Lance Weiler - "The Last Broadcast"
On the phone with Philip Anderson - Spring 1999
The Last Broadcast is beginning to have a name for itself. The film that some have coined as a basis for the Blair Witch Project, it in fact is quite different. The only similarity is the fact of a group of people go into the woods and death occurs, all while making a low-budget documentary of the horrors in the woods. The Last Broadcast is more of an intellectual film in the sense that it really goes into much deeper subjects within the main storyline. The concepts of media manipulations, "shock TV", serial killers, obsessions, news and much more are touched on during the film, all in very subtle ways in order to make you think and perhaps watch it again.
We had the opportunity to talk with director (and actor in the film) Lance Weiler about the making of the film and the impact that it has had on the film industry. It was the first digital film to be broadcast through the air, before Star Wars even. It was made for almost pennies on the dollar. The story is actually quite captivating taking everything into consideration. Lance has some high hopes about the future of filmmaking and film distribution as he shares his thoughts with us.

K2K: To start with, when was the movie [The Last Broadcast] made?
LW: We started shooting in fall, late fall / early winter, of 1996. The movie was done by August of 1997. That's when the first copies started to circulate and made it to different festivals and things along those lines. We did our first theatrical run in March of 1998. From there we went full-tilt into the festival circuit playing multiple festivals all over the world. In the fall of 1998, October, we did the satellite release of the movie and it became a cinematic historic event. It became the first feature film, feature-length movie, to be distributed entirely digital, meaning it was beamed up to a satellite, a geosynchronous satellite, about 22,000 miles above Earth. It came back down and was received by satellite dishes at five different theaters, downloaded onto hard drives and then later played out through state-of-the-art digital projection systems. That was a good seven or eight months before George Lucas did anything with that cinema and we made history with it. So, ironically, The Last Broadcast was the first.
K2K: Did George Lucas claim that he was the first to do digital film sending?
LW: Initially, when he brought it [Star Wars: Episode I] out, they claimed to be doing the first release and then there were some corrections made and then it became the first "major motion picture" to whatever their claim was. We have that claim.
K2K: Were they upset by that? Did they want to be the first?
LW: I don't know. I think, in some ways, we helped to accelerate E-Cinema out of necessity of us trying to find a way to get our movie out there. Here it's two guys out in the middle of nowhere. We're out on a dirt farm. We're not in New York, and we're not in L.A. and all of the sudden we kind of caught the whole industry off guard. We're in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. We shot a lot out here and shot a lot of the stuff in Pine Barrens. I think we kind of caught the industry by surprise.
K2K: Now, digital broadcast for film is still pretty much a new concept, right?
LW: E-Cinema? Yeah.
K2K: Now, the purpose of E-Cinema was to have more control over distribution and not have to worry about bad film reels or breakage and such?
LW: Basically, how it works, we were forced in an article about what we did and they said, in that article, that out of 100 films done in a traditional way would be about $400 million for manufacturing of the prints and for shipping. Under a model of how we did in October of 1998, it would be $14 million. A big difference. Also what we were demonstrating with - we did it in Portland, OR; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Orlando, Florida - what we were demonstrating was the reach of the satellite. When you use a geosynchronous platform satellite, you have an umbrella that can span the whole United States and Canada at basically at one time. You can beam it once and whatever the infrastructure, like whatever you have built out, will receive it. So, you could have 10 theaters, 15, 200, 2,000, and they'd be able to get that film and you'd only be sending it one time.
K2K: Is this a steady stream or do you send and then they download it?
LW: It's sent and then downloaded in a store-forward. It has nothing to do with streaming and nothing to do with a simulcast, which is how news is done when they're out on location. It's a totally different thing.
K2K: Once you're done with the sending, they then have it to play over and over?
LW: Yeah, we wanted to really demonstrate something that was a feasible model of what we believed it would be in the future. It wasn't just a stunt, it was like, "Listen, this is how it could really work." After we did it, we were called by every major studio, "How did it go? Who was there? Who did you work with?", blah, blah, blah. We kind of put all of these pieces together. We went out and found these people who did things and said, "Hey. This is the event that we're putting together. Are you interested in being a part of it?" We kind of oversaw and helped to bring everybody together.
