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TECH CAREERS / JENNIFER PENDLETON

2 Sets of Skills Coalesce in His 'Mind'

December 30, 1996|JENNIFER PENDLETON | Jennifer Pendleton is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles

In "Madeleine's Mind," audiences can catch the continuing adventures of a young woman with unusual psychic powers bestowed upon her by her murdered father, a brilliant scientist cut down as he was about to announce a major scientific discovery. There are enough cliffhanger plot twists, its backers contend, to compel the audience to seek out repeated viewings. No, it's not on Fox's or NBC's Saturday night schedule, but, for the last eight months, one of the more talked-about original entertainment series on the Internet

"Madeleine" is the brainchild of Thomas Lakeman, a 32-year-old writer and producer who toils on the front lines of popular culture at Culver City-based Digital Planet. Having written two chapters of the dark saga, Lakeman now supervises the 10 or so writers and producers who have taken over the episodic series that's allowed audiences to participate in the direction of the story line. He also supervises 27 other creative personnel at the 40-person shop.

Lakeman, who as an undergraduate had contemplated becoming an Episcopal priest like his father, went on to study theater at Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University. After moving to Hollywood in 1991, he took a temporary job answering phones in the publicity department of Universal Pictures. He soon advanced to become an assistant, then staff writer. Lakeman and Josh Greer, now his partner, made their mark in publicity by creating what was then at the forefront of movie marketing: interactive press kits.

Within two years, Greer formed Digital Planet, a company specializing in building Web sites for movies, often involving elaborate interactive adventures. In 1995, Lakeman defected to Digital Planet to take on responsibility for creative development there.

In May, Digital Planet came out with "Madeleine," which currently brings 3,000 to 5,000 users a day to http://www.madmind.com, according to Lakeman. The first chapter set Digital Planet back a hefty $250,000 in production costs. But "Madeleine's" second chapter, online since Sept. 23, attracted two sponsors, Intel Corp. and Universal Pictures, whose backing allowed the series to break even, Lakeman says. The company may also become a producer of original Web pilots for others.

Lakeman says people who aspire to create and produce original entertainment on the Web need to hone their creative writing skills, but at the same time grasp the nuances of the technology.

Financial rewards? As a partner, manager and creative writer, Lakeman is well compensated. But starting out in a creative position in this field, one will probably earn $30,000 to $50,000 annually.

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