Company Town : And the Digital Hollywood Winner Is . . . Um, Hello? : New media: Awards ceremony honoring users of high tech gets off to a low-key but enthusiastic start.


There weren't any paparazzi or network television cameras on hand for the first Digital Hollywood Awards on Wednesday night, and that wasn't a big surprise. It takes a while to become the Oscars, after all--though that is the immodest goal of the awards, which honor innovative users of the new entertainment technology.

Even more unfortunate for the fledgling event was the absence of the winners. Peter Gabriel won two awards, but he wasn't around to receive them. Neither was music video director Brett Leonard, who was supposed to show up on Gabriel's behalf. An unnamed woman rushed onstage to accept the honors for the no-shows.

The awkward moment was typical of the ceremony and all too symbolic of the chaotic new-media world itself, a loose alliance of the music, film, TV, video and computer industries bound together by a single common thread: digital computer technology.

Many of the CD-ROM developers, special-effects artists, multimedia executives and Hollywood producers present expressed excitement and optimism that digital media is well enough defined to have its own awards show, which was tied to this week's fifth annual Digital Hollywood Expo & Conference at the Beverly Hilton. But others suggested privately that the show will eventually be elbowed out of existence by the bigger, more established technology conventions such as Comdex.

A large number of guests made it clear that they are still living in the analog era.

Host and actor Saul Rubinek opened his speech with, "Funny I'm here, because I'm technologically challenged," and actor Robert Culp grimaced as he read an assigned speech: "Writers, actors, directors and producers have all been affected by the digitalization of Hollywood. . . ." Culp then paused and said, "What the hell does that mean?"

The roars of laughter proved that the actors weren't the only people in the room who felt about as much kinship with the notion of a "digital Hollywood" as they did with, say, the Yellow Brick Road. Not only are digital technologies difficult to understand and invisible to their viewers, but the computer industry's rapid progress and continuing redefinition of itself bewilder even those who "get" the digital thing.

Accepting an award for "The Simpsons" for Best Television Digital Kid Stuff, co-executive producer David Mirkin joked, "Uh, we won the analog award previously." "Star Trek Generations" director David Carson, wryly comparing the unexplored territory of new media to the outer-space setting of the "Star Trek" TV series, quipped, "The digital world finds itself going boldly where no one has gone before."


While the 600 guests picked at their plates of ice cream cake, awards went to Wired magazine for Best Look of the Year and Best Digital Magazine; to "The Mask" for SuperRealities, Animation & Special Effects; to Jim Carrey for Best Acting Performance, in "The Mask" (other contenders included Beavis & Butt-head and Ren & Stimpy), and to Steven Hawkings' "A Brief History of Time" for Best CD-ROM Literature.

Top-selling computer game "Myst" won both Best Video & Computer Game and CD-ROM Video Game & Title of the Year, and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was named Best in Digital Television. Asked after the ceremony if anyone on the "Star Trek" set had ever thought of the show as digital before, producer Brannon Braga said with a laugh: "No. But now we do."

The top honors, Best of Digital Hollywood, went to "Forrest Gump." The movie's special effects, such as black-and-white footage of actor Tom Hanks with President Richard Nixon, showed off the potential of digital technologies and helped boost their viability among Hollywood executives.

By next year's show, which Digital Hollywood director Victor Harwood says is being planned again for Los Angeles, anything might be possible.

"The change is there. It's all in motion . . . " Harwood said. "The entertainment industry is an expanding universe. And digital Hollywood is the expanse."

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