By SARA FISHER
High-speed data lines that can transmit video instantly from one location to another might be the wave of the future. But for now, Hollywood is making do with the “sneakernet.”
Better known as messenger services, sneakernet companies are courier services that pick up and deliver packages. For the entertainment industry which moves film, tapes and scripts around town at a dizzying rate human hand-offs remain more popular than sending the same items electronically.
More popular for now, that is.
As technology becomes more advanced and less expensive, Hollywood-related businesses are expressing interest in using digital networks such as ISDN lines or video transfer systems like Pacific Bell’s gateway product (see story above). But cost and availability of those services remain a problem.
“Right now we only use messengers to move our tapes, but we are looking forward to when the technology is available,” said Russell Paris, vice president of post production at Columbia-TriStar Motion Picture Group. “The technology may already be available to some extent, but so far it’s not ready for prime time.”
Meanwhile, messenger-service companies that specialize in the entertainment industry are not concerned. Business hasn’t declined despite the new technologies.
“I remember when the fax machine was supposed to put me out of business 15 years ago and I survived just fine,” said Steve Miley, executive vice president of Go Between Inc., a messenger company in Los Angeles that works almost exclusively for the entertainment industry. “I’ll do the same with this new technology. It’s just another option.”
Added Kelly Campbell, general manger of United Express Messengers Inc. in Century City, “I think the entertainment industry will always use couriers in certain cases. Sometimes tapes need to be sent out from out-of-the-way locations when they’re filming. They’re not going to be close to that kind of data network and will still call us in.”
The stumbling block that keeps the industry using messengers is simple economics.
“Sending video over a network may be quick, but it is very expensive,” said Brock Maylath, vice president of marketing at Consolidated Film Industries, a post-production company in Hollywood. “We may send over a couple scenes, but not an entire show. Also, high-resolution tape or film represents too much data to ship effectively over the available data pipelines.”
Even the big studios are aware of the cost.
“It’s absolutely not technophobia that keeps us from using digital networks,” confirmed Paris of Columbia-TriStar. “It’s the cost and the capacity of the available systems.”
Sound mixers who are the last stop in post production for television and feature films tend to favor technology over the sneakernet.
Marti D. Humphrey is a re-recording mixer at Burbank-based Four Media Co. who has won two Emmys for his work on the show “Mad About You.” He sends his work via an ISDN line to the show’s producers’ offices in Culver City, which allows them to listen in as he mixes.
“The ISDN is really a convenience,” Humphrey said. “With this system, we’re saving the producers about an hour and a half of driving a day. Before, they had to physically come down to the studio.”
Some sneakernet companies are evolving along with the available technology. Go Between has co-created a service called “The Link,” which electronically transmits actors’ mug shots and resumes to talent and casting agents. Go Between formerly delivered this material by hand.
“We’ve offered The Link for the last year and a half and expect to electronically send video clips (of actors) by January 1999,” Miley said. “But even with this service, our clients still want us to deliver a hard copy of the information to them as well.”