While obsessing over an ex-girlfriend in 1997, Jed Weintrob, then an Orion vice president of interactive media, turned to the Internet for distraction. "I got hooked peering into the lives of strangers," said Weintrob, a self-described Jewish "techno geek." "It was both calming and mind-blowing to log on and see Jenni on Jennicam.org who was also awake at 4:30 a.m., but in the end it was also kind of alienating.... You're watching this person do the most intimate things, yet you're never going to know them or touch them."
It's a sentiment echoed by John Roth (Josh Hamilton), the Internet-addicted lonely-heart in Weintrob's acclaimed directorial debut, "On_Line." Like Lynn Hershman Leeson's "Teknolust," the gritty but stylish film is among the first to probe relationships in cyberspace.
Weintrob shot his actors in separate rooms connected by Web cams so they felt like they were alone with their computers.
The message is that "we all need human contact, so eventually you have to get off line," he said.
Weintrob, 34, first learned about the importance of human connections growing up in a close-knit Manhattan Jewish family where Israeli relatives often crashed on the couch. His introduction to the Web (and to cybersex) was the early PC model he received for his bar mitzvah.
Sex ed part II was researching "On_Line," co-written with fellow Harvard alumnus Andrew Osborne; one inspiration was the man who learned of his wife's infidelity by reading her Web journal.
"He never spoke to her again except via e-mail," Weintrob said. "That started me thinking about the intimate things people were willing to reveal online and how messed up that could make you in real life."
The fictional Roth evolved as Weintrob wondered what would have happened had his heartbreak-induced Web addiction escalated. "We've all felt desperate and depressed, and that the computer is our only friend," said the director, now dating a nice Jewish girl from Long Island. "But as personal as it feels, it's completely impersonal."
"On_Line" opens June 27 in Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.onlinethemovie.com .