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Film industry is at home in Allston

Eran Lobel houses his two video companies in an Allston building that is a center for Boston's film business. Eran Lobel houses his two video companies in an Allston building that is a center for Boston's film business. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
Email|Print| Text size + By Leslie Brokaw
November 25, 2007

When Allston held its Open Studios a few weeks ago, the public had a chance to wander through the warren of artist spaces in a pair of red brick buildings on Braintree Street, right alongside the Mass. Pike at the Everett Street Bridge.

Also in the buildings are office suites that most people don't get to visit. Inside are companies that employ dozens of people in the film industry, making the spot one of the epicenters of the Boston movie business.

Boston Casting, a top talent agency, is here, as is Image Makers, a modeling agency. The Boston Comedy and Movie Festival, which was held last month, has offices here, as do 42°N Films, a documentary and post-production company, and EditShare, a company that offers media sharing and storage for multi-user editing. Previous tenants included Scout Productions, best known for its "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" show, and now in Los Angeles, and the now-defunct Boston Film/Video Foundation.

Eran Lobel founded two of the companies. Element Productions makes commercials, Web content, and documentaries; it won a New England Emmy Award in May for its "My Boston, My Globe" TV spots, and produced the recent documentaries "Not a Photograph," about the band Mission of Burma, and "Rumbo A Las Grandes Ligas," about baseball in the Dominican Republic. His new company, Boston.TV, is a website that officially launched in the spring.

Boston.TV is a kind of professionally produced version of YouTube for the local market. All the videos on the site are made by the company's staff of 15 and a huge team of freelancers. Videos are divided into channels such as Food, Lifestyle, and Sports, and include a daily one-minute "Boston.TV Beat," super-short clips about Boston chefs (like Ken Oringer, who says his last meal on death row would be a hot dog), a weekly rundown of high school sports (episode #10: the Weymouth boys and girls soccer teams), and Red Sox fans doing their versions of pitcher Jonathan Papelbon's dance.

"For eight years I've been incubating online ideas," says Lobel, 40. "I bought names like Boston.TV with the hope that they would be good distribution vehicles." In mid-September Lobel moved the nascent company out of Element's offices and into the space formerly occupied by Scout Productions. The companies are all good friends, with Element working with Scout on this past summer's dating game show "Sox Appeal."

Boston.TV grew from 50,000 views in January during beta testing to 1 million views in November, according to Lobel. His focus now is on "developing video content that is sponsorable and compelling," as he puts it, and finding partner websites that want to syndicate the material.

"The analogy is that we're like a microbrewery and the established outlets are like the bars - we make a unique, consumable asset," he says. He's looking at rolling out similar sites in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta - culturally rich cities with good sports and music scenes.

Lobel was born in Jerusalem (his first name is pronounced "eh-RON") and grew up in Brookline. He went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and then Boston University for a business degree. He lives in Needham with his wife, Lisa Lobel, who is a partner at Boston Casting, and their three children.

Boston.TV's newest experiment is trying out user-generated content. Lobel seems a little skeptical, though, about whether that will work or not. The spots produced by his company guarantee one big thing that user-generated content doesn't: copyright-clear content.

"A lot of the stuff on YouTube is illegal," says Lobel, who maintains a library of 75,000 music tracks that the company owns the rights to. "I see the pain that artists go through to create their art, so I pay people to do that."

CONVERSATIONS WITH: Robert P. Weller, a Boston University professor and chairman of the school's anthropology department, will talk about the outsider's experience after a screening of the sci-fi film "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which stars David Bowie, tomorrow at 7 p.m. The event takes place at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and is part of the ongoing "Science on Screen" series, co-presented by the Museum of Science and New Scientist magazine. It's the Criterion Collection's newly restored and uncut version of the film that will be shown, which the Coolidge says features "nearly 20 minutes of crucial scenes and details" (617-734-2500 and cool idge.org).

On Wednesday, local improv comedienne Marty Johnson will show her television pilot "Strange Faculty" and other comedy shorts at the monthly "Chicks Make Flicks" discussion series held by Women in Film and Video/New England. Johnson was one of the writers on the 2006 theater piece "P.S. Page Me Later," which was drawn from materials in Found magazine and presented by the Alarm Clock Theatre Company. That show won the 2006 Elliot Norton Award for outstanding production by a local fringe company. This week's event takes place at 77 Massachusetts Ave., Room 6-120, on the MIT campus, but space is limited so sign up by e-mailing rosalie@womeninfilm video.org or calling 781-788-6607. More about WIFVNE is online at wifvne.org, and clips from "Strange Faculty" are online at psychic-improv.com.

SCREENINGS OF NOTE: The Regent Theatre in Arlington hosts a return engagement of "Sing-A-Long Mary Poppins" - featuring an MC, bag of props, and onscreen lyrics - today at 2 p.m. (781-646-4849 and regenttheatre.com) . . . Also today, the Harvard Film Archive presents silent films from the 1920s starring Louise Brooks and featuring live piano accompaniment by Martin Marks. At 7 p.m. it's "A Girl in Every Port," and at 8:30 p.m. "The Canary Murder Case." Caroline Yaeger, assistant curator of George Eastman House, will introduce the program (617-495-4700 and hcl.har vard.edu/hfa).

"Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind," a film by Emerson College assistant professor John Gianvito, is at the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday at 8:15 p.m., Friday at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Writing on the Toronto International Film Festival blog in August, Gianvito said the film focuses "on traces of progressive US history."

"My approach to this topic is a rather unorthodox one," he continued, "as my film is an accumulation of three years of wandering, on and off, across the United States, mostly frequenting out-of-the-way cemeteries and small-town roads in search of evidence of this past. Ironically, given how much time I spent in front of gravesites, it proved an avenue for bringing this history to life for me" (617-267-9300 and mfa.org/film).

Leslie Brokaw can be reached at lbrokaw@globe.com.

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