Film may have found its ‘Guitar Hero’

YooStar lets fans into classic scenes

When Jimmy Durante famously said, “Everybody wants to get into the act,” he couldn’t have known that now, in the Internet Age, everybody just might be able to.

YooStar, a startup company that debuted in January, is getting ready to launch a system that lets fans insert themselves into classic movie scenes and act “alongside” the movie stars for $170. In a nutshell, YooStar wants to be “Guitar Hero” for movies.

“We see this entire thing as a new revenue stream that will benefit a lot of people and a lot of studios in Hollywood,” says Todd Unger, VP of marketing at YooStar.

The YooStar retail package, which hits stores in mid-August, includes a greenscreen, a high-resolution webcam (which includes dual microphones and remote control), stand and software.

Once fans have inserted themselves into a scene, they can share the clip on their own computer or upload free to a YouTubelike site hosted by YooStar, where anyone can view it.

Five studios — Paramount, Universal, MGM, Warner Bros. and Lionsgate — have partnered with the company, as have the National Basketball Assn. and Sesame Workshop’s “Sesame Street” franchise. The package will ship with 14 clips (11 from films, one from “Sesame Street” and two “moving backgrounds,” which allow users to improvise a scene).

Included are single scenes from pics as old as “Double Indemnity” (1944) and “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and as recent as 2006’s “Rocky Balboa” and “Employee of the Month.” The original “Terminator” and “Beverly Hills Cop 2” are also in the starter pack.

While it resists being called a game, YooStar is relying on the same good will that consumers have shown the vidgame industry for success. The service carries a pricetag many may consider steep in the current economy. Additional scenes via download are priced between 99¢ and $3.99. (The company hopes to have 200 downloadable scenes available at launch.)

“In some ways, we’re doing for movies what ‘Rock Band’ and ‘Guitar Hero’ did for music,” says Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, president and CEO of YooStar. Those two vidgame titles have revitalized interest in several classic rock acts, and Bousquet-Chavanne says he hopes his product will do the same for catalog films.

Still, securing rights for the clips wasn’t easy. In addition to getting studios onboard, YooStar had to secure agreements from all actors in a scene (or from their estates).

Unger declines to go into details about specific agreements the company has struck with actors, but says it opted to contact the actors on an individual basis. Among the thesps the company says it has received clearances from are Harrison Ford, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Sean Connery.

YooStar prefers to downplay the tech side of the company and focus on the social elements. But one of Hollywood’s top greenscreen experts says he believes the system could be a good training tool for wannabe filmmakers.

“Most people are going to play with this and laugh, and that’s it,” says Bill Taylor, ASC, who was a partner in recently shuttered Illusion Arts. “But for the person who’s willing to invest a little time, they’re going to learn something from this. … The person who’s doing these composites and looks at it critically, he’s going to learn a lot about lighting.”

While YooStar’s camera is capable of offering a relatively clear picture, it can’t match the quality of studio cameras. Taylor, though, says that if the greenscreen is well matched with the camera’s sensitivity, it will result in an image that’s suitable to the average user.

YooStar won’t announce its retail partners for another couple of weeks, but Unger, hints that the company plans a wide distribution beyond its online efforts.

“We will be where people will want to find it” he says. “We’ll be represented in major U.S. retailers. … There is no substitute for that kind of brick-and-mortar retail support.”