Looking for ways to get new movies into public's hands


At the mid-December Dubai International Film Festival, Morgan Freeman, the Oscar-winning actor and star of last year's Million Dollar Baby, took on his most challenging role yet: movie entrepreneur.

Dubai was one of several stops on a Middle East tour for Freeman, who was meeting with local moviemakers, hoping to find independent films to distribute through his Internet venture, ClickStar. Freeman and Intel founded ClickStar this summer with an eye toward offering downloads of a movie at the same time as its theatrical release.

Freeman said the industry practice of showing feature films in theaters first, then selling them later on DVD, is outdated. With new advances in digital filmmaking, he predicted, consumers will demand better access to movies.

"We want to give people what they want, when they want it," said Freeman.

Freeman is not the only entrepreneur riding the digital technology surf. In the last several months, a handful of new ventures have been formed to help filmmakers find their audience - online, on DVD and at the movie theater.

Among them is Seattle-based IndieFlix, introduced by two independent filmmakers in October. For $9.95 a disc, the company will burn a feature or documentary film onto a DVD and ship it to a customer who has ordered it online. Another outfit, 2929 Entertainment, has teamed up with the Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh to offer the movie Bubble simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on cable television.

But how big is the market? Even those working on distributing movies in new ways cannot predict what will capture the public's interest. They are experimenting with untested business models.

Still, many in Hollywood smell opportunity.

"I've seen more movement in the last three months than the previous five years," said Todd Wagner, who along with his business partner, Mark Cuban, will release Soderbergh's Bubble in late January. "I think people are now saying they can't avoid this."

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