13 Minutes to Midnight

With a budget topping $240 million and technology that’s over 10 years in the making, James Cameron’s Avatar is primed to push Hollywood into a new dimension. The 3D tour de force is the first film of it’s kind, comprised of roughly 60% computer-generated elements and 40% live-action, all seamlessly melded together into a brilliant depth of field when seen through the lenses of polarized, stereoscopic, librarian-looking glasses. Entertainment pundits expect the movie to be the biggest blockbuster since, well, Cameron’s last biggest blockbuster (which happened to be the biggest blockbuster of all-time). Some say it may even save movie theaters from the internet. Avatar could herald the arrival of a revolutionized 3D film industry that studio execs have tried to make stick since the 50s.

Unless, of course, the internet also gets three dimensional.

13 minutes 2While early tests on YouTube have been both interesting and headache-inducing, a new web series from Hank’s Beak Productions and starmaker, Svengali, and Hollywood hustler Ray Manzella hopes to make 3D on the internet entertaining. And lucrative.

13 Minutes to Midnight bills itself as throwback to the camp found in classic television horror titles like Vampira and Tales from the Crypt. I’d say the self-aware silliness and homegrown aesthetic makes it more of a low-budget, macabre-themed Mister Rogers and/or Clue that could, at any moment, break out into the kind of softcore you see on Skinemax. B-movie scream queen and co-writer Erika Smith stars as the host of a Halloween party that attracts the likes of Nightmara (Heather McDonald), Paranora (Elizabeth Killmond), Vampira (a tranny version of the original), an unfortunate whodunit incident, a Perez Hilton cameo, and lots of product placement.

On a phone interview Manzella explained how he’s looking at all angles of the production as possible marketing opportunities. Certainly, licensable character names, obvious shills (including shoutouts to Monster Energy Drink, Bosco Chocolate Syrup, Smith Brothers Cough Drops, Netflix, and Sears), and trying to appeal to a worldwide audience (you can watch the trailer in six foreign languages) aren’t novel dollar-generating ideas to the web television industry, but Manzella’s experience may help him succeed where others have not.

Beginning with Vanna White in 1985 and continuing today with a client roster that’s included Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Sugar Ray Leonard, Suzanne Somers, Tony Little, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and more, Manzella’s made a lucrative career from being both a star maker and engineer of celebrity-endorsed products. Over the years on QVC, HSN, and other outlets, Manzella estimates the stars he reps have done over $5 billion(!!!) in sales. “So with that background,” he said, “and me watching Madison Avenue struggle, I thought, here’s a clever way we can play the game.”

13 minutesAnd that’s where the 3D comes into play. Manzella wanted a way to make everything marketed in the show really pop (including the brands and Erika Smith, who, if you haven’t figured it out by now, he represents). Producer and co-writer Peter Capozzi called up Robert Acezado to help make it happen. A fast education in 3D camerawork followed, a vertical rig employed (which I think looks something like this), and two episodes-worth of footage shot in 1080p, stereoscopic 3D.

But James Cameron shouldn’t worry about Avatar ticket sales just yet. Even though 13 Minutes to Midnight was shot in the same kind of 3D as movies like My Bloody Valentine, Capozzi told me you can’t watch it that way on the web. “For that kind of 3D online, you need a stereo player that can have two independent video streams. Video-sharing sites don’t currently have the technological capabilities. Right now you can view it on Dailymotion in anaglphyic 3D (aka the red and blue glasses).”

So how’s it look? In 2D it’s worth a watch. In 3D, you tell me. Sometime between now and that Shark Week special nine years ago, I seem to have lost my specs.

(h/t to DreadCentral)