University is missing a world of entertainment

Following his inauguration speech and presentation of his capital plan last year, President Yudof spoke at the Digital Media Summit, outlining his digital initiative. The Summit was organized by the Minnesota High Technology Council, the Minnesota Office of Technology and the University of Minnesota.
The ninth session of the Summit was called, “Digital Technology in the Entertainment Industry.” Those involved included presenter Pete Docter of Pixar Animation Studios in Richmond, Calif., Daniel Gumnit, president, IVL, Inc., in Minneapolis and University representative Joseph A. Konstan, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Institute of Technology.
The scope of the session covered all areas of the entertainment industry: music, film, TV, radio, video, industrial/commercial, print and the Internet. The session was divided into two sections. The first was a macro view of digital technology and the entertainment industry. The second applied the same macro view to the University and the Twin Cities. A survey of production was provided along with an assessment of what is happening in the entertainment industry as it relates to the Twin Cities and the University.
The media summit, along with President Yudof’s goals, is an excellent start, but there is still a long way to go before Minnesota resembles anything like an entertainment capital. But the potential is there. There should be an annual media summit — with big names. Small film companies and recording studios throughout the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota are just dying to go national. And Yudof is putting his money where his mouth is by building new digital media centers and hiring adjunct professors who are experts in the field of entertainment. But he can’t do it alone.
He needs corporate partnerships: Sony, BMG, United Artists, Disney, Media One, Universal, BMG. There is barely any original film, TV or radio production on campus. The music lab is pitiful. Radio K runs out of a shoebox and the University Film Society is about as close to Hollywood as your next door neighbor’s home movies.
It takes leadership. Mike Nelson from University Relations provided me with some University/Minnesota film history. According to Nelson, the most recent major motion picture shot (partially) on campus was “With Honors” starring Joe Pesci. Nelson says University Relations gets a lot of requests for still/print and commercial photography. Recent shooters include Dayton’s, Cost Cutters, KARE 11 and Target. Usually a product or talent is shot posed in front of Weisman, Northrop or some other scenic area of campus. Other films shot in Minnesota include Grumpy Old Men, Mighty Ducks and the opening scene from “Fargo,” which was shot at the King’s Club Bar in NE Minneapolis.
Nelson also mentioned the University didn’t allow much on-campus shooting until the last couple of years because there was no protocol or policy concerning on-campus shoots. When folks called requesting on-campus shoots, they got the run-around and complained to the Minnesota Film Board, who in turn bent Gov. Arne Carlson’s ear, who then called University administrators. Now things have changed and the University is responding. Nelson handles all requests for on-campus photography, video shoots and films. Nelson finished with saying that after Gov. Carlson made the point that major movie production is a ‘revenue enhancer’ for the state and Minnesota is a beautiful backdrop for any film; “Jingle All The Way,” starring Arnold Schwartzenegger, was shot in Minneapolis.
The entertainment industry is a wide-area network that covers everything from MIDI-sync-controlled lighting during live shows to 3-D animation techniques in films, from the Sony CD Walkman to Oprah Winfrey. It is a vast communications network including pop music, film, TV, radio, live performance and now the Internet. Major cities in the United States are associated with the entertainment industry, from New York to Los Angeles, from Nashville to Las Vegas. But where’s the University connection to all this? Think of the education. Think of the jobs. Think of the income.
Multi-media is more than just a bunch of scanned photos, fancy fonts, imported charts and graphics. Multi-media is not just a Web site with links to fun places. It’s video. It’s sound. It’s theater. Any definition of multi-media should include the entertainment industry as part of that definition. And as the computer increasingly becomes the new television featuring full-length movies and audio recordings, the University had better start re-defining just exactly what multi-media is if it really wants to compete.
All across America, very few schools prepare their students for occupations in the entertainment industry and most of the time entertainment industry-related occupations are not even listed in occupational handbooks. Scanning the classified sections of newspapers for computer-related positions leaves one overwhelmed at the opportunity. Scanning for jobs in the entertainment industry leaves one overwhelmed at the lack of opportunity.
But ironically, the entertainment industry is a thriving industry. Each Hollywood film is a small company made up of hundreds of employees. Each commercially released CD requires ambitious effort on the part of agents, managers, engineers, musicians and the entire staffs of record and publishing companies. Without radio DJs and radio station staffs, the drive to work in the morning would not only be boring, but leave millions of people stranded without access to news, weather, sports and music.
Commercially released CDs cost thousands to make, with films costing millions. Many investors, bankers, accountants and lawyers make their livings through the entertainment industry. There are dozens of entertainment industry-related inventions that have changed the way the world does business — and the way people live day to day. Entertainment law is not just a negotiated contract and a split of the economic pie. Intellectual property rights are a big enough issue to warrant one of the biggest databases in existence: the copyright office.
Many of the richest and most well-respected people in the world are entertainers of one sort or another. These individuals are not only celebrated for their talents but also for what they do off-screen and off-disk. Accumulative investments made by entertainers and business players alike provide start-up capital for numerous entertainment and non-entertainment businesses, build hospital wings and support hundreds of charities. From Paul Newman’s camp for kids with terminal illnesses to some of the biggest charitable events ever staged by human kind — Live Aid, Farm Aid, Band Aid — the benefits of the entertainment industry reach all corners of the human condition.
The entertainment industry in Minnesota has significant potential but is poorly supported by the academic, legislative and corporate communities.

Jerry Flattum is the Daily’s opinions editor. Send comments to [email protected]