Jul 192010

Julie & Julia poster

On Saturday, for the first time in ages, Kaberi and I spent the evening with our dear friends Martin and Nathalie, as well as their wonderful children Chloé and Melie. When we mentioned that we plan to start a video podcast series of Kaberi’s Indian cooking, Martin recommended that, before doing so, we should watch Nora Ephron’s film Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. He told us that it is about the parallel stories of the person who wrote the first French cookery book for Americans and someone who decides to make all the recipes in the book in a year and to write a blog about it.

Now, in the past, we might have come home and spent a few days looking for the DVD in local rental shops or ordered it online from play.com. Instead, when we got home, I thought I’d see what it would be like to rent it from iTunes. It took only a few seconds to find the film page using the search in the top right-hand corner of the iTunes screen. We could rent it for £3.49 or buy it for £9.99.

Opting to rent it, the 1.81GB file started to download onto our MacBook Pro and the top panel indicated that it would take 60 minutes to download. As it was already quite late, I wondered whether the system would allow us to start watching the film while it was still downloading. On the ‘Rented Films’ screen, I found that scrolling over the film’s poster image revealed a ‘Play’ button … which worked!

I connected the MacBook Pro to our HD projector using a DVI cable and to our sound system and we spent the next 2 hours watching the film. I saw later that the film was downloaded at a resolution of 853×480 and with both stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. So anyone with a recent Mac could watch the film with surround sound by linking the computer’s optical out using to a surround system. The options attached to the film allow you to adjust the overall volume and apply equalisation to suit your sound setup.

According to the iTunes film page, the film is also available in HD on iPad and Apple TV. Still, even projecting at 1920×1080 from the 853×480 resolution file and with stereo sound, we had an absorbing experience in the comfort of our living room. It was a film which was released in cinemas in August 2009, although I see that Sony signed off from the film’s Facebook page and from its Twitter feed at the end of March 2010.

Of course, we could see why Martin had recommended it to us. The film, which is based on the true stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell, begins with Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) arriving in Paris in 1949 to take up his posting at the US Embassy there. In parallel, in 2002, we follow Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) who move into a flat above a Pizzeria in Queens, New York.

Julia Child decides to spend her time in France exploring the art of French cooking, ultimately writing her book, while Julie Powell devotes her spare time to writing a blog called The Julie/Julia Project in which she sets herself the challenge of making all 524 recipes in the book in 365 days. Both love food and cooking. Both are encouraged by their husbands. Both publish books.

Another parallel which I found interesting was the process through which Julia Child’s book and TV series emerged, compared to Julie Powell’s book. The former took several years and a number of rejections from publishers before someone recognised the potential of the manuscript. The latter started off as a way of escaping from her job answering post-September 11 calls from victims’ relatives at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s call centre by writing a blog about a culinary challenge to herself, without knowing who would be reading it. The blog gradually attracted followers until an article about it in the New York Times a few days before the end of the year-long project attracted the attention of literary agents and publishers.

Since then other blogs have evolved into books, such as Chris Anderson’s blog, which he used to develop the books The Long Tail and Free: the future of a radical price. More recently, some have suggested that blogging is on the way out, though I agree with science fiction writer/blogger/journalist Cory Doctorow that Reports of blogging’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

At least our experience last night gave us a foretaste of how people are likely to watch films in future. For example, people who might hear about our first feature film Shyama could look it up on a video platform and watch it easily the same evening, wherever they are in the world. Even if they have a flat-screen HD TV rather than a projector, every HD TV has at least a VGA connector through which it can be connected to a computer. Although Shyama isn’t available on the iTunes Store (yet), the HD version can be rented worldwide from IndieFlix.

In any case, Kaberi and I are looking forward inviting a few friends over to help us film our first test episode of Kaberi’s Indian cooking.

(Thanks, Martin!)

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