Paul M. Allen is one of the most respected technologists in video workflow.He has also been in the content production side of the business with an Emmy win and two Grammy nominations, as well as several other prestigious awards for his work. A bit of his remarkable accomplishments along his journey to date follows.
In 1980 he designed, built, and ran his first studio and post production facility called Video Studios of America in Little Neck, New York. It was there that he edited some of the first music videos for MTV, Countdown to the Oscars for CBS, Big Apple Minute for Metromedia, and hundreds of other broadcast and industrial projects. In 1982, he consulted for NASA in their Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in the design of their video monitoring system for Astronaut training. In 1984 he produced and directed his first national television project which was a highly successful series for USA Networks and Trump Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. called Beat the Pro's.
In 1985 Paul co-produced the music video and documentary called Sun City-Artists United Against Apartheid with 54 of the world's biggest names in music. He was part of the team that won 2 Grammy nominations, 4 MTV awards and a United Nations Humanitarian award for their work in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.
In 1986 he started his own production company called ThunderVision Media Ltd. at Kaufman Astoria Studios with partner Paul Goldberg where he produced hundreds of international projects for broadcast, feature films, industrial and corporate clients. In 1987 he launched a national television show called MuscleSport USA (which evertually aired on Fox Sports Network and had a twenty year run). In 1992 he formed a new company called WorldMedia Group, Ltd. which became a think tank for Viacom to assist in designing television shows for all of the Viacom Networks in order to groom talent within the organization. At the same time, he began working for NBC Sports in their technical videotape operations.
In 1993, he designed and built studios for the NYC Board of Education where he became the only licensed Television teacher for the board and taught hundreds of high school students and dozens of licensed teachers within the system.
In 1995 he moved to Los Angeles but continued to consult for several east coast companies including Digital Equipment Corporation, Wyle Electronics and The Miracle Factory. In 1996 Paul returned to NBC Sports in New York to work on the NBC Summer Olympics where he won an Emmy award as part of the Technical Team Studio group.
In 1997, after a couple of years of continuous travel, he finally settled into a full time position as the Operations Manager of The Post Group in Hollywood with over 200 employees where he oversaw 7 linear on-line edit bays, 8 Avid bays, 7 Telecine/Color Timing bays, 5 audio mix/record bays and an entire graphics building with top shelf gear from Discreet Logic/Autodesk, Quantel, Kodak, and Apple.
In 2001 he joined the Miracle Factory as VP Prodution on the Lindbergh Operation Project which was the first Trans-Atlantic, Tele-Robotic Surgery where a doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York performed a cholecystectomy on a 68 year old women in France by controlling a robotic laparoscope over fiber - almost 6,000 miles away! The surgery was performed on Sept. 7, 2001 and on Sept. 11, 2001 the company literally disintegrated since all of their equipment and investment was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
After 9/11 Paul began consulting for several companies including Sun Microsystems, Advance Micro Devices and Avid Technology. In 2004 he joined a start-up called NGTV in Beverly Hills, CA, whose chairman was Kiss rock legend Gene Simmons. As Vice President of Network Operations and Engineering, he designed and built a 24,000 sq. ft. production center that included a studio, multiple Avid editing bays, 2 Pro Tools audio bays and 26 graphic workstations. The system that Paul designed has been credited with changing the way work flow is performed throughout the world as he attached the first robotic archive (Sun/Storagetek SL-8500 with over a petabyte of LTO storage) to a non linear editing system. Once connected to their internal network, as well as the Internet, the system allowed producers and editors to work using proxy (low resolution) video from anywhere. Once the project was re-mounted on the Avid Unity system, the archive was able to restore the full resolution video back to spinning Unity discs at speeds up to four times faster than real time. NGTV was also one of the first to employ the IBM Blade Center as a render farm, Isilon Storage, SGL software and several other IT solutions to be used in the Media and Entertainment industry.
In 2008 NGTV lost their funding and were no longer able to pay their employees so Paul continued to consult for AMD, Sun and several other companies while pursuing his own projects. In 2010 he became the CTO for a start-up called LaughMD and installed 2 television channels at the new Kaiser Permanente hospital in Hollywood as a Beta test. The LaughMD program was successful and it has since become part of Cedar Sinai Medical Center's entertainment. LaughMD has become a Cisco technology partner.
Editor’s Note: Paul is known for his integrity, knowledge, and great sense of humor. You can't go to NAB, Cinegear, Digital Hollywood or any major industry tradeshow that doesn't have dozens of people stop and greet Paul warmly. For full disclosure, he is working on a number of projects, including one of which I am partnered with him. The following interview will give you more insight into this remarkable industry icon.
OCS: You were born and raised in New York in the 1960s. Tell us a little about where in the city you grew up and schooling, including college.
Paul: Actually, I was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn but my parents moved to Bayside, Queens when I was 2 months old. The community I grew up in is called Bell Park Gardens which was a Veteran’s Co-op with primarily middle class families and a terrific school system to support it. I would not change that experience for anything. It’s funny, when I talk to people who grew up in Bayside, we always joke about something special being in the water. Some of the people who came from this jewel of a community include Richard Dreyfuss, George Tenet (former CIA Director), Mike “Spider” Jorgenson (NY Mets and Toronto Blue Jays), Estelle Getty (Golden Girls), two-time Pulitzer finalist Ron Brownstein (LA Times Political Writer), and Craig Wolf (NY Times Sport Writer).
OCS: Was there an aha! moment when you knew you were attracted to the entertainment industry and the technology that is used to create and transmit it?
Paul: Yes. I grew up watching my father succeed as an executive for Paramount, Colombia, and Universal in Theatrical Film Distribution. I used to attend premiers, special events, and even played baseball for the United Artists Theaters team with my brother and father on weekends. I was also fortunate to be able to use his theater passes to see any and all of the movies I wanted for free which was pretty cool as a teenager, especially for my friends who also benefited. I learned many facets of distribution during my childhood by sitting on the living room floor with my father and tracking theaters, billing and revenues of feature films using the old “green and white” computer printouts that must have weighed 30lbs. each.
While all this was interesting and cool to me, my Aha moment really came on a pre-registration tour at Queens College when I wandered into King Hall where the Television Studio had their door open and I saw these old Norelco television cameras with the big turret lenses on big studio dollies. One of the students noticed me peeking in and invited me to take a real tour of the studio, control room and “film chain” and he introduced me to the staff and instructor. The next day, I was volunteering at the studio and registered for the portable video class. I was “bit by the video bug” and within 6 months, I was running the studio’s internship, work study, scheduling, and was provided my own office within the facility. The position I was in afforded me the ability to work directly with the chief engineer and learn enough about bench repairs, production, and post production equipment installation and operation to establish myself as a ‘go to guy’ for all video production on campus.
OCS: What project has given you the most difficult challenge and how did you overcome it?
Paul: I think one of my biggest challenges came right after I graduated Queens College. I was hired by the instructor of portable television production at the college to build a facility to accommodate Public Access productions for the anticipated arrival of cable television in Queens, NY. Because he was still working as a teacher, it was confidential that he was involved in the start-up called Video Studios of America (VSA) so I was the ‘front’ for the entire operation. The plan was for me to be finished building the facility just as the Cable Television licensed allocation would be finalized and we would be the ‘hands on’ production center for most (if not all) public access production in the borough of Queens. The plan would have worked had the Queens Borough President, Donald Mannis not committed suicide after getting caught taking bribes for the licenses. His mess caused a delay of cable coming to Queens for more than 2 years. I needed to scramble to find work to produce at VSA just to pay the bills.
The “low hanging fruit” turned out to be video equipment rentals since there were no other places within miles of us that could provide quality gear and instruction on how to use it. Also, since video was so new when we opened in 1980, there were very few people shooting on video instead of film for all types of social events including weddings, bar/bat mitzvah’s, communions as well as all types of corporate gatherings and parties. With a steady stream of income from the above, I was able to focus on more “professional” situations and developed hundreds of corporate and broadcast clients from a myriad of genres. By the time cable finally came to the borough, we were already established and ready for anything.
OCS: I know you were a teacher at one point, but also understand you were a police officer for a time as well? Tell us about that.
Paul: While I was still in High School, I worked for Alexander’s Department Store in Rego Park, NY. I worked as a salesperson in the toy dept., a cook in the employee’s cafeteria, as a uniformed guard and eventually as a store detective in the security dept. While in the security office, I met the head of corporate security on one of his visits. He was looking for a surveillance solution at one of the other stores to catch employee thefts and the manager of my store told him that I was a “video guy” and could help. As it turned out, my cousin, who was the former NYPD Deputy Chief of Detectives worked with and for Al Seedman who was the author of “Chief” and the inspiration of the television show “Eisheid” that aired from 1979-1983. Once I turned 21, Seedman got me into the NYPD with the expectation that I would be the officer of record on all arrests generated through the store. Because I was a pretty physical guy (I trained from the age of 7 to become an Olympic Fencer and martial artist), I was able to handle myself pretty well and was assigned to other duties within the PD and outside of Alexander’s that could take advantage of my youthful looks and ability to defend myself. I have to say that was the most exciting and scary 2 years of my life. I left the Dept. shortly after graduating Queens College.
OCS: What project has given you the most personal satisfaction?
Paul: Wow, that’s a tough question. After more than 35 years in this business and so many projects big and small, I think I’d have to say that teaching at one of the toughest high schools in New York City (Franklin K. Lane) and helping kids realize that they could have a future in production and all of the disciplines of the entertainment industry. After moving to Los Angeles in 1995, I called the Chairwoman of the English Dept. at Lane to say hello and she told me that as a result of my influence on the students, the percentage of students who decided to continue on to college was up by at least 30% and they all chose Communications as their desired major. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than knowing you have had a positive influence on young people starting out in life. Of course, winning an Emmy is really good too!
OCS: Over the years, what would you say is the most significant development, game changer if you will, that you have seen?
Paul: I remember during the early to mid 1990’s industry people started talking about being able to shoot, edit and distribute video using a binary or digital signal. The only digital video most of us knew was in equipment designed for special effects and video manipulation from companies like Ampex (ADO), Bosch, and Abacus’ Digital Disc Recorders (DDR’s), as well as, Time Base Correctors for inserting the processed signals back into the analog masters. It was still all videotape based and until Sony came out with the D1 machine in 1986 which was primarily used by large networks, it was still all analog.
When I first started working at The Post Group, Hollywood, I was at NAB and asked to attend a company meeting at the owner, Fred Rheinstein’s, hotel room. I was told to be there at 8:00AM but when I got there, no other employees were there. As it turned out, Fred wanted to talk alone with me since I had experience as a consultant to Digital Equipment Corp. and he was aware of the work we were already doing there and he told the rest of the people to show up at 9:00AM. The first thing he asked me was “where do you see this industry going in the next 5 years. My answer was simple . . . invest in computer equipment and processing!
Fred understood what I was saying and went to the NAB Expo that day and put a deposit down on the very first Digital Telecine called the Spirit Datacine from DFT Digital Film Technology and Precision Mechatronics GmbH which became part of Thompson/Grass Valley. What was really cool about this machine is that it is a film scanner whose output could be standard definition analog, standard or high definition digital or output data including the DPX codec as used today in cameras like Red Digital Cinema. He also invested in other computer based technology including Space Technology’s Pluto High Definition DDR, Avid Technology’s editing and storage solutions, and Digital Vision’s color corrections systems.
OCS: Over the next decade, in your opinion, what are the most significant and interesting technologies you think will emerge that will affect our everyday life?
Paul: I think that the tablet computers such as iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Cisco Cius, etc. are going to make a huge impact on how we connect to each other much as the cell phone has done. These devices tied to Cloud systems will allow us to do business, commerce, acquire information, and entertain ourselves from anywhere. Tablets will also have a huge impact in the medical industry in diagnostics and treatment of patients. They will become an invaluable tool for first responders in communicating with emergency room staff and doctors.
OCS: Have you ever met the other Paul Allen?
Paul: If you are referring to Paul G. Allen who was the co-founder of Microsoft, no. However, we have spoken a couple of times in the early 1990’s as I was trying to create a project for something that eventually became known as The Internet. It was called “The Interactive Café” and I needed to raise $5 Million to be able to build out a 30,000 sq. ft. facility in NYC on 57th Street across from Planet Hollywood. The only people who understood what I was talking about were from a Japanese company who could only afford to put in $1 Million. The project was just too far ahead of its time and I could not raise the balance needed. To this day there is nothing with the same concept. Want to invest?
OCS: What can you tell us about one of your projects, CAIT?
Paul: I think it might be a little too early to talk about it unless someone who wants to invest in a great technology project is serious and wants to learn more about it. I can only say this…It will change the way we all think about marketing!