Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EXPO 2008 - Post Mortem (part 1)

And Post Mortem is probably the right phrase. Screenwriting Expo returned to the Convention Center this year, which is where it began a few years ago. Before there was the Screenwriting Expo, there was Showbiz Expo, which was always at the Convention Center. Showbiz was a show for everything from film making equipment like camera dollys to screenwriting and editing software. I used to go every year to represent Script Magazine, in the big room devoted to screenwriting products. As time went on, Showbiz faded - even though there were new products, people could find out about them on the web and didn’t need to fly to LA to check out the new camera dolly. And companies realized it cost less to put up a website and mail out brochures than do the big display once a year at Showbiz. Eventually, Showbiz just ended... and a year or so later, Screenwriting Expo seemed to take its place. The first year they expected 1,000 people and ended up with about 4,000 - and the event was both a success and a madhouse. I did a handful of classes and ran the Script Magazine table in the dealer’s room. About 3 years ago they moved to a couple of Airport Hotels, where it was crowded and crazy - last year I did 8 classes... which included 3 from the very first year.

So I decided to retire those classes. I have six new classes, four I’ve only done in London, two I’ve never done. The old classes are on CD, everyone has taken then in person, time to do something new. Usually I have to get the classes to them right away, because they have that catalogue to put out - and it goes to the printer early. I finish teaching the classes at Expo and already have to plan next year... Except this year, nothing. A couple months later, nothing. A couple of months ago I get an e-mail telling me that I will be teaching my 3 most popular classes this year, and if I want to do additional classes, I can e-mail them a synopsis of each. I have to search for those class synopsis from almost a year ago, e-mail them in... and wait to hear. And wait, And wait. And when it’s almost time to teach those classes, I find out I will be teaching only those 3 original classes. Good news is - all on the same day. Better news is - all in the same room. Bad news is - all in Thursday. Thursday is the dead day, the weekend is when the most people come. The worse news - My first class begins at 2pm, my last class ends at 7:30pm. Great that I can sleep late, but how many people will be taking that last class? So I’ll be teaching old classes to empty rooms. How many people haven’t already taken the classes? How many of those people will show up on a Thursday?

For me, an additional problem is American Film Market ends Wednesday, and Expo starts Thursday... with me teaching 3 classes. Oh, and I’m writing a script... and I’m way behind due to all of the other things happening - Presidential elections and meetings and movie screenings. So many things going on - and I figured I’ve already done these classes so many times, I’ll flip through the materials on the subway train...

Oh, that can go in the good news column. When they held the Expo at the Airport Hotels, I always had at least one class at 8am, and there’s just no way to fight freeway traffic *to the airport* and teach a class at 8am. So I always ended up staying at one of the hotels so that I could drink all night at the Expo party, then roll out of bed, hit Starbucks, and teach my class - no sitting in bumper-to-bumper on the 405 stressing out that I was gong to miss my own class. Of course, the down side of that was that I had to pay for a hotel room, which would eat up a big chunk of the money I’d make from doing the classes (and that check comes sometime in February). At the Convention Center, I could either fight traffic on the 101 (which I did on some days the first couple of years) or walk 2 blocks to the Universal subway station and take the subway to... well, this is Los Angeles, so the subway doesn’t go anywhere you’s want to go. But from the 7th Metro subway station you can transfer to the Blue Line light rail train that goes the half dozen blocks to the a block away from the Convention Center. I think it takes around 10-15 minutes. It takes that long to merge on the freeway sometimes.

Oh, in addition to having all of my classes on Thursday, and all of them being old classes, new Expo rules say that all hand outs need to be submitted to the Expo and approved first, and there will be no product sales in the class rooms. Well, I always bring a stack of post cards to the event and scatter them around, and keep some on the table in my class. And, because I can’t be two places at once - and paying someone to sell my CDs while paying for a table in the dealer’s room would mean I’m probably losing money. I’d have to charge what John Truby charges for his CD classes to break even! I want to charge a fair price, and in this economy I want to keep prices down. The only way to do that is to sell them in the back of the room. So I smuggled the CDs into the class, smuggled in the post cards.

Last year, Emily from Bamboo Killers (was White Board Markers) was my assistant... and worked her butt off for no pay. As my assistant, they provided an all access pass for her - so when I wasn’t teaching, she could go to other classes and events at the Expo. In previous years, I had problems selling CDs because, well, I was teaching. What happens after class is that everyone rushes the podium to talk to me and the bag of CDs remains unopened. Emily could sell the CDs while I was talking to students. Which was great last year because it helped cover the cost of the hotel room. Though may have sucked for Emily because she had that all access pass and spent most of the time in my class.

This year, she’s going to be my co-conspirator and sell contraband CDs and scoop up post cards off the table if 5-0 showed up. For this, they give her a pass that *only* gets her into the dealer’s room and a couple of other places. The crap pass. And the classes she’s helping me with are classes she head last year. I feel bad. My basic theory on life is we should find some way for all of us to benefit - keep the CD prices down so that people can afford them, get Emily into the event in exchange for helping me for a few hours, etc. If everyone can win, that’s the best plan.

