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DVD Your way

‘Movie Mask’ lets viewers alter films to suit their tastes

Watching a movie at home is about to become a more personal experience.

Don't want swearing? Mute it. Hate nudity? Clothe those actors. Too much violence? Skip it. Or rather, let your DVD player do all those things while you enjoy the show.

When Trilogy Studios introduces its "Movie Mask" digital software at the first of the year, the viewer will be able to choose how to watch movies on computer DVD players. And eventually the company hopes to have set-top boxes that will use their technology.

"We want to empower everyone to watch DVD movies according to their own customs, preferences and choices," said David Clayton, president of the Sandy-based company, which he co-founded two years ago with his brother, Michael, who serves as creative director.

"It is important because I want to be able to share movies with my family, and some I can't. I don't feel comfortable."

A survey conducted for the company in other parts of the country ("We know how strongly Utahns feel about this," said Breck Rice, vice president and chief revenue officer) found David Clayton was not alone in wishing he could personalize movies to share them with the audience of his choice. More than three-fourths of respondents said they want more control — especially as parents who want to be sure their children don't see things that might be upsetting or offensive.

The software, which is expected to sell in the $35-$50 range, will work with downloadable masks tailored to specific movies. At release, the company expects to have the masks and filters for about 500 titles. "We started with the top 100 blockbusters and are working backward," Rice said.

The idea for Movie Masks came about when David Clayton was doing subcontract work on a training package for Lockheed Martin. They wanted to be able to film their footage once but update it as often as needed. He was working with a clip from "Terminator 2" and discovered he could do what he called a "rating reduction," skipping scenes, muting swearing, etc., without altering the clip itself.

That would be important when it came to copyright issues, and that was the next thing the brothers tackled. They hired some of the best lawyers specializing in entertainment law, to find out whether their product would land them in the courts. There had, after all, been precedents. Studios had sued people who altered movies to make them more general-audience friendly.

The difference here is someone can rent a DVD, run it with the filters and masks so they see the version that meets their personal tastes and avoids the things that offend them, then return it. The DVD itself is unchanged.

That means that Kate Winslet won't be topless in a well-known scene from "Titanic." And neither will the drawing that she's posing for. The program provides both with a modest corset. And Michael Douglas will not use profanity at the beginning of "The American President." "Saving Private Ryan" plays with storyline intact, but it won't be too harsh or earthy for those who don't want so much bad language or violence.

The Claytons and Rice see more whimsical applications, as well. They've prepared a demo DVD that is part whiz-bang special effects and part parody. In a scene from "The Princess Bride," two characters who are fighting use Star-Wars style laser-light swords. A man sprayed with bullet holes suddenly oozes green gel. And if you wonder what the volleyball, Wilson, is thinking in "Cast Away," their cartoon-style blurbs can provide the answer.

Designed for entertainment uses, they believe there are government, education and medical sector applications, as well.

They've also seen some marketing possibilities that interest them, Rice said. With the masks, they can change products to reflect the times in which we live. Perhaps Coca Cola will decide at some point that it doesn't want to promote a particular product, but it has paid to have the product featured in a movie. Apply an interactive merchandising mask and Coke becomes Diet Coke becomes whatever. Stephen Spielberg could, decades after the fact, decide that E.T. didn't really love Reese's Pieces. Milk Duds were his passion.

The masks would also allow for the regionalization of a movie. Show an American thriller in Tokyo, for instance, and the storefronts could be made distinctly Japanese.

David Clayton believes that the ability to provide educational material along with movies will be increasingly important, especially as a tool for schools. In one of the demos, he shows how easy it is to click on an object and bring up a menu that could tell you everything from the history of the gun the soldiers use to where to buy the car that's racing down the hill and what it will cost you.

The company has attracted some well-recognized people to its board of directors, including Larry King, filmmaker Keith Merrill and Marie Osmond. King believes Movie Mask will actually enhance Hollywood's ability to make the kind of movies it wants and be profitable doing it, since the ability to filter a movie may broaden its audience.

The company, which is privately held, is in round B of fund raising and is also forming strategic partnerships, including exploring how it can team up with companies that have a good subscription base. Trilogy is considering offering the ability to download masks from the Internet as a subscription service. More information on Trilogy Studios is available online at www.trilogystudios.com.

E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com