CD-ROM review: Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair Random House, pounds 49.99

Going Hollywood

Rather than muttering darkly about the despairing choices of Christmas films on television, a more constructive approach is to give free reign to the auteur within by loading a movie-making simulation into your PC.

Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair introduces the novice to the way films are made in Hollywood. It looks good, too. Running at full screen in 256 colours, the quality of some of the Quicktime movies and animation is outstanding. While it spans three CD-Roms, careful choice of changeover points results in little interruption to the natural flow of the program.

Starting with a minuscule budget and a helpful personal assistant, you get with a pep talk from Spielberg before starting your first feature. Getting a script developed and approved is remarkably straightforward as the writers (Aladdin's Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio) offer useful suggestions about structuring the story you have to work with.

The potential for delays starts in earnest with production as prima donna lighting engineers, make-up artists et al insist on holding up shooting while they perfect their arts, ready for Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Aniston and Penn and Teller to take centre stage. The advice of Dean Cundey, director of photography on Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, keeps you sane, and hopefully within budget and time targets.

Once you've juggled your shooting sequence to minimise delays and managed to get your clips on film, you take them along to the editing room, get to grips with the tools of the trade and mould the shape of your masterpiece with pointers from Michael Kahn, the editor of Schindler's List. Adding sound effects is fun once you get used to the control panel. Combining inopportune sound effects with off-the-wall editing can produce some satisfyingly self-indulgent footage worthy of the most pretentious art-house circuit.

Then it's time to choose appropriate music before meeting the marketing department, sorting out the closing credits and getting a print of the film made.

It all ends, of course, with Spielberg introducing your work at its premiere. Even if you've made a real pig's ear of it, you should get a good response from the studio and the chance to do it all over again - but with a more complicated story, bigger budget, more time and access to more technical tricks as you aspire to the status of A-list director.

It's all hands-on stuff which is fun and educational. The main drawback is that it captures the attention of any children who happen to be passing. Once they decide that it's vital that they take over, you know your days as a director are limited.

Random House UK New Media (0171 221 3754)

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