Chuck Dages Receives Bob Lambert Award as ETC Celebrates 20 Years in Hollywood

ETC Technology Leadership Dinner Williams Dages - H 2013
Courtesy of ETC

ETC Technology Leadership Dinner Williams Dages - H 2013

A who’s who of Hollywood’s entertainment technology community gathered at USC’s Town & Gown Wednesday night for an evening filled with humor, heartfelt moments and plenty of talk about the digital future. Honored were two respected ETC leaders -- Chuck Dages, who recently retired from Warner Bros. as executive vp emerging technologies; and the late Bob Lambert, a pioneer of digital cinema and longtime Disney executive.

Hosted by the Entertainment Technology Center @ USC, the annual Studio Technology Leadership Dinner also served as a 20th anniversary celebration of the nonprofit, which started at USC in 1993 after alum George Lucas urged formation of a group that could navigate the revolution taking place in entertainment technology.

This year, ETC introduced its Bob Lambert Technology Leadership Award, which will recognize an individual whose contributions to the advancement of ETC inter-industry projects and industry needs at large has helped shape the future of entertainment technology. Lambert died in September at age 55.

The first recipient was Dages, who with Lambert was an active ETC leader. "It's indeed an honor to get an award named after a man who had such vision. I consider him one of the great leaders of technology — not only in the film industry.”

Speaking to the crowd of ETC participants, he said: “We have made major strides. Each one of you who has been participating has done extraordinary things to make ETC successful.”

Hollywood Remembers Technology Trailblazer Bob Lambert

Comparing digital distribution to “where the music industry was at its point in time when digital first came onto the scene,” Dages said, “we are doing much better."

“We have remained focused on creating great content that people want," he added, "and we are seeing a tremendous volume shift. The problem is we can’t get the same ASP. So the challenge becomes how do we get the cost of distribution down. The people in this room hold the keys to how our business will stay viable by finding ways to distribute content to consumers at a cost that makes it profitable for us in the industry. That is a huge opportunity, to remake an industry that is 120 years old and take it into the next century."

Dages added that another challenge that Hollywood faces is to “keep this as the center of entertainment -- its jobs, its viability, its prestige. We’d have a great legacy. The people who put the studios together thought about what the business was, and immediately each studio exported its product, creating jobs here in Hollywood. … By making this an efficient place [to work] and a place where the creative people have the tools that they want, it’s going to be a great industry to be a part of.

“I can’t even imagine what projects you are going to tackle [in the future],” he added, getting a big laugh when he recalled early efforts. “We didn’t know how to get broadband around the San Fernando Valley, so Boeing came up with the idea of flying an airplane constantly over the Valley and then selling [the service] to us. It was ridiculous, but [at the time] we all thought it would be kind of cool.”

He thanked many individuals, included past and present staffers and participants in ETC as well as colleagues at Warner Bros., including senior vp technology Wendy Alysworth; Darcy Antonellis, president and CTO of Warner Bros. Technical Operations; and Warner Bros.' CEO Kevin Tsujihara, who once ran the home entertainment division at the studio. Dages noted that Tsujihara offered support “when 13 years ago, I said, ‘I had to spend time at the ETC because we couldn't afford a director, and Bob Lambert is going to be there with me and we are going to keep it going.’ … He understood the importance of it. And he will be a great leader for Warner Bros.”

He also thanked former Warners CTO Chris Cookson, now president of Sony Pictures Technologies.

Past ETC executive director David Wertheimer — now president of Fox Digital — related that Dages and Lambert “had vision and personality. They were always behind me --and often out in front of me. Any successes when I was at ETC, I give them credit.

“We can never say enough amazing things about Bob Lambert, and there is not a person in the world that Bob Lambert would rather see honored that Chuck Dages.”

Wertheimer also got a big laugh from the crowd when he added that Dages also “taught me a valuable lesson -- always drive when you are going to CES [the Consumer Electronics Show, held annually in Las Vegas]. Because when you get sick of the show floor and are tired, you can just get in the car and come home.”

The tribute to Dages included a well-received tribute reel that began on the set of TMZ (Dages was responsible for developing its tapeless newsroom), with Harvey Levin having a TMZ-style conversation with his team after hearing the news that Dages was retiring, before introducing comments from Dages’ friends and colleagues.

During the evening, ETC executive director Ken Williams provided a short history of the ETC, which includes participants of all major Hollywood studios.

From 2000-07, the ETC ran a Digital Cinema Lab at the Hollywood Pacific Theatre, which was used as a neutral testing ground for digital cinema by Digital Cinema Initiatives (the studio consortium that wrote the technical blueprint for digital cinema that is now standardized throughout the world). At that time, the ETC ran under the leadership of the late Charles Swartz.

In more recent years, Wertheimer led efforts to look more closely at the consumer side of the business, establishing at USC an "Anytime Anywhere Content Lab" to test consumer devices as well as the "3D in the Home" research initiative.

In 2012, Williams was named executive director of ETC, which is now working on a “production in the cloud" research project as well as conducting a study of 4K.

In her remarks, Dean Elizabeth Daley called the ETC one of the “crown jewels” at the university.

The guest list of entertainment technology leaders included Aylsworth and Cookson; Hanno Basse, CTO of Fox Filmed Entertainment; Joseph Cates, CTO at Universal; Craig German, executive vp worldwide technical operations at Paramount; and Vince Roberts, executive vp global operations and CTO at Disney/ABC Television Group.

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