K2K: What size theaters did it play to? What selected markets?
LW: The biggest problem with theatrical distribution is screen space. Getting into a theater. There's a long lead time and in addition to that, there is the question of how many people are you going to be able to bring out and what's going to return to the theater. In addition to that, a lot of times the theater has a certain schedule of releases that they carry and certain films that are coming out that have more "name power". What we tended to do was art house theaters in each of those cities. We chose secondary cities at first because we thought that we could get in there and not have to compete as much and not have to pay as much as if we were in New York and Los Angeles. We went into areas where there was kind of a bent on technology. Up in Portland, Intel is up there and Microsoft isn't far away. There were a lot of people who were working in the tech sector there. The same is true with Boston and the Boston corridor, down into Providence and Philadelphia has some tech stuff going on. Orlando has film. Minneapolis was just kind of a pick to demonstrate something in the Midwest. It tended to be art house and independent cinemas.
K2K: How did you do there?
LW: We did well. Theatrically, the total would average about $5,000 per screen per week. All together, we've done about $40,000. theatrically. We did about seven runs theatrically - those five and two others. In there it comes out to be about a little shy of $40,000.
K2K: In view of that and the whole Blair Witch connection, this is almost the most famous movie no one knows about. The Last Broadcast.
LW: I think, when we step back from it, the movie has a very underground current to it. There are a number of people who know it. It's out there and people can find it. I think that we're very grassroots in what we did, so in that sense it's kind of different than when you have large money and dropping, obviously, $15-30 million. Your doing radio spots, you're doing television spots, you have promotion things that people in the theaters are wearing your pins or your hats. You know what I mean? It comes to multiplexes all the time and it gets a huge rollout. We hope, and it's already starting to happen, that more and more people will find out about the film, through people like yourself and other publications. Hopefully history will vindicate the project. Here we are, we do the theatrical release stuff, we do it in an innovative way. We make a film for no money on our desktop computers. It kind of signifies a whole, almost like a movement that's going to change the way films are made and how they get done and open it up to storytelling again. Now anybody can make a film because it's not so much an elitist thing anymore. It's not who you know or how much money you can get or who your contacts are. It's more about, "Oh, do you have a camera? Do you have some friends? Let's try to make something."
K2K: It's almost more of a true test of talent instead of dollars trying to create something.
LW: Exactly. It becomes more of what music had had the advantage of for some time. Everybody's got a guitar. Now you get into a whole thing of anybody can get into [recording]. Either somebody has a camcorder or can get their hands on one from school or some video arts foundation. There are a lot of places. Either they know someone who had one who wasn't using it or they might be able to borrow it. It totally changes the logistics of having to make a film. The protocol of what it used to be is thrown upside down. Here we are with our studio in a box, editing at home and not paying $200.-300. per hour in an edit suite. We're doing it at our own leisure and taking our time to craft something.
K2K: Did you make it on a Mac or PC?
LW: A PC. This is back in '96 and '97, so it was blazing at that time. It was 166mhz with 48 mgs of RAM. Obviously that is very slow in comparison to what processors are now. It just goes to show that if you can do it with something like that, you can very well do it with something that's out now.
K2K: Do you think that there's a chance that you might have a "rediscovery" of the film which puts it back in the theaters?
LW: I don't think that we'll move back into theatrical, although it's been doing well overseas. We're getting ready to go to Japan. It's getting ready to play there theatrically. I don't think so. Maybe one. A showing here and there, but not a theatrical run. We retain the rights to it so at some point down the road, maybe we would. At this point, I don't think so.
K2K: Well, if caught on in a big way...
LW: That would be great if that opportunity arose. I'm sure that we would consider it. It's also at the point where it's readily available on DVD and VHS as well. HBO is going to be showing it. HBO has it for pay cable. ISD Bravo has it for basic cable. HBO will start sometime in April [2000] and ISD will start whenever HBO's window is over. So it will be on TV for a good couple of years.
K2K: So you'll have the exposure then anyway.
