In the decades since Woodstock, many a concert film has gotten mired in its own clichés. Cameras on booms swoop high over the crowd. Handheld cameras off to the side lovingly capture guitarists teasing out notes or windmilling riffs. Obligatory shots of ululating fans follow - all, increasingly, on pristine high-definition video.
But as the Beastie Boys set out to commemorate a concert at Madison Square Garden, the hip-hop group had a different idea. Why not smash the model?
They decided to lend hand-held video cameras to 50 fans, told them to shoot at will, and then presented the end result in movie theaters in all its primitive, kaleidoscopic glory.
The result of this brainstorm is "Awesome; I Fuckin Shot That ," which will be shown Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, before being released by ThinkFilm in late March. The movie is more than a new twist on an old form. "Awesome" - its full title praising the fans' involvement in the final film cannot be printed in this newspaper - plugs into some of the currents surging through the media and entertainment worlds.
Technology has unmoored some the constructs that have girded those businesses for decades, giving the consumers of pop culture a growing ability to watch or listen to their entertainment on their own terms and on their own time, and re-evaluating the role of traditional distribution companies. "Awesome" pushes that tension further, giving the ultimate user a chance to actually create the content. "It's the democratization of filmmaking," said Jon Doran, a producer of the movie.
As with most films, of course, there is a benevolent despot - read, a director - involved. And that would be Adam Yauch, who is known as MCA in the band, but who prefers the archly pretentious nom de plume Nathanial Hörnblowér for his directorial and photographic endeavors.
New York punk rockers turned rappers turned caring hip-hop artists and family men, members of the Beastie Boys have more than most musicians used technology to involve fans in the creative process. They have been posting a capella songs on www.beastieboys.com, for instance, and inviting fans to use those building blocks for remixes of their own.
While perusing the message boards on the site one day in mid-2004, Mr. Yauch came across a concert photo snapped by a fan with his cellphone and found himself taken with the shakiness and rawness of the image. "The energy of it looked cool, and I thought it would look interesting to document a whole concert," Mr. Yauch said.
Three days before the October 2004 concert at Madison Square Garden, the Beastie Boys decided to go ahead. The band posted a notice on its Web site seeking volunteers. The instructions were simple: " 'Start it when the Beastie Boys hit the stage and don't stop till it's over,' " recalled one cameraman, Fred Zilliox, a 35-year-old cook from Keansburg, N.J. "Other than that, it was up to us to do whatever we wanted."
The camera-toting fans took those instructions to heart. They shot the band, they shot the fans, they shot their fellow camera operators. Four even took their cameras along on their bathroom breaks.
"I wasn't very jumpy," said Sharon Gruber, a 26-year-old fan from Bayside, Queens, who was sitting in the top-most row of the Garden. "I basically shot a lot of close-ups of the stage."
Then Mr. Yauch, Mr. Doran, assorted editors and others took over. The postproduction phase stretched more than a year as they waded through nearly 60 angles and about 100 hours of material. (The band supplemented the 50 camera-wielding fans with five friends who had digital video cameras and several high-quality cameras fixed on stage.)
Though one of Mr. Yauch's favorite concert films is "Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii," "it's basically the antithesis of this movie," Mr. Yauch said with a laugh.
"Live at Pompeii," filmed in 1971 in a 2,000-year-old amphitheater devoid of fans, is filled with languid shots without a cut, some shots lasting five minutes. The longest cut in "Awesome" barely breaks a minute. Many shots clock in at less than a second. All told, the hour-and-a-half "Awesome" contains 6,732 edits.
ThinkFilm, the independent distributor behind films like "Murderball," picked up the movie last fall for a fee in the low seven figures. (The film will cost the Beastie Boys about $1.2 million when the sampling fees are added in; the band returned all the Hi-8 Sony cameras (a step above a typical camcorder) to the stores where they were bought, in some cases for a full refund.
"I loved the notion that this was a film for the fans, by the fans," said Mark Urman, head of ThinkFilm's theatrical division.
The film will open on March 31 in 10 to 15 markets, including New York and Los Angeles; a DVD will be released about three months later. But to attract people who may not be hard-core Beastie Boys fans - the band's latest album, "Solid Gold Hits," has sold fewer than 140,000 copies since its release in November - ThinkFilm and the band are lining up other promotions.
At Sundance the Beastie Boys will be the headliners at a party next week being given by MySpace, the social-networking Web site, to celebrate the debut of its filmmaker-community site. And MySpace will hold a contest urging its members to create a video of one of two Beastie Boys songs, "Sabotage" and "Shake Your Rump."
MySpace, in its two years of existence, has allowed more than 660,000 aspiring bands and solo artists to upload their music to the site, where it can then be discovered by the site's nearly 50 million members and perhaps even by music labels. "We're trying the same thing for filmmakers - a platform for our users to express themselves creatively," said Chris DeWolfe, the company's chief executive.
Independent filmmakers will be able to put their films on the site, allowing users to stream and watch selected work at no charge and making it possible to network with other filmmakers. But while music label representatives regularly troll MySpace, it remains to be seen whether studio executives will follow suit and deviate from the typical way talent is discovered.
Still, movie executives understand the business is changing, and they may end up combing through what promises to be a virtual slush pile of submissions. "I don't rule it out," Mr. Urman of ThinkFilm said.