CAA, Intel take hands-on approach to new technology

Creative Artists Agency and Intel on Wednesday unveiled Media Lab, an area of the agency where clients and others can learn about new digital technologies.

The room is outfitted with a rack of personal computers capable of processing D1-quality video and AC3 audio. Users can manipulate images on a large screen, choose different special effects to include in a scene, and even shoot live video and combine the resulting images with computer-generated animation.

Helmer Brett Leonard (“Virtuosity,” “Lawnmower Man”), through his company L-Squared, produced the partly interactive demo that CAA and Intel will use to introduce Hollywood players to the world of new media. Danny DeVito provides voiceover for a computer-generated mogul and a CG Silicon Valley honcho.

CAA emphasizes that it hasn’t opened Media Lab as any sort of digital production shop. “We want the Hollywood creative community to learn, play and explore,” said the agency’s Michael Keithley.

According to CAA execs, clients and non-clients from throughout the entertainment business are welcome to book appointments for the room.

The demo addresses a question bound to be on the minds of successful Hollywood creatives and execs: Is there money to be made by creating new media? Although scores of companies formed to create Internet or CD-ROM content have found themselves in dire financial straits, and one studio after another has scaled back its new media plans, CAA and Intel suggest not-too-subtly that there’s a pot of gold at the end of every modem connection.

The video shows an ever-growing stack of dollar bills – set against a background of foreign currency – while DeVito’s voiceover describes how the new media and home entertainment industries, in total, bring in more money than all Hollywood businesses combined.

Without a doubt, the computer and home entertainment businesses are formidable. Even though home PC sales seem to have hit a wall, at least for the moment, just about any sort of industry analyst would be safe in predicting an increased digitization of home media. More people are surfing the Net, digital videodisc is on the horizon and sales of dedicated game consoles have been brisk this year.

But few in Hollywood can claim to have made any money by creating content especially for new forms of media. And when compared with the big paydays for film and TV projects, established Hollywood talent understandably shies away from committing too much time and attention to, say, creating World Wide Web sites. Rather than being cash cows, such ventures tend to drain resources.

Even in a more traditional medium like feature film, budgets for post-production and special effects are holding steady or shrinking. At the same time, star salaries are pushing, if not exceeding, the $20 million mark. For more than a year, post and effects execs have argued that studios tend to underbudget for editing, effects and other areas perceived as less than sexy.

It’s unlikely that either of these trends will abate any time soon. Directors, actors and writers who learn how to click a mouse to create a desired effect in the Media Lab may be disappointed when they learn how much that same effect costs in the real world.And despite some big names in Hollywood professing an interest in computers and digital media, they probably aren’t about to give up their day jobs and take pay cuts to become new media pioneers.

But CAA’s Hassan Miah, who heads up the new media department, and Intel’s Avram Miller, VP and director of business development, are right when they say the consumer marketplace will decide what type of content Hollywood will create in coming years. They also acknowledge that they’re taking a cautious, longterm approach to the culture-clash marriage of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

“We don’t know what all the applications are, but we know what hardware will be built,” said Miller. “We have to take a longterm perspective: We’re working on designs for products that won’t be on the market for five more years. All this is a continuous process.”

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