LW: Yeah, yeah. We've done phenomenally well considering that most films never have theatrical releases and never get out into video stores and never get picked up by pay cable. We feel very fortunate that the movie will have a life for a good couple of years to come.
K2K: The advantage of DVD over VHS are the extras.
LW: Yeah, we really go into the nuts and bolts about the making of the film. The one thing that's exciting is making something that became known as one of the first desktop feature films. Making use of consumer-grade gear and making something that can entertain or provoke people, or whatever. What we have is really something that is diminishing, which is the independent spirit of something, as far as independent filmmaking. Here you have us making our own movie, which isn't uncommon because a lot of people do that. Here you have us pushing the envelope of distributing it and how we're getting it out there and into the marketplace and making decisions that are kind of pushing that distribution envelope. I think that when I look at it as a whole, it is very much an independent project from start to finish. The decisions that we made were our own decisions. I know Stephan would agree too that this project, when we stop to look back at it, was a very positive experience. It's been an incredibly an amazing thing.
You have to take into consideration that The Last Broadcast came out of sitting down one night - we had been building and working out all kinds of system conflicts back in 1995, at that time some of the first hardware was coming out that would allow you to capture video or footage and edit it nonlinear on your desktop PC. We had spent a good year battling with it to get it to work right. In the fall of 1996 we were thinking that we had this system that we had built and we knew people who had cameras, why don't we make a film. Stephan had made a film called "The Game", which became "The Money Game". It was a 16mm film that he had made, probably budgeted at around $200,000. It did well overseas to which he never saw anything. He got burned on the deal. I was in the process of raising money to shoot on Super 16 to do an independent film. It was a nightmare. I was spending so much time with the fundraising element that the moviemaking element was just totally missing at that point. Here we were, literally, drinking a beer, "Why don't we make a movie?" We just started and started scripting.
K2K: When did you start this?
LW: In the fall of 1996. A month later, we were into it. We had started shooting it. The scripting came very quickly. We had put together a lot of ideas that we had melded together. Quite honestly, all that we thought of was that it was something that we could sit down and eat some pizza with the cast and crew and show it to them. We never thought that it would go on to help to define a movement in cinema to be the first film to ever be beamed, or any of the things that it's done, let alone to travel us all over the world to festivals. It was just a thing that we thought, we were so frustrated with the process of filmmaking that, not the process of making the film, but the process of getting the money together or the way that distribution works. Now it's totally taken on a life of its own.
K2K: Who approached you about beaming?
LW: We approached everyone. We sat down and did a digital showing in March of 1998 at an art house theater not far from where we live. We did that without a film print and thought, "How can we get it out there to more than one city at a time?" That's when we thought about incorporating satellite and we quite literally went to work on putting it together. We didn't really know. It wasn't like a satellite company came to us. We went to all the different components and then kind of put the pieces of the puzzle together. Ironically we put together a release that didn't practically cost us anything. People will always battle us about the $900. aspect too.
K2K: That was another question. How did you make it for only $900.?
LW: Basically, the $900. figure, right when we started, we said, "Let's make a movie for no money." and we failed by $900. When we sat down and totalled all the receipts of what we had put in, for tape stock, food, gas, tolls, art direction stuff, it came out to $900. $899. something. We rounded it off and figured that we had missed a toll there somewhere. People have given us so much flack about that, at different times. They're like, "That's a marketing gimmick." That was really what the cost was. When you hear about a film like "Clerks" being made for $27,000., that doesn't count all they money that - when you listen to the soundtrack and "who did that?" and gets a new sound mix and strikes all the prints and makes this multimillion dollar project that Miramax rolls out - they still market it as a $27,000. film even though it's not, whereas when we said $900., it really was. We put together this theatrical release that we weren't paying for. It was just our time. Obviously there was a lot of time commitment, but people don't factor that in.
K2K: So there was no actor's pay?
LW: No, we went back and we paid the actors when the movie made money.
K2K: But not in the original $900.
