February 1, 1996

Internet Made Easy: Cybersurfing for Documentarians

In today's computer age it is not an overstatement to say that much of the information you will ever need, in your entire life or career, is accessible right now simply by the placement of a local telephone call. The Internet has fundamentally transformed the way that information and ideas are exchanged. It's an exciting time to own a modem.

If you view the Internet as the Information Superhighway, then the World Wide Web (WWW) is its biggest exit-the New York City of the online world. The Web, a subset of the Internet, is a place that utilizes a programming language called Hypertext Markup Language (html) to incorporate text, images, video, and sound into individual "sites" or "home pages." In short, it's the interactive multimedia area of the Internet. Each site is simply another computer or a computer network located somewhere on the globe that contains information in the form of text, pictures, video, and sound. There is information to be found on any imaginable subject. And it takes only a click of the mouse to jump all over the Web-and th us all over the world-to find the information that you want.

The big question for us becomes: What kind of practical information can the Web provide to people in the independent and commercial documentary production business? The answer is, plenty. Whether you are research ing, already in production, looking for stock footage, or simply looking for funding, the Web contains hundreds of potentially useful sites that can be tapped into with a few keystrokes.

With so much information in cyberspace, you need special tools to help you find what you're looking for. One of the best "search engines" on the Web is Yahoo (http://yahoo.com).

Yahoo will take you all over the Web to search for the information you want. It is so useful that I have it set as my home page, the first screen that I see when I enter the Web.

What follows are some interesting sites that I found during a few cybersurfing sessions. If You use this article to tap into any of these sites, remember to delete the parentheses that I've used around the addresses.

 

CATCH THE WAVE

Trying to find funding for your latest proposal? Although we all know the tenuous thread from which it dangles lately, the National Endowment for the Humanities has its own site on the Web (http://www.neh.fed.us). Tap into it for updated information on, among other things, proposal parameters and grant deadlines.

The Independent Film And Video­ makers Internet Guide (http:// www.echonyc.com/~mvidal/Indi-Film+Video.html) is a resource providing, among other links, information on how you can help lobby to continue funding for such government entities as the NEH and CPB.

How about a place to show your film? The University of Chicago is the site for the Documentary Film Project (http://http.bsd.wchicago.edu/doc/), which serves as an outlet for independent films from around the country.

If you are planning on shooting overseas, pay a visit to Lonely Planet's place on the Web (http://www.lonelyplanet.com). Since the early 1970s, lonely Planet has produced innovative and essential guidebooks for dozens of countries. Its Web site offers online information about visa requirements, medical alerts, travel tips, and full-color maps.

Articles from both mainstream and alternative periodicals have a great home at the Electronic News Stand (http://www.ena.com). lt has a wonderful graphical interface that allows you to select from a choice of magazines, or you can use it as a search tool to find the magazine your’re looking for online. (People, The Utne Reader, Time, and other well known rags are online, along with many periodicals that have been designed just for cyberspace.)

Bill's Library (http//:www.io.org/-jpcom/library.htm) is a similar but more extensive page that offers links to many online periodicals, poetry journals, book reviews, encyclopedias, and even sites that specialized in classic authors such as Melville, Shakespeare, and Twain.

Researchers will love touching base with the Internet Public Library (http://ipl.sils.umich.edu), a fully interactive bank featuring tons of information and links to other Web sites. It's a project of the Library Science Department of the University of Michigan.

Production coordinators have crews at their fingertips at Mandy's Production Pages (http://www.demon.co.u.k/mandy/). Tired of waiting for the local film commission to call you back when you need a gaffer right now? Mandy's eliminates the need to clutter your shelves with production books and even includes international production personnel.

Although it's still a work in progress, the New York City Film Center (http://www.panix.com/jviii/filmlctrl/jv3film1.html) is a growing resource locator for production support in New York. Peruse resumes, credits, and individual Web pages of every sort of film worker, from actors to assistant camerapeople to sound recordists.

Mole Richardson (http://www.mole.com/index/html) and Arriflex (http://cwis.usc.edu/dept/etc/arri/arri.html) both have sites on the Web. In the latter site you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the classic documentary workhorse, the 16SR camera, along with the rest of Arri's product line. At Mole Richardson you are invited to order expendables, grip equipment, or even rent lights for your next host shoot.

