The Silver Screen's Digital Dreams

By Derek Slater, CIO |  Software

Hollywood. People come here from all over the world in search of fame and fortune. Some find both. Most find neither. But scrape off the Tinseltown stardust and there's a plain old biz beneath the show: a film industry that in recent years has experienced both feast and famine. Paramount's 1997 Titanic raked in $600 million at the box office and put director James Cameron on top of the world. In 1998, Universal's Babe: Pig in the City took in $18 million, cost a porky $85 million to make and (along with a few other underperforming titles) cost Universal Chairman Casey Silver his job. In Hollywood, the technical term for that kind of ROI is bomb.

How to avoid the flops and make only the hits -- that's the holy grail in Hollywood. Technology hasn't yet provided the formula for a guaranteed box office smash; most people think it never will. In fact, Hollywood regards technology with a certain ambivalence. The dream factories worship creativity, not technology -- people, not machines. The movie business is traditionally based on intuition, inspiration, negotiation and the handshake.

None of those things automate easily. So even as more and more technology shows up on the screen, sometimes to great effect (1999's The Matrix), and sometimes not (1999's The Mummy and Wild Wild West), studio CIOs every day confront an acute version of the standard IT conundrum: when to push against corporate culture and tradition, and when to go with the flow as they strive to provide competitive advantage with their information systems.

"It's a very old business, very non-process-oriented, and we've had to work around that at times," says Justin Yaros, CIO of 20th Century Fox. "But it's hard to argue with some of the efficiencies IT can bring."

A film passes through many stages and many decision points before it arrives at the local 24-screen megaplex. Those decision points provide a showcase for Hollywood IT, its efficiencies and its influence on the creative process.

"Scene 1 - A Film is Born"

ACQUISITION A movie starts with a concept; the concept becomes a pitch; the pitch becomes a screenplay. Let's call our script Indiana Bob and the Mayan Enterprise Architecture Mystery.

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