LW: No, no. It wasn't even a different film. If you step back to what I was saying before, we didn't think that anyone else was going to see it. Then as we started to get into it, we realized that we had something much larger than we thought. At that time when we were in the negotiating stages, everybody was kind of pitching in and helping out. There's a community of people whom we work with on other things as well and we said, "Hey, we're doing this thing." If you look at the construction of the film, a lot of it takes place in interviews, so we'd sit down with somebody for three hours and that would be their bit. It wasn't like a 56 day shoot and everybody had to be there. That's why Stephan and myself play the leads. The first thing that went was the film and then professional actors and we knew that we would show up, so we cast ourselves. That was the only reason. "Steven and Locus have principal parts, so we'd better play those parts."
K2K: It was almost perfectly cast though because what were you anyway? Local cable TV show hacks.
LW: Yeah, but what's really wild and a lot of people don't know this is that we came from a very - I've been working in the film industry in commercial production and day playing on features since, I did it for about 10 years. I've been a camera assistant and the camera operator on 35mm stuff. I was an editor. We had never done anything on video before. The only cable public access experience that I had had was when I was 15 years old and I would shoot stuff at the local station. It's funny how that stuff works. We go from shooting thousands and thousands of feet of film to making this film called The Last Broadcast, which is what we become known for. It's kind of funny. Some people think that we hate film because we did this film on digital video and we beamed it and we never made a print of it.
K2K: Oh, it's all digital?
LW: Yeah, every bit of it. We never made a print. We went from the harddrive right to the screen.
K2K: I've been told that when you import video into a computer to do some editing and then export it back to video, it looks like a third generation video copy or something.
LW: No, not necessarily. It depends on what the hardware that you're using is. You can use stuff that's transparent. You can take it in and it will look as good as when it went in. With digital, that's the whole thing. If you have the right tools, what you put in is going to be the same when you bring it back out.
K2K: How much harddrive space does it take?
LW: VHS is easy. It doesn't take much.
K2K: I thought it was like a gig for 5 minutes.
LW: No, no. Maybe if you're broadcast quality stuff. VHS is the lowest. To digitize it higher than that doesn't make any sense because it's only VHS. It's never going to be better than VHS, so you may as well capture it as what VHS is. You can get a lot of stuff. I've been doing a lot of Firewire capture. It's 3.5 megs per second. Every 60 seconds is 300 or something megs. Basically, 14 gigs of space would give you an hour's worth of material.
K2K: So you had a lot of hard drive space?
LW: No, we didn't. We only had 9 gig SCSIIs. We would do it in order and then burn it off to CDs or take it out to go and borrow some time on a digital deck in 20 minute segments.
K2K: How did you do it so seamless?
LW: We'd lay it out and then do a time accurate, frame accurate merger. If you look at the film, there's a lot of time where it will come into a black area with a title card. We timed out things and those were ways for us to seamlessly put it together. At that time, without getting too technical, we were running Windows 95 and Windows NT and there's an inherent file size. At that time there was a 2 gig file size limit. We'd go up until that point, lay it out, come back and clear the drive and start again. It was an incredibly laborious process and now it's much easier. That's the beautiful thing about technology.
K2K: How much time would you think that you would have saved had you done the film today?
LW: First off, we did a matchback by eye which now we can do with time code effectively. That part took 88 days straight. Just us looking at it. What I mean by matchback is, what you're doing is listening to the audio, you're echoing it out, you're watching all the movements and frames. We actually took a lot more time. We shot like 27 hours worth of material and spent a good 8 months editing it. A lot of the construction was like a documentary, even though it's a three-act structure, we knew where we were going and it was scripted, there were still elements that we tried to bring to it to give it that feel of a documentary. Twenty minutes of that movie didn't exist until post. A lot of that stuff, like the homicide photos that you see in the crime scene, that's us leaning against walls and adding all the effect in post. No blood, makeup, nothing was there. We did it all in the computer. All the newspapers and all were enhanced afterwards.
Every single frame of that film, we gave a particular look to. Like when we were out in the woods, we tried to go toward something that would feel like it had a video feel to it but doesn't have that flatness that video has, we developed our own film look.
K2K: How did you do that?