The Internet Intertainment Network (http://www.hollywoodnetwork.com/hn/index.html) is an incredible site with reams of information on film news, box office reports, movie databases, and even a law cybercenter where you can find information on entertainment related legal questions.

The Directors Guild is on line (http://leonardo.net/dga/index.htm) and offers current press releases, information on the annual awards, DGA publications, and text of interviews with prominent directors. I must say, though, I expected a little more imagination from the DGA. Except for an interesting opening graphic, there's not much here visually.

Cinemedia (http://gu.edu.au/gwis/cinemedia/CineMedia/home.htm) is a great resource that's part of the Humanities Hub, a site listing links to dozens of humanities-related Websites. Cinemedia dubs itself "The Internet's Largest Film and Media Directory." Essentially it is a way station to other media sites on the Web. It's full of links to information on individual films and television programs and even has detailed information on many production companies in Los Angeles and around the rest of the globe. It also features a section on "new media," which contains links to CD-ROM products and companies.

Stock footage researchers will be going on line in droves to utilize FOOTAGE.net (http://www.FOOTAGE.net ). Right now it's essentially an online catalog of hundreds of stock footage companies listing the kinds of footage each archive holds. FOOT­AGE.net has its own search engine built into the site; in other words, you can type in a phrase, and it returns a list of companies that have the footage you requested. Don't be fooled, however. FOOTAGE.net's search engine is not sophisticated, at least for now. For instance, I recently needed rare footage on the Dunhuang Caves in China. After entering the search term, I got four responses for footage I'd been searching for for weeks! Unfortunately,  t turned out the search engine was picking up on the word cavu and ignoring the full proper name. This problem would be partially alleviated if the footage companies offered detailed descriptions of the contents of their archives as opposed to generic subjects. It's possible they may redesign the search engine in the future; let's hope so.

 

GETTING ONLINE

Figuring out exactly what service you need to launch you into cyberspace can prove to be a daunting task. There are essentially two major onramps into the Information Superhighway. The first is a SLIP (Serial Line Internet Protocol) or PPP (Point to Point Protocol) service provider company. Examples of these include Delphi, Netcom, PrimeNet, Jovanet, and Leonardo. If you're going to hook into cyberspace with a full Internet service provider, find one that offers PPP access, which is faster than a SLIP account.

You can also connect to cyberspace through a commercial service like Prodigy, America Online, or CompuServe. If you've never surfed cyberspace before, it might be advantageous to go with one of the latter. Commercial services are not part of the Internet, although they do offer varying degrees of Internet access (including WWW). Rather, they are thriving metropolises full of information, from the latest weather around the world to downloadable pictures and graphics; from news wire services like AP and Reuters to e-mail capability to anyone with an online address. The two best commercial services are arguably CompuServe and America Online. Macintosh users seem to prefer AOL, while PC users are more apt to have CompuServe accounts.

No matter which commercial service you sign up for, you'll find plenty of information important to documentary filmmakers, especially in the research department. The online services offer quick point-and-click service to constantly updated online encyclopedias, Books in Print, movie reviews and credits, magazine databases, newspaper archives, and still photo archives. If You're really adventurous (or on a tight budget) you can access via the commercial services sites to book your own flights, car rental, and hotel arrangements for shoots.

Exploring cyberspace is an intuitive process. If You have some patience, curiosity, and a love or need for information, the Internet can be a satisfying place. The more you surf, the more quickly you learn the benefits and limitations of all that is out there. And this is just the beginning. By the end of the century, moving film and video images will be commonplace on the World Wide Web, something for an independent documentary producer to ponder. It will create completely new paradigms with respect to product distribution. The future is already here with software like DRUMS, which was developed by Sprint. Utilizing computers and high-speed phone lines, DRUMS allows filmmakers in, for example, Los Angeles and New York to view a rough cut of a film simultaneously and make notes on changes. You can imagine how much time a system like this will save the filmmaker and the executive. This year, Sprint plans to interface DRUMS with Avid, a move that could precipitate bona fide telecommuting within our industry. Can you imagine cutting your project with your Los Angeles-based editor while you sit in the comfort of your home in Marin County or Sun Valley? The future is on its way.

 

Mark Finkelpearl (finklprl@jovanet.com) is senior producer for Los Angeles-based FilmRoos, Inc.

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