NEW YORK – Would you pay $10 to watch a movie that looks as if it was shot by your brother-in-law?
Right now, audiences are shelling out 10-spots to see Full Frontal and Tadpole, both of which were shot on video using basic, consumer-level mini-cameras like the ones you can buy at the Wiz for $3,000 to $5,000.
Digital video is one of the most controversial issues in Hollywood.
Film purists like critic Roger Ebert decry the muddy and streaky images that often afflict lower-end video features -- while proponents like George Lucas hail high-end digital video (DV) as the wave of the future that will democratize filmmaking, allowing artistic freedom and permit even established directors to make risky films.
Steven Soderbergh, whose last three films -- Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean's Eleven -- all grossed more than $100 million, took the DV plunge and spent around $2 million on the experimental comedy Full Frontal.
That's roughly the catering budget on most of Julia Roberts' films -- though it remains to be seen whether her fans will want to see the least flattering photography of her career.
With its grainy pictures and flat color, the low-budget DV is not to be confused with high-end digital cinema such as George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Clones, which was shot with state-of-the-art, custom-designed high-definition cameras.
Spike Lee tapped DV's potential with Bamboozled, a scathing satire of the broadcast industry that probably wouldn't have gotten made if any real money was at stake.
It's anyone guess who will want to see The Chateau, a fish-out-of-water comedy with Paul Rudd set in France. Opening Friday, it's arguably the ugliest-looking movie ever made.
But audiences are flocking to Tadpole, a coming-of-age comedy that was shot in just 10 days on a microscopic $200,000 budget.
"Do I wish the images had better resolution? Of course," director Gary Winick told The Post from Utah, where he was conducting a workshop in digital cinema at the Sundance Institute.
Winick's InDigEnt has produced 11 DV features, including Richard Linklater's Tape and Ethan Hawke's Chelsea Walls.
Winick confirmed reports that Miramax -- which picked up his movie for $5 million after a bidding war at this year's Sundance Festival -- spent a sum in excess of the film's original budget to bring the picture quality up to a minimally acceptable level.
"It would have cost millions to shoot this movie [conventionally]," said Winick.
"The actors agreed to be paid $248 a day, the Screen Actors Guild minimum, plus a percentage of profits, because they heard digital video was a kind of hybrid between theater and film.
"And the cameras are so we were able to shoot in places like Grand Central Station, where it would have been prohibitively expensive to shoot."