LW: It's not that difficult. There are plug-ins that you can get. We did it with the standard video too. We changed field options. We did superimpositions like overlayed two of the images together and then did gamma corrections, color corrections, and gave it some of the more properties that film has. The end result is that when people see it, especially the ending sequence in the woods, people often ask us what film stock we used, especially when it's projected in the theater. The one thing that I like about The Last Broadcast is that it plays well in large venues and it plays very well on the small screen. It's all about media and those elements. Seeing it on television is just as effective. Eighty minutes of it is in a 4x3 ratio, which is television, and the last bit goes into that 16x9, which creates that kind of cinematic quality to it.
K2K: To get into the connection with the Blair Witch Project... what was the statement that was mentioned from Artisan concerning the original script?
LW: What I was saying was, this is just literally a statement that was in the New York Post or I forget where, when the articles came out about our film and their film, there was a paragraph statement made by their attorneys that they had come up with the idea in 1992 or '93 and what they said was that they had registered it with the writer's guild in 1996. That was all they said. It was very loose. I think it was meant to be loose.
K2K: It seemed as though the Haxan guys hadn't even started thinking about the film until about 1996 or so.
LW: Well, the thing that's crazy about it is that if it was 1992 or '93, why did it take all the way until 1997 to shoot something that was shot over 7 days in the woods that was all improv with the actors shooting everything? Granted that there was a lot of other material that they shot that never made it into the film. It's neither here nor there. That statement had come from one of their attorneys or spokespeople. That statement led to the question that obviously the Blair Witch had come out before, but to me it's the time when the movie is done. Our movie was done before they even started shooting their film.
K2K: Your film was done and then you gave a copy to the Haxan guys or something?
LW: No, you know the satellite release that I told you about? Basically, what we did was, you have to send stuff out, like six months in advance or more to get scheduled. They lock up their schedules. What we did was send around to a number of theaters. The theater in Orlando is an excellent art house theater. We did great numbers there and they were really great people. A tape that made it to them, from what I heard, made it over to the other guys. Who knows. That would have been during the time when they were already in the process, but what part of the process and what that meant is where it will always be a mystery. I think that their film is the way it is and our film is the way ours is and they're different. It really becomes an issue of letting people decide what they think. It's much easier that way. There's a message in our film that's about that. Our film tends to be a little more cerebral and a little more psychological. It's a different type of movie. Sometimes, comparing our film to the Blair Witch is selling our film short in a way.
K2K: Well, the Blair Witch would be more defined as a classic horror film in what they are encountering whereas your film, aside from a murder mystery, is also delving more on media and the horrors of real life and the way the media abuses people.
LW: Yeah, in a way. It's about not necessarily believing what you see and questioning, being willing to question. Just because you see a frame in which somebody says that they're a forensics expert or that they're a coroner doesn't mean that they necessarily are. It's like what you were talking about [before]. You write an article where Heather Donohue says that the "real Heather Donohue has been killed" or whatever the phrasing was...
K2K: Well, she had said jokingly that she was a Disney animatron but a cuter, perkier version.
LW: Right. The result of that is that people want to know if it's the real thing.
K2K: Oh, it wasn't that. It was that people read our interview with her and then still didn't want to believe that she was alive and wrote in to ask if it was true.
LW: Right. A mass majority of people wanted to believe that it was real, even when they sit there and see the credits roll and directed by and cast and everything. That's scary, man.
K2K: You know what I actually expected at the end of that movie? A closure. Some sort of an end to make sense of it all. Someone to say that "that's the story that we found on tape and we're still searching for them", or some other kind of closure other than just their film footage. There was no background story about the people who "found" their film. That's what was different about your film.
LW: Our film definitely has a closure to it. It answers as many questions as it raises, which is, I think, an effective way to end a film.
K2K: So there has never been any bad blood between you and the makers of Blair Witch, but it seems as though others try to insinuate to some.
