IT students create database to help cinema casting directors

Written By Robert Berger, Co-News Editor

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This week, the Information Technology (IT) department launched a database app designed at helping cinema students in casting roles for student productions.

“We do a lot of courses where the output is a project,” Director of IT and Assistant Professor Mark Voortman Ph.D said. It can be games or it can be something useful like the actor database.”

Created by five students in Voortman’s first semester web applications & development class, “The Actor Database” officially went live last weekend. The five students involved were seniors Lassana Konate, Foussini Konate, Matthew Alexander, Alex Schaffer and junior Tanner Campbell.

The database is free for students to sign up, but first asks for users to fill out extensive information such as eye color, height, weight, skills and possible tattoos and piercings. Users also have the option to upload photos of themselves.

“Actors can create their own accounts and add photos and more information,” Voortman said. “Funny enough, they even want to know what kind of car you drive because sometimes you need a car when you film movies.”

Once profiles are created, filmmakers have the ability to search by name or by any given piece of information upon signing up.

“I know a lot of people, especially my fellow majors who struggle to find actors at times,” junior cinema production major Luke Haid said. “It will be great for us to be able to communicate this way because we are all going through the same thing and working on the same projects.

According to Voortman, the app is customizable for each administrator. Along with the cinema department, Pittsburgh talent company “Tide Cast” will use the application.

“They will pay in installments to make sure we keep updating and monitoring it. Voortman said. “The money will be donated to the Information Technology Student Organization to make sure they keep having events.”

According to Voortman, talks of development began last summer.

“Marty [Schiff] called the business department and asked if there was an IT person. Eventually, he called me and we met for coffee in the early summer of last year,” Voortman said.

It was the beginning of the semester when Voortman told his class of Schiff’s idea and students began development a few weeks after. Eventually, a beta version was live and being tested by the class.

Currently a visiting assistant professor, Schiff graduated Point Park in 1978 after studying theatre arts. After acting, writing and producing various films during his career, he returned to Point Park last semester to teach aspiring filmmakers.

Also providing input throughout the project was actress Jennifer Nash of Tide Cast.  Nash, who has played roles in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Home Improvement” is beginning to work behind the camera in casting departments – most recently as an extra casting director for Netflix’s “Mind Hunter.”

Students who worked on development did so individually through the software development platform “GitHub.” Once each student completed their contribution Voortman  merged their work through GitHub to create the finalized product.

“When you do software development, there are alot of tools to collaborate with.” Voortman said. “There is even an issue tracker [in GitHub,] so if there is a problem we discuss it and create an ‘issue’ and someone will work on it. You can even assign people to fix the issues.”

It was the beginning of the semester when Voortman told his class of Schiff’s idea and students began development a few weeks after. Eventually, a beta version went live and began being tested by the class.

Even though the semester-long class has since ended, Voortman and the students will continue to monitor the app to assure smooth performance for the users.

L. Konate worked at implementing the logic of the database.

“You get to be creative at Point Park and you can really create anything you want. They give you the opportunity to do so,” L. Konate said.

Students in the IT department are required to complete a senior project. Konate is currently working on his alongside senior IT major Matt Alexander. The duo are designing a Point Park personal assistant similar Apple’s Siri named “Angela.”

Some information “Angela” can provide include faculty office hours, campus events and directions to campus l0cations.

“There is a google library to translate voice to text, but then it is very difficult to attach an action to the words,” Voortman said. “It’s very hard to understand the context of everything.”

Another senior project to come from the IT department is the website for Point Park’s Pioneer Pantry. Through the website, students are able to place food orders online. The website is synchronized to the inventory on the shelves.

In total, the department has around 70 students enrolled in the classroom and online. Voortman took over the reigns in 2014 and has since revamped the curriculum to a coding heavy base.

“There is a strong focus on technical skill [in the IT program] because the world is changing and you can see it,” Voortman said. “There is more automation all driven by software and software development now so we try focus on those skills.”

This semester, Voortman and the department are once again working on a number of applications. “Vet Help,” for example, will aid active military members move when facing relocation at the easiest and cheapest way.

For the Physical Plant, an app is being developed to schedule shuttle bookings along with driver schedules.

“For the students it’s great. They build systems that are actually used for something so it is very rewarding,” Voortman said. “When they go to an interview, they can also show these projects and make a huge impression.”

The application can be found at

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