I bring a bottle of iced coffee to the Convention Center... drink half of it during the course of the day. There is *one* tiny bottle of water at the podium - and eventually drink that. But have no breaks at all - and am drying out.

Every year -since year 1 - I have done the visual storytelling class and requested a TV or digital projector... and didn’t get one. Every year I bring the DVD player or laptop... and nothing to hook it up to. So every year, I act out the clips. This year I didn’t even bring the DVD player or laptop... and get a digital projector! Pisser! Should have brought the laptop! So I act out the clips again this year.

Thursday, 1st class... full. Second class... SRO (people actually sitting on the floor). Third class, starts at 6pm... full! At the end of the first class, Emily tells me most of the CDs are gone. By the end of the last class - all of the post cards are gone. And because the Expo has a severe volunteer shortage, no 5-0 there to bust us for selling CDs and handing out contraband post cards.

Oh, on the subway ride to... well, almost to... the Convention Center, I forget to flip through the class materials because I’m jotting down notes on the script. So I wing all 3 classes. As someone who has done these classes every year of Expo, I can tell you there were more fumbles this time... but I think I was the only one who noticed. Like every year, I hear horror stories of other classes where teachers are doing 90 minute commercials for their services or have a serious information shortage or are just plain boring. And my classes were none of those things. One of the things people kept telling me was that I was entertaining and told fun stories. Hmmm... Isn’t that what a screenwriter *does*? Isn’t the absolute minimum thing to expect from someone teaching screenwriting is that they can tell a story? Who are these other teachers?

After the last class, I’m practically dehydrated... but there’s an opening night party in one of the rooms. $30 to get in, free if you are a speaker. I bump into Fun Joel and we decide to smuggle Emily into the party. I’m going to buy drinks with the CD money - and pay to get Emily in if the smuggling doesn’t work. Emily is sneaky, and gets in without problem. And there’s an open bar.... so I tip what I would have paid for the drinks... and there are sandwiches, which is good because I have had *nothing* to eat all day. No time between classes at all. But here’s the problem - one hand holds the plate, one hand holds the beer... how does the sandwich get to the mouth? Someone needs to create a plate holder upper you wear around your neck for situations like this.

A woman who was sitting on the floor in my SRO class tells me I’m funny. Others tell me how passionate I was about writing, and how they were inspired. That’s cool - but shouldn’t that be default mode for someone teaching screenwriting? Why is this anything anyone should comment on? And when I teach these classes I’m usually half asleep - in this case, I only had half a thing of coffee, and dead tired from previous events. How can you *not* be passionate about writing if you are a writer? This stuff confuses me, and makes me want to sit in on one of these other classes. I think about doing that - and plan to come back on Saturday and Sunday (I have the all access pass). Of course, plans ended up changing - and more on that in part 2 on Friday.

After an hour or two the open bar becomes a cash bar and I get the chance to buy a round. But a little sandwich does not absorb a bunch of beers, so I’m a really cheap drunk. I didn’t pay $12 for parking, I paid a couple of bucks for the subway... so I’m not driving home. Fun Joel took the bus, Emily parked on the street... so I walk her to her car - the neighborhood around the Convention Center is like a war zone. I parked my car on the street a couple of times and worried most of it would be gone when I got back. But her car was fine. I was so thirsty, I thought I was gonna die. I actually stopped at the Ralphs grocery between the subway and my building and chugged a bottle of water... to thirsty to make it all the way home. Hit the sack, intending on working on the script and seeing the new Bond film with my friends on Friday and heading back to the Expo for the weekend. More on that tomorrow...

- Bill


Yesterday’s Dinner: Ended up eating at home - chicken and rice, corn on the side.

MOVIES: I have seen a ton of movies, including the new Bond film... and will fill these in later.
Pages: Way behind on the script due to all of these events... but had one of those breakthroughs while taking a shower things today that should solve one of the big problems I keep running into.
Bicycle: I have been taking a ride at least once every week - even when there really isn't time. A couple of days ago I was completely exhausted, and rode anyway... and felt better. Wednesday I was going to bus/bike to Westwood, then go see JCVD at the Nuart, but by the time I got going the day was half over so I decided to just ride to a Starbucks I never go to and work - skipping the movie and bus ride part. People at Expo told me I looked like I lost weight... I see myself every day, haven't noticed. Still look fat.


E.C. Henry said...

Wish I could have seen you in action.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Emily Blake said...

Aww I could have gotten you some water. I was just amazed at how you never had to go to the bathroom the whole time. Your bladder must be made of adamantium.

Unknown said...

As a first time volunteer, I also found the lack of bottled water odd. I don't yet have words to describe the way the Expo was organized, but oh the crazy tales I could tell!

wcmartell said...

One needs liquids in order to piss.

I just never thought to ask anyone - because I am a moron.

- Bill

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