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This editorial first appeared in the Friday, August 11th edition of the Silicon Alley Daily, an e-newsletter. It is reproduced here with permission.
Original URL is http://www.siliconalleydaily.com/issues/sar08112000.html#Headline5616

Forget the Director's Cut--Now Presenting ''Jason's Cut'' (or, I'm Building Websites Today, but I Really Want to Direct)

by Jason McCabe Calacanis (TFN guest editorialist)

I recently downloaded the trailer for Star Wars Episode II with great enthusiasm. I was one of the fanatics who went to see Star Wars at 11 A.M. the day it opened, and when the trailer for Episode I was released, I painfully tried over and over again to download it from George Lucas' over-burdened Web-servers. Yes, I'm a freak.

To my mind, Lucas is a genius despite the flaws in Episode I (no plot, no interesting characters beyond Darth Maul, who had less than five lines--what were you thinking, George?). Lucas is one of those rare traditional-media types who doesn't try and stop a wave--he surfs it. In truth, he's a radical guy despite the fact that he's GEORGE LUCAS. He constantly pushes the movie business to adopt technological advances (i.e., only showing Star Wars in state-of-the-art theaters, pushing the boundaries of special effects, etc.).

So, back to the Episode II trailer: As the trailer opens up with the "dum, da da dum... " of the 20th Century Fox splash screen, I feel the same excitement I've felt ever since seeing the original Star Wars in a drive-in theater more than 20 years ago. The magical green LucasArts logo twinkles as the signature John Williams score kicks in.

A sweeping flyby of the desert, Tattoine, cuts to an equally sweeping flyby of the lush planet Naboo. Then the narrative begins: "Every general leads in battle... " Obi-Wan turns and faces the screen.

"Every queen discovers her destiny... " Queen Amidala turns and faces the screen.

The music starts to reach a crescendo. "Every boy becomes a man... " BANG! There he is, Anakin Skywalker (a.k.a Darth Vader), played by Hayden Christensen. An army of Jedi run across a field waving light sabers, their colorful weapons glowing as they roar into battle... Awesome! I can't wait to see this film!

L.A. Law's Jimmy Smits, plus Gabriel Byrne and my personal favorite Christopher Walken, make their Star Wars debuts in the trailer as well. Hey! Wait a second. Christopher Walken himself said he's not in the new Star Wars movie--that his involvement was never anything more than a rumor started by fans. What gives?

What gives is that this trailer, which looks as professional as any movie trailer I've seen, was not made by George Lucas. It's the creation of a rabid fan who just couldn't wait any longer.

If our commercial systems and our government can't effectively combat theft of copyrighted material, how on earth are they going to deal with people kidnapping it and holding it hostage?

The trailer has been built, it turns out, from clips from the original movies, scenes from movies the new Star Wars actors have been in previously, and some computer generated glue. The creator put Walken in the trailer based on the rumors that he was being considered for a part. Cool.

The trailer got me thinking about Star Trek and The X-Files, and how those franchises fought to shut down multimedia-enhanced fan websites and (in Star Trek's case) fan artwork and fiction sites. "How dare you use our intellectual property without our permission!" was the tone of the cease-and-desist letters.

If you're upset with the idea of a fan writing a story based on your characters, how do you like the idea of some clever kid producing an entire episode or movie?

In the not-so-distant future: Some empowered fan feels let down by the length of X-Men, so she adds 20 minutes of character development and changes the ending. We're only a couple of years away from this happening. Heck, we're only a couple of years away from fans making their own films based on say, Wolverine, the greatest of all X-Men.

If those in the entertainment industry have a hard time embracing the Grateful Dead theory of generating revenue (that is, give away the music as a promotional tool and make it back on the concerts, merchandising, and eventually legit CD sales), how do you think they'll respond to people creating serious derivative works based on their intellectual property?

In a sense, the industry has gotten off easy with Napster and Scour; it should be thankful that some clever programmer hasn't created a piece of software enabling kids to create their own Eminem tracks. If I could create a program that let kids type in their own lyrics and have Eminem, Snoop, or Dre (or even some combination of those artists) sing them, how much could I charge for it?

A new set of issues is on the horizon, and it's much more complicated than the outright theft of intellectual property. If our commercial systems and our government can't effectively combat theft of copyrighted material, how on earth are they going to deal with people kidnapping it and holding it hostage? Not well, I can tell you that.

However, as with all changes, you can fight progress or you can ride it. Some clever creator and/or businessperson will realize the bankability of empowered consumers by building the framework of a story, filled with interesting characters and environments, and letting the fans take over from there.

There is a reason why George Lucas hasn't sent army of lawyers to attack TheForce.net for posting the Episode II fan trailer. He gets it. He always did. (I hope his lawyers don't see this and convince him otherwise).


Silicon Alley Daily is a 40,000-circ e-mail newsletter (available online at www.siliconalleydaily.com) covering new media and technology in New York City. SAD's parent company also produces the Silicon Alley Reporter and Digital Coast Reporter monthly print magazines, along with DigitalCoastDaily.com, PervasiveWeekly.com, DigitalMusicWeekly.com, and iHealthcareWeekly.com.

Jason McCabe Calacanis

Founder/CEO of Rising Tide Studios and Editor of Silicon Alley Reporter and Digital Coast Reporter Magazines and Silicon Alley Daily and Digital Coast Daily e-mail newsletters

Jason McCabe Calacanis is the Founder/CEO of Rising Tide Studios (RTS) and Editor of all RTS products. RTS publications include: Silicon Alley Reporter and Digital Coast Reporter Magazines; Silicon Alley Daily, Digital Coast Daily, iHealthCare Weekly, Digital Music Weekly and Pervasive Weekly e-mail newsletters. RTS also produces six annual headline events: Silicon Alley 2000, Internet Healthcare 2000, The International Network2000, Rising Tide Summit III, Silicon Alley Venture Capital 2000 and Digital Coast 2000. In his role as Editor, Mr. Calacanis frequently comments on topics ranging from the music industry to intelligent agents to the stock market. He has been featured in: The New Yorker, Folio Magazine, The New York Times, New York Magazine, WIRED, New York Observer, New York Post, The Daily News, MSNBC, Bloomberg Radio & TV, NIGHTLINE, CNET, CNN, PBS, The Charlie Rose Show and 60 Minutes II. In addition to his Internet efforts, Calacanis just completed work on his first feature film project, Center of the World, directed by Wayne Wang. He worked with screenwriter Paul Auster as a script consultant and appears in a supporting role.


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