Sunday, May 15, 2011

Showbiz Expo 2011

Last Saturday was Showbiz Expo... which is not the same things as Screenwriting Expo (which still hasn’t paid me from last year’s classes)... *Showbiz* Expo was the original.

It began sometime in the late 80's or early 90s as a trade show for entertainment computer equipment, and quickly grew to a huge annual event that took over most of the Los Angeles Convention Center with every single element of the entertainment industry - from the latest in cameras and lighting and lenses and camera cranes and cast trailers and catering and everything else you would ever need to make a movie. I began going when I first came to Los Angeles in the early 90s, because it was *free*. It was two days, and there was so much stuff that you couldn’t see it all in a single day. Every single camera company was there.... every light company... and what was really fun were all of the peripheral companies you’d never think of.

You’ve seen movies like TERMINATOR 2 where a whole city gets nuked? Well, in those pre-CGI days those were models, and there was always a company who specialized in building model cities for movies... plus, if there’s one company that does it, there’s at least one other company that does the same thing and competes with them (usually two). So there’d be three companies that make model cities. And two companies that make radio controlled model planes for film - really detailed models that look like the real thing on camera. And a dozen guys who do storyboards. And five companies that make custom swords and weapons. And four people who train animals. And... well, think of every single thing you need to make a film, and all of those people were there! If you were interested in the biz, it was like Disneyland. Plus, there were always a bunch of catering companies with food samples - like a free lunch!

The parking lot of the Convention Center was filled with all of the big equipment - at least a couple of helicopters with camera mounts, plus trucks and generators and big camera cranes and all kinds of other stuff. It was fantastic.

But by the beginning of the 2000s, the show began shrinking - people could see demonstrations of the latest equipment online... and by 2003 it was gone. Then, in 2009, a new company bought the name and trademark and brought it back to Los Angeles... On the same exact weekend as Screenwriting Expo! Talk about confusion! It was a much much much smaller event, barely filling a small hall at the Convention Center, and focusing on *actors* - so it was a bunch of acting classes and no equipment. Only one day... but you can do the whole event in an hour and still have time left over. This is the third time for the show, and not that much has changed from 2009...


Just like in the old days, registration is free until the event. But unlike the old days, you now register online by filling out this seemingly never-ending form. The big problem is, you think it’ll just take a minute... but then it ends up being pages and pages and pages! You see, they also had a zillion add ons that cost money, and that free online registration is really a hard sell for the paid add ons. They have classes and webinars and an after party and networking tables (you pay to sit at a table with other people who paid to sit at that table), and focus groups (I don’t know what that’s all about) and a place an actor can leave a stack of headshots and a place a film maker canm shoiw their movie and maybe you want to put your flyer in the gimme-bag and maybe you want to sign up for a booth next year and maybe you want to run an advert in the program or...? Anyway, you have to check or uncheck a million boxes on a dozen pages as part of registration - and they have these great annoying pop up boxes that ask “Are you SURE you don’t want to take a webinar on Hand Gestures For Actors?” So, after going through all of this crap, instead of sending you a badge that you can put in their plastic holder when you show up (like the old show used to do, and other shows do), they just send you a page with a bar code so that you can complete registration at the event...

Complete registration.

What this means is - you show up, stand in a huge line, when you get to the front of the line they send you to one of a dozen or so laptops... when you enter your e-mail address and then have to go through all of those pages where you check and uncheck boxes for all of the add ons and then deal with the pop ups “Are you SURE you don’t want to take a webinar on Defining Your Character’s Walk For Actors?” (Click Yes or No.) About twenty minutes to half an hour of this stuff, in the event that you changed your mind from the day you registered until today. Um, not likely. I think part of the deal is they hope you miss something and they automatically charge you for the after party or that webinar on Eyebrow Movement For Actors. And you can’t skip ahead - you must go through every single check box and pop up in order to get to the page where you print your badge.

When I got to the front of the line, and they sent me to the computer... the wifif system crashed and we had to wait for at least a half an hour to do a half hour of checking and unchecking boxes... as the line grew longer and longer!

After clicking Print Badge I went to the printer station where a guy gave me the paper badge and a plastic badge holder... and I had to put the badge in the holder myself. Except the badge was about an eight of an inch too big! I had to fold part of it to get the thing to fit! This is the kind of silly stuff that makes you angry.


Still a small hall, but at least this year there were a few pieces of equipment in display - a jib-arm company, a company that sells remote-control camera helicopters, a rental company that specializes in Red cameras, and a hybrid honeywagon company. Nothing like the old days of Expo, but maybe getting there. The rest of the stuff was mostly aimed at actors like last year, but I wandered around even though I don’t think I may turn thespian any time soon. Last year they had a whole aisle of TV/DVD combos playing people’s backyard movies in search of distribution. You could put on a headset and watch for 90 minutes. This seemed weird to me, because I don’t imagine any distribs showing up at this event and signing some film after standing there with a headset on for 90 minutes. This is one of those strange things I see people doing sometimes - even screenwriters - finding the post passive and least likely way for their work to be discovered. “Well, I have all of my scripts posted on my website, so producers can find them and buy them...” - what are the odds of a producer stumbling on your website in the first place? Wouldn’t the odds be better if you tried contacting producers with query letters? Well, same deal with that movie you made - there are distributors out there, why not send them a DVD and query? Or try to meet them at film festivals? Or some other *active* method of getting your film sold? Hoping someone is going to walk down an aisle and watch the movie is the long shot of all long shots... but Showbiz Expo makes money on these people. This year: No TV/DVD combos... instead those little portable DVD players laid out on a table. Not impressive at all. There were also some CD players on the table with music composer samples. Fewer than last year - maybe half a dozen movies instead of a whole aisle.

