The world's first internet film

BY MIGUEL GONZALEZ

Richard III. Courtesy MORAFILM

Back in 1996, Australian filmmaker Philippe Mora (Swastika, Mad Dog Morgan, Howling II) created the world’s first internet movie, made for and broadcast on the web: a 58-minute version of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The project was defined back then as ‘the first in a series of MPEG video productions scheduled for release on the WWW’, and available for free download. This was at a time when internet access was as limited as dial-up connections were slow and unreliable.

Richard III was executive-produced by Peter Sterling, a former CEO and financier of numerous publicly traded and private technology companies. He launched the Internet Broadcasting Company in 1995, and shared a vision with Mora, to create a film for the new medium, perhaps something interactive.

Mora suggested Shakespeare. He wanted to bring something fresh to Richard III, other than the novelty of its online availability. He went for a ‘very pop-art visual look’ – this was one year before Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Pamela Mora joined them as the film’s co-producer.

Richard III. Courtesy MORAFILM

The following excerpts, from an online chat between Philippe, Peter and Apple users in July 1996, are particularly interesting. These prophetic comments were made in that ancient analogue world, where we somehow lived without YouTube, iTunes, Netflix and torrents. In retrospect, they predicted the slow but inevitable growth in online access and (mostly individual) consumption of audiovisual media, the democratisation of filmmaking and the emergence of independent creatives using digital tools to express themselves, and how the film and television industries would be slow to react to the inevitable changes. Seventeen years later, they’re still working on new business models!

What types of trends are you seeing in cyberspace now that the entertainment industry has embraced the latest technological breakthroughs?
Peter: They’re ringing us and asking us for help. :-) We believe the major studios will become major players in this area a couple of years down the road. They are still focused on producing linear TV and movies.
Philippe: I think they will be late comers… but they have big elephant feet. :-)

 

I love films. How did you manage to do this?
Philippe: I don’t think the major corporations have realised that the entertainment paradigm has actually shifted because what the net can provide the entertainment community is a means of getting their product out to a huge audience – without the huge distribution costs associated with showing movies on film.

 

How did you manage to upload this production to the web?
Peter: By digitising the video and storing it on a large hard drive, it is actually located on the CBS studio lot. It serves out from there via multi T1 lines.
Philippe: The production was taped on beta SP tape… and was edited on AVID, and then was outputted onto Beta SP tape again. The tape was then digitised and uploaded.

 

Exactly how will this benefit the major studios?
Peter: It will provide a shorter distribution path between the producer and the eventual consumer. It will also eventually reduce the huge distribution costs.

 

Is your movie to be downloaded and viewed on an individual basis, or as a group like in a movie theatre?
Peter: It will be individual.

 

Do you really think the major players will embrace the net? How can they make money here?
Peter: They will, and once the consumer has access to higher bandwidth and becomes familiar with buying consumer products over the internet, then there will be a lot of money made by TV companies both large and small. A limiting factor is that computer companies have not yet made internet appliances under $1000, like the Apple Pippin is supposed to be.
Philippe: I think that the internet cat is out of the bag, and the major players really have no choice but to embrace it because it is here to stay. There will be a transitional period where filmmakers will be doing productions for the net like Richard III. There will be creative activity going on while the technical end is sorted out. Once it is sorted out, there will be an enormous amount of production.

Thanks to Phillipe Mora, we have a three-minute clip of excerpts from Richard III on our YouTube channel: