment shot in Italy), hotels and tapestock. Without telling exactly what we billed ABC, suffice it to say, we had big smiles at the end of the day, and ABC had good programming that left them with enough in their budget to fund more. 

Most important, we were able to tell our stories the way we wanted to. We were in control of the entire process from conception to air. And we proved that a couple of guys with digital camcorders and a basement studio could compete on the highest level of the broadcast industry. 

This is the Platypus Workshop's message--one of empowerment and hope for men and women in visual journalism who have watched the opportunities to do creative projects become increasingly constrained. We now have the tools at hand to reclaim our visions. 

The Platypus has met the Blair Witch and they are in love. 
Dirck Halstead 


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