Nokia, filmmaker team up

The Baltimore Sun

Who says cell phones are good only for talking? Today they are bringing together two unlikely brand names: Nokia and Spike Lee.

Lee, the director, is teaming up with Nokia, the cell phone maker, to direct a short film comprising YouTube-style videos created by teenagers and adults using their mobile phones.

By hiring Lee for the project, Nokia is seeking to combine the populist appeal of user-generated content with the power of a famous director's pedigree. The film will have three acts, each three to five minutes long, with the theme loosely based on the concept of humanity.

"I'm interested because it's a great collaborative effort," Lee said. "Within five years, new movies will be made with devices like these."

He added: "I like working with people who have talent but aren't in film school."

The project is an experiment for Lee, but it is also a way for Nokia to promote its wares. Cell phone companies are all trying to position their products not just as devices for talking, but as multimedia devices that can play music, search the Web and capture video.

Many companies are also preparing for a new wave of mobile entertainment, as social networking on sites like MySpace and Facebook migrate from the Web to cell phones.

Nokia in particular is trying to turn itself into an entertainment-friendly company, much the way Steven P. Jobs has changed Apple's image with the iPod and iPhone.

Nokia, based in Finland, said it surveyed 9,000 consumers last year and concluded that by 2012 one out of every four consumers will create, edit or share entertainment with friends, instead of getting it from traditional media outlets like television or movie studios.

And that, Nokia executives said, led them to seek out a movie director willing to dabble in mobile video.

"This is not a marketing gimmick," said Craig Coffey, Nokia's vice president for North American marketing and a former PepsiCo executive. "The notion of social networking and entertainment is real."

There have been several other efforts in the realm of films that were shot with or meant to be viewed on phones. Most have involved independent filmmakers or young Steven Spielbergs in training. In 2006, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute announced a partnership with the largest wireless association in Europe to sponsor five short films for mobile viewers. They were created by, among others, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who directed the Academy Award winner Little Miss Sunshine.

Early last year, Paris held its own mobile film festival for novice filmmakers, sponsored by the French mobile operator SFR. Similar festivals have been held in Hong Kong and Yokohama, Japan.

John Stratton, the chief marketing officer of Verizon Communications who works closely with media companies to offer content to customers, said he did not expect films shot on phones to become their own genre. "But the notion of shared media is powerful," he said.

That is one reason Nokia chose to exploit the social networking possibilities of mobile phones. Contributors can upload material created with their phones - video, music, photos and text - to for review by Lee and assistant directors who will help revise entries. Coffey said other site visitors will be able to peruse these and combine them with their own material to make something new.

Lee, who in recent years directed Inside Man and the documentary series When the Levees Broke, conceded that he will be on unfamiliar technological terrain.

"Me, I'm personally a dinosaur," he said. "My children have to help me turn on the television."

During an interview, Lee corrected himself twice, remembering that he was supposed to call the cell phone a "mobile device."

Lee said he would assess the submissions to the site and even write a blog giving young filmmakers advice. "We want people to send sounds, music, maybe a baby crying in the park," he said.

And if thousands of aspiring Spike Lees show up seeking feedback on their work? "I can only do so much; I have a full-time job," he said. Then he added: "We'll manage."

During the months-long project, visitors to the site will be asked to vote for their favorite videos for each of the film's three acts. After that, Lee will pick a winner for each act and edit them into the final film, which will have its premiere next fall in Los Angeles.

The film will also be available for viewing online, but Nokia has yet to work out one important detail: which carriers will distribute it to viewers on mobile phones. Nokia hasn't found anyone yet. Sounding like a hopeful Hollywood producer, Coffey said, "I'm optimistic."

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