You ought to be in pictures, eh? Yoostar might provide your first big break at stardom — at least in your living room or out in cyberspace. This portable movie studio is like karaoke for the movies, featuring real actors and clips from actual movies.
In one scene, I took over Humphrey Bogart's role opposite Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina. In another I assumed Kevin Costner's part (opposite Burt Lancaster) in Field of Dreams. You can be Brando's Don Corleone in The Godfather. Or substitute for Elmo or Grover in Sesame Street.
You can watch scenes on your PC or laptop, or connect the computer to a TV to watch on a bigger screen. What's more, you can upload your screen tests at yoostar.com, and share clips on Facebook, MySpace and elsewhere.
The $170 Yoostar system consists of a remote control, software, a fine USB webcam and stand (that resembles Wall-E), plus a 6- by 6-foot fold-away "green screen" you perform in front of, similar to those used in real studios. With the green screen behind you, Yoostar can place you in a movie the way TV meteorologists appear in front of a weather map.
The accompanying application that you load onto your PC — a Mac version is coming — includes a dozen scenes to start with, plus two more when you register. Movies include Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Forrest Gump, Rocky and Some Like It Hot. You can download additional 99-cent to $3.99 clips at yoostar.com, including Blade Runner, Casablanca and The Ten Commandments. Clip lengths vary and take up about 5 to 7MB each.
Yoostar went on sale last week at Bloomingdale's, with Best Buy to follow Sept. 8. It's also available at Yoostar's website.
I had a grand time and give the concept behind it a thumbs up. Alas, there are enough current drawbacks, to make this an offer you can refuse.
Yoostar requires fairly robust hardware — at minimum a PC with a Pentium 4 class processor (dual core preferred), and a state-of the-art graphics card.
Moreover, the software is still buggy. Yoostar crashed on the Dell laptop the company lent me. Apparently my video database got corrupted, and tech support had to intervene. Yoostar is still issuing software "patches" to fix bugs and other issues.
The instructions for setting up the green screen were poor — a leg on the stand that holds it inadvertently snapped off.
Still, when working right, Yoostar has box office potential for film fans of all generations. A close-up:
•Shooting your scene. From within the Yoostar application you pick a scene from your video library and cast yourself in an available part. Ideally, the area around the green screen will be well-lit and free of shadows, lest you notice considerable video degradation. When you click the record button on the computer (or press record on the remote), a "chalk" outline of your chosen character appears on the computer screen. This gives you an indication of how to position yourself and the camera. Before you start shooting you must momentarily step away from the camera, so that all the lens sees is the green screen. When you step back in, there'll be a five-second countdown before the action begins. A prompter appears above the video with your lines and lines for the other character. You can also print a script to rehearse ahead of time (and watch the real scene, of course). It's also fun to ad-lib and deviate from the script. If you make a mistake you can shoot another take. In my Sabrina scene, I appeared in color, but Hepburn and the rest of the background was in black and white. Slightly odd.
•Sharing movies. You can upload your performances to the Yoostar site. You can keep it private, share it with friends or open it up to all. You can also e-mail links to the clip or send it (via embedded widgets) to Facebook, MySpace and elsewhere.
Because of rights issues, YouTube is currently off-limits. You can't download content, either.
Yoostar has parental controls that you can use to prevent junior from acting in movies above a certain rating. All performances are passed through an automated nudity/porn filter before being posted online.
A human editor at the company must also approve G-rated clips and any clips flagged by the filter. Some scenes (The Terminator) do contain profanity. Clips go up to an R-rating.
Yoostar has a pretty eclectic mix of films (and a couple of TV shows), though you can't help but think of other scenes you wish were included (the melting witch of The Wizard of Oz, or the "frankly my dear I don't give a damn" finale of Gone With the Wind). The company says it has more than 200 clips now, with 500 by year's end. Yoostar has agreements with Paramount, Universal, MGM, Lionsgate and Warner Bros., but it must separately secure permission from all the actors in a given scene. Thus, a scene from The Terminator didn't include Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because of technical limitations you won't see a lot of action sequences, though Yoostar plans to add sports scenes — the NBA is a partner. The company also hopes to add music videos, along the lines I suppose of regular karaoke.
The ham in me likes movie-oke. Even if it's not yet perfect.