Project launch plans to boost film industry

Credit: Nicole Hamilton/Comics Editor Credit: Nicole Hamilton/Comics Editor

The Pittsburgh Entertainment Technology Project launched last Thursday, Jan. 27, with the goal of connecting Hollywood movie producers with local Pittsburgh technology companies. The joint project is a collaboration among the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), the Pittsburgh Technology Council, the Pittsburgh Film Office, and the Idea Foundry.

The launch was attended by tech companies, developers, and some filmmakers. Don Marinelli, professor of drama and arts management at Carnegie Mellon and one of the co-founders of the ETC, hosted the event in collaboration with Audrey Russo, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

Pittsburgh has been a popular filming location for almost a century. According to the Pittsburgh Film Office, Pittsburgh has been the location for more than 101 motion pictures and television productions, ranging from The Perils of Pauline in 1914 to Abduction, which is set to be released in September.

“[There are] myriad locations that can double for practically all areas of the country, a very skilled work force that is enjoyable to work with, and the statewide tax credits for filmmakers who spend 60 percent of their film budget in state,” Marinelli said.

More recently, entertainment technology, which is the use of technologies to enhance and sometimes create new forms of entertainment, has emerged as a new and growing industry in the region.

Although mostly thought of in the context of gaming, Marinelli stressed in his opening that entertainment technology also has much broader, albeit untapped, applications in other fields.

“Southwestern Pennsylvania has become the home to myriad companies engaged directly or tangentially within the industries of entertainment technology,” Marinelli said. “Yet, there has to date been no cohesive listing or understanding of what these myriad companies have to offer.”

To further entertainment technology’s integration into other fields and formalize its benefits, the Pittsburgh Entertainment Technology Project will take advantage of the conditions in Pittsburgh that have made it popular among filmmakers to showcase applications of entertainment technology as they relate to the movie industry.

“It’s something this region is rich in,” Russo said, as quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “You see a lot of companies that have amazing expertise in pre- and post-production that is tied to the film industry.” It’s a relatively novel concept that, while impressive, faces an uphill challenge of proving its profitability to the much older and established film industry.

“Working with Pittsburgh companies engaged in entertainment technology needs to make financial sense for Hollywood producers,” Marinelli said. “Hopefully, we can augment and expand the advantage of shooting a film in Pittsburgh to include the synergy of making the video game, creating the online virtual world, crafting podcasts and unique advertising initiatives, all in this one location, and at a competitive advantage.”

It might sound confusing, but fortunately, the launch featured several examples of this synergy.

Tracy Brown (ETC ’09), founder and CEO of Evil Genius Designs, gave the audience firsthand experience of the benefits of entertainment technology when she invited the audience to play one of her company’s “Get In Line” games. Her games are designed for people waiting in line and allow the players to play together with their cell phones on a large shared screen.

Brown announced that these games will soon debut in some movie theaters and will appear alongside trailers.

“Imagine being able to play not just with everyone in the theater, but everyone in the world who is watching this movie,” Brown exclaimed. “The evil genius part is ... that we’ve been using you to gather market analytics and data.”

To encourage similar projects, Marinelli and Russo announced that the Pittsburgh Entertainment Technology Project will now be accepting entries for the 2011 Pittsburgh-to-Hollywood Awards. Entrants will submit entertainment technology-related products that could potentially be integrated into the film industry. The winners will receive a trip to Los Angeles to pitch their ideas to members of the industry.

Marinelli also stressed that in this emerging field, there are plenty of opportunities for even undergraduates to get involved: “There is an ever-present, ongoing need for technical expertise, primarily programmers. I do not know of a single company where, if a programmer walked in and volunteered, that individual wouldn’t be hugged, kissed, and fawned over.”