Forget Sundance - Yahoo Is the Place to Be

SAN FRANCISCO (03/23/2000) - The emerging Net entertainment community will converge tomorrow at The Standard in West Hollywood. Ian Schraeger's newest hipster hotel, a tribute to '60s kitsch, complete with cactus, shag rug and beanbags, will be home to the first ever Yahoo Online Film Festival.

The event will feature screenings of short films, but more importantly, it is an opportunity for execs to schmooze and hype their young companies - many of which have not even launched. New Net converts, including Crushed Planet and CinemaNow, an indie film site that's a joint venture with Trimark Pictures, will be on hand with announcements and buzz but no product yet. Meanwhile, established sites such as AtomFilms and WireBreak will add grist to the mill with their own distribution and content deals.

Atom is expected to unveil a partnership with independent production company Propaganda Films to jointly develop shorts for distribution through AtomFilms, which makes its money through off-line distribution, while it features its many of its clients' work on its site. WireBreak also will host an episode of its tiki-bar-inspired movie-review show from a room in The Standard.

The show's two hosts will sip piña coladas as they interview directors whose films will be screened at the festival. For many sites, the atmosphere is like the senior prom all over again. Net entertainment companies, like teenagers, are trying to snap up popular dates for that special night. Only, in this case, the dates are big-name Hollywood talents and the special night is the future IPO.

Witness Shockwave, which recently struck a deal with James L. Brooks, executive producer of The Simpsons, to produce a series for the site. This followed similar deals with Batman director Tim Burton and South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Big names maybe, but where's the beef? Only one of Shockwave's deals has come to fruition, Stan Lee Media's 7th Portal series.

Many of the other deals are still "in development." Icebox, eCompanies' entertainment offering, soft-launched earlier this week featuring a static, nonanimated cartoon strip with a big-hat-no-ranch story line.

That seems fitting. The site launched with much fanfare, revealing that it has inked deals with a record 24 content creators whose credits include Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Dawson's Creek and Frasier. The output from the first round of shows almost seems like they're holding back the good stuff for the big time, despite Icebox's pitch that it would be a showcase for work to be sold to networks and studios. Each day, Icebox uploads a new episode from one of its lineup of five shows. Monday's strip, Temporary Anesthetics, was created by short-animator Don Hertzfeld.

The coolest thing about the strip is the technology, which lets the viewer pull the strip to the left while reading. This week's strip is titled, "I Am A Very Loud Man With A Very Large Hat." The man has no motives except for the fish head hidden beneath the hat. His two minions are whiny. The only compelling character is a guy who stands broken-hearted before a girl's rotting remains.

It's puzzling. Otherwise, it's worth skipping. Tuesday is Hard-Drinkin' Lincoln, an animated short about a foul-mouthed former president. Although the gag stretches on a bit long, the idea that he was shot on purpose for being so heinous is funny. It was created by Mike Reiss of The Critic.

Zombie College on day three is just boring. A kid ditches an MIT scholarship to follow his girlfriend to a school where they turn the students into zombies.

The girl is stereotypically flaky, and the guy is your regular guy-nerd. And the Net was supposed to offer a place for original stuff. Least original is the Hidden Celebrity Webcam, which features cut-out animation and is created by Nell Scovell (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch). This week's camera is in the back of a fridge in the White House. It uses old punch lines about Clinton's binging habits and his wife's nagging nature.

The best one is on Friday. Senior House was created by Tom Gamill and Max Pross, known for their work as supervising producers of Seinfeld. The animated show is dripping with sarcasm about old-folks' woes such as diabetes, broken bones and angioplasty. This week's episode, "The Big Opening Number," is a catchy bit that everyone sings, each getting a solo part to introduce us to characters like the half-animated, half-numb Strokey. Or Fossil, who crumbles on the scene. Shakey won't stop moving, and Lumpy has all sorts of odd forms sticking out of him.

They're endearing and cute. The only letdown is that it ends after the song. It feels like the opening to a show, but then it's gone. Which means promising things for future episodes. Meanwhile, for the most part, the market will simply continue to pair up like awkward teenagers.

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