PROFILE: Sony's Levy stands where movies meet technology

As SVP of marketing and communications at Sony Pictures Digital, New York native Don Levy delivers both a genuine curiosity and infectious enthusiasm to Hollywood hi-tech.

As SVP of marketing and communications at Sony Pictures Digital, New York native Don Levy delivers both a genuine curiosity and infectious enthusiasm to Hollywood hi-tech.

Technology and Hollywood have not always had a happy relationship. While few people now doubt that the future of entertainment is increasingly tied to new technologies, only a few years ago the entertainment industry was still hesitant about embracing little-understood innovations such as digital filming. Not so for Don Levy, head of marketing and communications for Sony Pictures Digital (SPD), a growing division of the Japanese behemoth that houses all of the company's hi-tech entertainment efforts, including visual-effects unit Imageworks, Sony Pictures Animation, Sony Online Entertainment, and Sony Pictures Digital Networks. Unlike many of his LA contemporaries, Levy has long been an early adopter and ardent supporter of the latest that Silicon Valley has to offer. "His enthusiasm is genuine and infectious," says Yair Landau, president of SPD. "He embraces both entertainment and technology." Levy says this enthusiasm is just an outgrowth of a fundamental curiosity and a desire to share discoveries with the world. "It's about reaching people, regardless of the form," he explains. "But today, it's certainly digital entertainment, and the entire digital world is tremendously vibrant and exciting." A New York native, Levy credits his innate inquisitiveness to being raised "down the street from the UN" and in a family that spent its weekends absorbing the diversity and depth of the town. "New York is so vibrant. It's easy to take that for granted," he says. "But Saturdays were often spent going to the library or museum with mom or dad." Levy attended NYU and then the University of Denver to experience a more rural lifestyle before heading to LA to try his luck in the entertainment industry. Although he studied film and theater in school, he also developed an interest in market research. His first job on the West Coast was as a business analyst with Dun & Bradstreet. "It lasted until a PR firm called and said, 'We need an apprentice,'" he recalls. "I thought about it for about four minutes and took the opportunity." The firm was Maslansky Koenigsberg, Hollywood PR legend Mike Maslansky's agency, which would later become PMK. The job was unit publicist on the 1978 Jane Fonda/Jon Voight Vietnam drama, Coming Home, which went on to earn eight Oscar nominations, winning three. The experience was "tremendously exhilarating," says Levy. "I learned how to write, do interviews, and think as a journalist on that project," he adds. "I developed an appreciation for photography and imagery. Most importantly, I got to understand the passions of a creative mind and what it really takes to fulfill a vision." Levy continued to work with the agency after the film had wrapped, and began what would become a long career in freelance unit publicity. "I spent a couple of years freelancing," he says. "I'd go around the country, doing promotion work and field publicity. Nowadays we just do junkets, but when I was starting out you could actually go into the different markets and set up a publicity tour and promotional event and really work with the market." Levy, a father of two sons, eventually decided to take a full-time gig with Warner Brothers TV. After that, he worked with Associated Film Distribution, a film production company where he served as national promotions manager. The firm eventually closed its doors, sending Levy back out on his own, where he spent another seven years freelancing, often in unit publicity. "I loved it," he says. "I just found that if you're interested in the making of a movie, you're in a terrific position. You're paid to ask questions." Once again, however, a studio job lured him in-house, and he joined Paramount as executive director of production publicity. It was in this era that Levy first became seriously interested in technology, mainly through working with visual-effects artists who had done groundbreaking work on films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. "I became adept at understanding a lot of the complexities of visual effects and finding a way to communicate and explain complex subjects in terms that all can understand," he says. Unit publicity, however, wasn't out of his system just yet. "One day, a colleague called asking for recommendations for a publicist to go on location in Africa," he recalls. "I gave that person five names, but on a whim I told him to put my name on the list, too. He called me back in about five minutes and said, 'You've got the job.'" Levy headed off to Kenya to handle publicity duties for Kevin Bacon's The Air Up There. When he returned, he eventually joined Sony for an awards campaign and was later offered a full-time position. Levy says that although Sony's digital unit wasn't large when he began, he's had the chance to watch it grow while working on a number of satisfying projects. As technology has increased its presence in entertainment, SPD has become recognized as an industry leader. "The first Stuart Little was a tremendous accomplishment, as we went on to be nominated for Academy Awards, and it redefined what Imageworks was all about," he says, using the film as an example of the types of projects that are both a source of personal pride for him and a milestone for the company. Despite Levy's attraction to and success in the digital world, he says it's the connection to entertainment that keeps him most involved in his work. "I've always been fascinated by the entertainment industry's ability to touch people," he says. "I've found it to be one of the most exciting forms of communication that there is. To be involved in that is so rewarding."

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