But there was still the whole aisle of headshots with little boxes for business cards. “Hey, I saw your headshot and want to hire you for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN 5! More passive methods to stardom. I did look at whatever credits these folks had (usually student films) to see if one of them might have been in one of my films. I remember going to an IFP screening once and the star of the indie movie was a guy who had a small role in CRASH DIVE... that was kind of cool. Because I show up on sets of my films for the free meal, I end up hanging out with the crew and the supporting actors - sometimes buying them drinks at the wrap party or the last day of shooting. So I knew this guy, and it was cool to see him play a lead in this little indie flick. But none of the headshots were actors who had ever been in anything I wrote. So, the next thing I did was look at hot actress headshots for a potential girlfriend. None of the damned headshots mentioned marital status... but they had mostly been in student films. I’m looking for a *rich and famous* hot actress, who can help *my* career.

After the headshots was a bulletin board where you could post crew and cast needs, and then the aisles of acting classes and head shot photogs and other mostly actor related stuff. Last year there were a bunch of start up “social networking for the film biz” places, and they were all back this year. Though the social networking thing may be a good idea, I wonder how many people are on some film specific place? Would you be able to interact with people higher up the food chain than you, like on FaceBook? Or would it mostly be other people at your level? Who signs up for these things?

Hey - there was a vegan catering company with free samples... a snack!

I walked past the Write Brothers booth - and the guys said hello. They make Movie Magic Screenwriter, which I’ve used forever, and for whatever reason they know who I am. I suspect they have flashcards of pro writers so that they can spot us in a crowd. They had a show sale for MMS, and I forgot to ask about it... I have a brand new laptop, still in the box, that I need to get all my stuff on eventually. The laptop I’m using now only holds an hour charge on the battery, and when I looked at replacement batteries they cost enough that it made more sense to just buy a new laptop... even though this one is only a couple of years old. A couple of years in Computer is a lifetime! So when laptops hit giveaway price a couple of months ago I bought a new one to cut my film on... and still haven’t set it up. Guess I missed my chance for the show price on Movie Magic...

The Writers Store was there, which was great. Smaller booth than usual and Jesse wasn’t there, but great that they had a presence. I bought that old version of Movie Magic Screenwriter, back when it was Script Thing, at the old Writers Store on Santa Monica - back when the idea of a specific program for writing screenplays was something new and exciting. Since then, I’ve shopped at Writers Store for screenwriting books and whatever else when they moved to Westwood... and bought a book a couple of months ago at their new Burbank location. It’s a great place!

On the very last aisle, facing the wall, I found the Scriptwriter’s Network Booth... and was recognized again. Now here’s the strange part - one of the members volunteering at the booth recognized me... from London! He took my class at the Raindance Film Festival once. Small world. Well, the Network is closing in on their 25th anniversary, and I’ve been a member for something like 20 years - since I first moved to Los Angeles. I talked to Joe about doing a class or something for the Network, and that’ll happen sometime in the future. The last time I did a class for them, afterwards some people wanted to buy Blue Books or CDs... and I didn’t bring any. I guess when people usually do classes for them they bring stuff to sell... I was just doing a class. This time, I guess I’ll bring stuff. We talked about how the organization is doing these days, etc. There was a demonstration stage in the center of the room - with no one doing any demonstrations - and I told Joe that next year if they did this I’d be happy to do a class or two on that stage to drum up some new members for the Network. I would probably be at the Expo anyway, and bored out of my skull after seeing everything in an hour... so why not?

Hey, and maybe some producer wandering through will hear me talk and want to buy a screenplay?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Emotion Pictures - What do you want the audience to feel?
Dinner: Panera - sandwich.
Pages: Two great scenes (4 pages). Still behind, but getting there!
Bicycle: Rode all over the place.

Movies: EXPORTING RAYMOND - Documentary (sort of) about producer Phil Rosenthal (EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) having one hissy-fit after another as Russian TV makes their own version of RAYMOND. The guy can not just sit back and watch, and can not let go - he must be the boss even though the show is in Russia. He wants to keep the show 100% the way it was in the USA, even though this is a different culture and many things just don't work. Though there are some actual problems with the Russian version (the costume designer and her dogs in cute outfits, and the actor the network wants to star) much of this film is Rosenthal nit-picking everything. At one point his driver/bodyguard claims to have a several week hospital appointment, I suspect just to get away from him. What was interesting to me is the number of successful US sitcoms adapted for Russia - and when they show clips from them you realize they are all heavily concept based... and then there's RAYMOND which is just about a guy and his family. One of the Russian network guys says the key to THE NANNY's success is that it's a Cinderella story, and that fits the crazy costume woman's theory that Russians want to see upscale people in nice clothes. Other things in RAYMOND seemed to not translate at all - Raymond gives his parents a subscription to the "Fruit Of The Month Club", but in Russia no such thing exists. While watching the movie, I wondered how many of the other little things about life that made RAYMOND funny just don't exist in Russia... and whether Rosenthal's nit-picking about how a line is supposed to be delivered makes any sense to the Russians. The film seems to be cut to show that Rosenthal was right all along - the Russian director gets tired of his constant notes about every single line and begins ignoring him... then in a later scene agrees with something Rosenthal says and fixes it and the scene works better... but I'm not sure that makes Rosenthal always right. He may have been completely wrong with his other notes. And it isn't until Rosenthal flies back to the USA that the show actually gets retooled and becomes successful. So it's hard to know if he was right all along... or just a major irritation. A few laughs in the doc, but mostly I was cringing and wanted to just slap Rosenthal and tell him that he's the problem. I ran a tip a few days ago on how the reader/audience can see your attitude between the lines, and this doc showed us more about Rosenthal than he probably wanted us to know.

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