Volume 81, Issue 8 November 2, 2001

Variety spices up new music releases

Digital filmmaking finds Omaha connection

by Heidi A. Schaefer

What is cooler? Old school vintage or new school vanguard? When it comes to filmmaking the two are meeting and competing in the digital age. Digital video, the new kid on the motion picture block, is challenging film reels to a showdown.
Two digital projects have premiered in Omaha this fall. Movie watchers and moviemakers are trying to blend the best of both with reverence and foresight, remembering the magic of tangible classic celluloid while experimenting with the ease of high-tech. News gatherers are discovering territory that could not be reached without the more compact cameras.
Jim Fields, a University of Nebraska-Omaha English professor, directed, edited and marketed a digital movie from his small den. “Plain Living” premiered Oct. 13 at the Rose Blumpkin Performing Arts Center. Creighton Fine Arts Professor, the Rev. Don Doll, S.J. released his digital news documentary at the Skutt Student Center Tuesday.
“Plain Living” originated with a lot of motivation and a vision that could only be made possible with the invention of digital technology.
“I always wanted to make a movie, so I started studying all the new digital equipment and realized that I could,” Fields said.
Fields said he felt so enthusiastic about his project that he took up two more teaching jobs to raise money for the equipment while writing his screenplay.
The digital technology is only about two years old. “Five years ago I could not have made this project,” Fields said.
Doll’s in-depth documentary “Jesuit Journeys” that travels to India and Rome could not have been made without digital video.
“It would have never happened. It’s just too painful to use a 40- pound camera and spend $40,000 on it,” Doll said.
Digital is a new process of recording live action that is saved on a computer chip instead of visual imprints on strips of film. The difference is staggering.
“You can record for hours and immediately playback a scene. With film you have to stop every 10 minutes to reload and you can’t see what you shot until the next day in a theater,” Fields said.
The appearance of digital film differs from the classic look and could rival its dominance in Hollywood and broadcast because of its many benefits. Fields and Doll believe there will always be room for both.
“Bigger movie projects will always be in film because it has a very unique look that is essential to the movie. But we’ll be seeing more movies in digital. For example, the new George Lucas movie was all done digitally,” Fields said.
Even though the updating is advantageous, for the news world the change comes with apprehension.
“Networks have so much money invested in current equipment that digital won’t completely over take regular video,” Doll said.
From the digital camera, images are transferred through an Apple invention called FireWire into Macintosh computers and pieced together using Final Cut Pro Software. The innovation won Apple the 2001 Primetime Emmy Engineering Award and provided Fields with an instant editing ability. Fields believes the ease and access of digital filmmaking will turn more movie ideas into completed films.
“We’ll see more low budgets done this way, but the good stuff will still come from strong core skills in writing and acting,” Fields said.
Doll said he was also concerned with the quality of the product, but with digital, it is the stuff of the professionals.
“I didn’t want to make a home movie, but digital is all broadcast quality,” Doll said. “News studios don’t want to send a cameraman, a reporter, a producer and an editor on every assignment. They can save a ton on costs just sending one person and a digital camera.”
Doll noted that mobility changed what stories were covered. He knew a reporter who went to Rwanda to interview survivors of the genocide. He was much more discreet, without a large camera and crew.
“The authorities would have immediately stopped him. He would have never been able to film any of it,” Doll said. “The possibilities are really exciting.”
Doll is currently teaching video editing/photography and promoting “Jesuit Journeys.”
Fields, a native Nebraskan, began his creative career as a playwright and lyricist, writing a musical called “Little Red” and the comedy/drama “Scarlet Fever.”
His next project is to edit 40 hours of digital footage into “Saving Indian Hills,” a documentary about a preservation group trying to protect the landmark theater in Omaha that was eventually torn down for a Methodist Hospital parking lot.