Yoostar gives Hollywood hopefuls a taste of the silver screen

Column: The $150 kit lets you be the star in your favorite movies – all from your living room.

By , Columnist for The Christian Science Monitor

The first movie I ever saw was “Safe at Home,” a movie that starred a young boy who chummed around with baseball greats Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in the early ’60s. I would have traded my baby brother to be the kid in that movie. But down deep, I knew it could never be.

Until now.

There’s now a way for dreamers like me to sneak into our favorite old movies and steal the limelight. (Although, my fastball isn’t as good now as it was back then, and I’m, um, a bit heavier.) Thanks to a new computer kit called Yoostar, ordinary people can place themselves into famous film scenes.

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It works like this: After buying the Yoostar home entertainment system – available this spring for about $150 – you will get a camera, green screen, remote control, and Yoostar software for either a PC or Mac. Pick a clip from Yoostar’s library and, once you’ve summoned your inner Hollywood star, stage the scene in front of the green screen.

The camera captures your performance and the software places you into the movie. Just remember not to wear anything green, or else you’ll appear to have a big hole in your body.

Local weather forecasters and sci-fi actors have pulled this green-screen trick for years – but few people have been able to do so in their living room.

The scenes have been digitally altered so that you can pluck out certain actors and substitute yourself. Another writer called the product a kind of video karaoke.

Some scenes come with the kit. You also will be able to purchase others online for about $2 to $3 a clip.
Fred Rosen, Yoostar’s president and CEO, says that the company already has access to 6,400 clips from more than 800 films. And the company is just revving up; Yoostar is negotiating with more studios to get clearance to use more scenes.

The company can use almost any movie that debuted prior to 1960. But for films made after that, it needs to make a deal with the studios and the actor or actress they would like to digitally alter (i.e., remove).

Although Mr. Rosen demurred when pressed about what actors have turned down his requests, you can at least get an idea of who is on board by looking at the film list.

Current Yoostar titles includes: “Patriot Games” with Harrison Ford, “Conan the Barbarian” and “True Lies” with Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” with Matthew Broderick, “School of Rock” with Jack Black, “Forrest Gump” with Tom Hanks, and “Thelma and Louise” with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, to name a few.

Quite a lineup. You can peruse more at the company’s website.

Yoostar has a social-networking aspect as well. Customers will be able to share their homemade clips on the company’s website.

Because of rights issues, the company’s propriety software does not allow homemade scenes to be posted on YouTube or other video-sharing websites. Scenes can be posted, however, on the Yoostar site. (It’s not a stretch to think that the software will be hacked into soon enough, if other cases involving proprietary software offer any lessons.)

“Our [demographic] – the people we see as best suited for our system – is 15 to 35,” Rosen says. “But I believe we’ll have an audience far beyond this age range. This is a family evening. It’s something anyone in the family can do. You can’t sit down and play video games with your kids because they’ll play for three hours, while you get killed in the first three seconds.”

Despite launching a new product in harsh economic times and fighting against cheaper but less impressive products such as “You’re in the Movies” for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 video-game system, Rosen says that he’s very enthusiastic about Yoostar’s future.

“One would be foolish not to realize that this economy makes the launch harder,” he says. “But we’re selling content, and content always does well. And we believe the price point is good. You’ll be able to get single clips in the $2 to $3 range. That’s [the price of] a ring tone.”

Meanwhile, Yoostar has also signed a deal with the NBA to allow users to “replace the play by play announcer or color analyst and provide their personal commentary and analysis in video highlights from their favorite team or take their turn as NBA Commissioner in announcing the top picks from NBA drafts,” he says.

“Kids dream of being announcers,” Rosen says. (So do many big kids, it should be noted.) “It’s all about role playing,” he says.

Yoostar plans to pursue other sports leagues and broadcasters to incorporate their work into its green-screen system.

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