- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

BOSTON

The cameras capture the young man walking down the stairs, reciting a monologue about the three things people should know about him: His favorite movie is “Gone with the Wind,” he loves roller coasters and he hates it when people don’t take him seriously.

The shot is complicated and takes several attempts to perfect. But there’s no big camera equipment, no expert sound system and no reels of film to capture the moment.

Instead, everyone involved, from the three cameramen and the sound guy to the extras, is producing the miniature movie with — and for — cell phones.

The exercise is part of a Boston University class created through a unique partnership with the cellular company Amp’d Mobile and taught by director Jan Egleson. During the semester, the students will produce a series of short episodes that eventually will be distributed by the company for its cellular customers. The students have challenged one another to shoot using only the phones, despite obstacles surrounding sound and video quality.

The class, which the university thinks is the only one of its kind in the country, offers students credit and a chance to be part of the new media culture — where anyone, anywhere, can create, distribute and view entertainment using a variety of emerging technologies. Amp’d benefits by getting mobile content created by one of its targeted audiences: young, tech-savvy adults.

Amp’d, whose backers include Qualcomm Inc. and Viacom Inc., is trying to compete with mainstream cellular players such as Cingular Wireless by branding itself as a youth-oriented company offering more than just phone service. It sells comedy clips, cartoons and music videos for subscribers to watch on cell phones for prices that start at 45 cents for a single download to $20 for unlimited access.

Most content is geared toward people ages 18 to 35.

“They’re all about anywhere, anytime,” said Seth Cummings, Amp’d Mobile’s senior vice president for content, who helped start the program at his alma mater. “They want to be able to take their media with them.”

Amp’d has hired established writers to create original content, but Mr. Cummings said the company decided to work with Boston University to target budding artists.

“I know that when I was there, there was this stuff that we’d create that there was no outlet [for],” Mr. Cummings said. “There’s a real outlet here.”

The medium is so new that the students and Mr. Egleson spent some time in a recent class debating what to call their work. Options included mobisodes (mobile episodes), mobilettes or cellenovelas (cellular telenovelas).

“We’re on the cutting edge of a new era of film medium,” said Mark DiCristofaro, a 21-year-old film student. “Why not get on board early?”

And because anyone with a cell phone can make a video and upload it to the Internet to watch on computers or phones, the students said they felt a greater opportunity to get people to see their work. Television production graduate student Chris Miller said cell phones give young filmmakers a new way to distribute their work.

“It’s so hard to get the studios to really pay attention, especially the beginning filmmakers,” Mr. Miller said. “So if they don’t want to go that route, you don’t have to.”

In some respects, Mr. Egleson’s film class is like any other. In the first hour, he guides the students through a discussion of editing, graphics, music and tone. They work on their series, centered on a group of diverse students who each harbor a secret.

“The bottom line is always that if it’s a good story and you get involved, it doesn’t matter what format it is,” said Mr. Egleson, who has directed films and television shows.

Other times, though, the students and teacher run into challenges unique to working with the black, shiny cell phones provided by Amp’d:

• The phones film for 15 seconds at a time. For longer scenes, such as the monologue in the stairwell, multiple phones are used.

• The phones don’t pick up sound well. During this class, the students try putting a phone in an actor’s pocket or using a makeshift boom created with a tiny microphone and a bendable, green stick.

• In some scenes, cameramen can be seen in the shots. So when they finish filming, they quickly put their cameras to their ears and become extras casually chatting on the phone.

The picture quality isn’t as good as film, either, because the phone’s camera records 15 frames per second, compared with the typical 24 to 30 frames per second in movies or on television.

“It’s not quite as clean as what you’d expect from television. It’s a little more raw,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s not your ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ sitcom.”

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