This year, several thousand people will pay $450 each for the privilege of taking a course called ”Robert McKee’s Story Structure” that purports to teach Joe Eszterhas wannabes how to write megabuck movies. For one-tenth the money, these folks can pick up Hollywood (Theatrix Interactive, CD-ROM for PC and Mac), a screenwriting program in which a cast of animated characters enacts your auteurist fantasies.
Ostensibly designed for kids, Hollywood is so easy to use that adults may find it addictive. As you pick and choose backgrounds, sound effects, facial expressions, and bits of animated business on a cartoon ”stage,” these actions are translated into screenwriterese in a script in progress at the bottom of the screen.
Then, it’s only a matter of inserting dialogue. Here’s where Hollywood accomplishes the extraordinary: Voice-translation technology converts typed words into actual speech. True, it sounds robotic, but you do get to choose from a variety of voices, ranging from husky to fast-talking. Even better, since the translation is phonetic, there are no limits to what characters can say — you can literally re-create a scene from Pulp Fiction, with John Travolta as a furry mutt and Uma Thurman as a neurotic poodle.
Innovative as it is, Hollywood isn’t perfect. Since you can’t switch sets mid-show, you’re stuck with a series of one-act plays. And the action is maddeningly linear: line, animation, sound effect, line. But let’s leave technicalities for a future version, which Theatrix is working on. For now, Hollywood is the next best thing to hiring your own film crew and hitting the streets. A-