LW: Yeah and I think that adds for drama. I don't personally have anything against them. The media spun it all out. Basically, the way I see it is that the media had the Blair Witch as the Cinderella story. It went and went and went and they reported that it was doing well at the box office. Then, it came time to rip it down. The article that broke it all was a New York Post story that was on Page 3. Basically it went into the timeline and the similarities between the two films. It brought us in and had us, we almost found ourselves having to comment in order to protect ourselves. The comments were spun in different directions and all of the sudden people were quoting us without every having talked to us and kind of quoting us from articles that weren't maybe necessarily correct in the beginning. So, we actually started living the movie in a weird way. We were being misquoted and it started building up.
K2K: Here was something interesting in your film - a statement "The following people are not actors". The only person that you can blame for believing the Blair Witch Project is yourself because you would have convinced yourself to believe it. In your film it was stating that they are not actors.
LW: Yeah, well they're not. They are not actors.
K2K: That's a technicality though. In fact it's an incorrect technicality because the term "actor" does not talk about how professional one is but that they are portraying a part or character on the screen. Thus, they are actors.
LW: (sighing quickly) OK. Yes. If you want to break it down to that extent. For us it was just a device that was meant to lead people into believing that "what you are about to see is real."
K2K: Have you ever had comments about that before?
LW: Oh yeah. Before there was a Blair Witch, we would have 80% of the people or more believe that our film was the real documentary.
K2K: Even with the ending pan shot?
LW: No. That's when they would catch on. "Oh my God." It would really evoke these emotional responses from people. The "injustice of it all". "I can't believe that this guy, his name should be vindicated." It was the kind of thing that we were playing with because people were totally caught off-guard with it, because we entered the realm of a documentary. It seemed like it was true. Those were cliché things that you see in a documentary. It was very heavy-handed so it blurs that news and entertainment thing that I was talking about in the age of "Hard Copy" and tabloid type shows that are meant to be "truth-seeking" devices, but they are guiding you through. That's what we were commenting on.
K2K: You put it a good way when you said that it was unresolved in that it starts off as a news story and ends up becoming a parody of itself in becoming a "movie-of-the-week". Like the Cuban boy.
LW: Yes. Or Baby Jessica who fell into the well or like any of those other stories. There are so many of them.
K2K: After this is all said and done, what's new for you guys?
LW: Well, Stephan is working on an action/adventure film, "Diamond Road" is the working title. I'm working on a dark comedy that I'm scripting. It's kind of like a coming of age story.
K2K: Are these independents?
LW: Stephan's might be a little bigger than an independent film. I really enjoy the intimacy that you get out of the gear, the size of the crew. I think that filmmaking is kind of a dinosaur process and I'm kind of excited about what this new technology enables me [to do]. I think, like The Last Broadcast, in the future, whatever we do will be what is best for the film or the story. If it's something that should be shot on film, then it will be shot on film. If it's a hybrid of all that, then it's a hybrid. It will be whatever the story drives, whatever is the best device to tell that story. I think that for what I'm writing, it will be obviously much larger budget than $900., and Stephan's working on name cast stuff, so it really depends.
K2K: Are you just working locally?
LW: We travel all over. I do some commercial stuff. It just really depends. If we needed to shoot outside of this area, we would. I think Stephan's new film is starting off shooting in Texas and then a little bit around here.
K2K: Have you or Stephan been approached by any of the majors?
LW: We've been approached by a lot of different people. Television shows, spin-offs of The Last Broadcast sequels, blah blah blah. It hasn't really made sense or not been what we wanted to do. This movie has opened so many doors for us that it's incredible.
K2K: The movie, you said, is being shown outside of the States?
LW: Yes, it's placed in 16 or 17 film festivals worldwide. We've traveled to 35 cities, 14 different countries, it's gotten it's play.
K2K: Well, I think that that pretty much covers things here. Is there anything else that you would like to add in closing?
LW: Yeah, I think that it's good. If you would mention to link to our site so that people can check it out. They can get it anywhere. I reccomend that people check it out on DVD because it comes with the bonus stuff.
Written by Philip Anderson

Philip Anderson is a musician, in addition to being a writer/photographer. He has performed as a guitarist/vocalist, as well as songwriter, in several bands over the past 20 years. As a writer and photographer, he has been published by several magazines and in several books, and had his works appear on television.

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