How to Become a One-Person Movie Studio in a Few Easy Steps

Randall Rothenberg Tries His Hand as a YouTube Auteur

By Published on .

I've been a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, author, columnist, marketing consultant and business executive. But what I really want to do is direct.
Randall Rothenberg has followed the path of all modern auteurs: He bought a new Mac for making movies.
Randall Rothenberg has followed the path of all modern auteurs: He bought a new Mac for making movies.

Control of Spielberg
I want the creative control of Spielberg. I want to exercise the vision of Shyamalan. I want to express my voice like Welles, paint visual pictures like Ford and provoke the audience like Hitchcock.

Thus I followed the path of all modern auteurs: I bought a new Mac. My canvas. My palette. My future.

It was a Sunday. With the roar of the MGM lion echoing through my consciousness, I unboxed the Mac, transferred my old files to the new hard drive and faced every director's nightmare: the blank screen.

The moment should have been terrifying. Those dark decades inside the Angelika, the years pounding the pavements outside NYU, the months of sweat in Robert McKee's Story Seminar, the uncountable midnight bull sessions deconstructing Truffaut's "Cahiers du Cinema" texts -- all for naught. So I did what any self-respecting director in 2006 would do.

I downloaded.

'Moon Over Miami'
Screenplay? Who needs to write these days? It's so toilsome. Besides, Marty always starts with the soundtrack. At least someone told me that's how he did "Mean Streets." Instead of using the Stones, I went to and bought a copy of Jackie & Roy's version of "Moon Over Miami." (The city worked for Michael Mann; it stood to reason it would work for me.) Then I moved to the visuals.

Filming? Who needs to shoot these days -- especially when half the world is posting online the flotsam of their lives and the jetsam of their digital-video cameras? My directing debut would be an odyssey of found objects.

Google was my PA, my AD, my Teamster, grip and best boy all rolled into one. "Moon over Miami," Jackie sang, as Roy tickled the ivories. "Google Video, get me a moonrise," I commanded -- and Google obeyed. "When the tide comes in," Jackie warbled. "Google, get me a South Beach tide coming in," I barked-and Google did my bidding again.

No need for an editor
What I lacked in megaphones, booms and canvas-backed director's chairs, I made up for in broadband access. I suffered no temperamental stars; my cast, if not pixilated, was certainly pixelated. No need for an editor to save me from my excesses in postproduction; I was my editor, and my production was my postproduction. I took direction from only one studio boss: the timeline on the bottom of the screen telling me when Jackie & Roy's tune (and my movie) would end.

A latter-day Cassavetes, I toiled through the day, inspired by the music-not to mention the FX that had come built into the app. As Jackie slid up an octave for her last, elongated "m-o-o-o-o-n over Mi-a-m-e-e-e-e" and Roy fingered a soft glissando, I administered the final touch: cutting in a 1940s-era art-deco postcard of windswept palms over Collins Avenue, deploying iMovie's "Ken Burns Effect." (It comes in especially handy if you treasure that PBS annual-fund-drive documentary look.)

My debut film was done. The only thing left was the audience.

Who needs theaters?
Theaters? Who needs theaters? Just as the tools of production came built into the box, so the audience comes built into the ether. I converted my movie into MP4 format and uploaded it onto YouTube. Go there and search for "Moon Over Miami." You're sure to find it.

In the month since I released my first movie to the world, only 89 people have viewed it-about 6% of the number who've viewed YouTube's most popular movies.

No matter. There's always the sequel. Still and all, in my next life, I think I'd like to come back as a distributor.

~ ~ ~
Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Most Popular
In this article: