Wired – Debra Kaufman

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While the studios dither over Web strategies, a relatively small production house called Metafilmics rolled tape, clapped states, and produced Quantum Project – a 35-minute drama now playing exclusively at www.sightsound.com. “We’re hoping,” says its coproducer Barnet Bain, “that Quantum Project will help instigate a quantum leap.”

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Countless movies have been made for the Net, but this is the first Web feature to be made with Hollywood-scale ambitions, by Hollywood players: Its producers, Bain and Stephen Simon, were the team behind ‘What Dreams May Come’.

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According to Scott Sander, CEO and cofounder of SightSound.com – the online music-retail and video-rental startup that funded the $3 million picture – signing up the big-name talent was the greatest challenge of the entire project. “People wondered if it was really a movie or just a dot-com stunt,” he says.

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Eventually, some combination of Internet buzz, big-enough budget, and old-school net-working lured Stephen Dorff, Fay Masterson, and John Cleese to star in this Rashomon-like nonlinear tale of a quantum physicist obsessed with the subatomic, whose chance encounter with a former girlfriend changes his life. Eugenio Zanetti, who won an Oscar for designing the sets of the wildly expressionistic ‘What Dreams May Come,’ signed on to direct the production, which includes complex car crashes, elaborate flying scenes, and extensive digital effects.

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Cinematographer Bob Primes laughs at the idea that signing the talent was more problematic than the technology was. A member of the illustrious American Society of Cinematographers and a man “too snobbish to acknowledge VHS,” Primes took on the challenge of capturing Zanetti’s big-screen vision in a Net-worthy format. “The quality of downloads is so bad that I tried to put it out of my mind. If I’d really thought of the jerky motion and poor resolution, it would have broken my spirit,” admits Primes. The subtleties of film would have been lost on the Net, he explains, “so, visually, it was, ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!’ We have a lot of visual horse-power with strong, golden backlight, kinetic graphics, and extreme wide-angle lenses – we had to be as dramatic as possible.”

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Not wanting to see that hard work squandered on a computer monitor, Primes once suggested that the movie be distributed on DVD as well. But, as he recalls, “The SightSound guys just said, ‘No trucks.'”

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There are considerable challenges to delivering an online movie, Scott Sander admits, but he insists that SightSound worked through those problems when it distributed ‘Pi’ last year. “We have servers in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, DC, Boston, and Santa Clara,” he says. “We’re ready to deliver more than a quarter of a million copies of ‘Quantum’ a day.” At under 100 megs, the movie will download in 8 to 13 minutes over a broadband connection, or in 4 to 8 hours over a dialup, depending on modem speed.

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Once you pay the $3.95 admission, you can watch the movie as many times as you like, though you can’t view it on a friend’s machine without paying again, says Sander, touching on the hot-button issue of security.

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“The big studios are trying to understand all the implications of Net distribution,” he says. “It’s a scary place for traditional media companies.” But ‘Quantum Project’ proves the Net truism that the startups and indies always lead the way.

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