The 10th annual ShowBiz Expo, which runs June 5-7 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, is subtitled “A Decade of Change.” Now there’s an under statement.
Ten years ago, when the husband-wife team of Bob and Nalini Lasiewicz had one of those little acorn ideas: “Hey, let’s have a small show that highlights all the software available for application in the film industry,” they weren’t preparing for oak-tree sized Toffleresque future shock.
The Micro Show–even the name demonstrates how modest the original plan was–wasn’t intended to be a first step toward the presentation of a vast panoply of ground-breaking equipment for virtually every application in the entertainment industry.
“It was just a two-day conference for software packages, a small computer show for the industry,” says Nalini Lasiewicz. Though programs were being written that would be of service to producers, production managers and screenwriters–scripting programs, budgetary breakdowns and the like–the creators of this softwarehad little access to their basic audience. So the Lasiewicz’s stepped into that breach.
“Production people didn’t have a trade show,” the Lasiewicz’s say.
“Most were for engineering people and large-volume equipment buyers.”
The idea took 4 A months to bring to fruition. The first Micro Show brought 52 exhibitors into contact with 1,500 members of the industry. The floor space was contained in a 6,000-square-foot corner of the L.A. Convention Center.
The products were what, in retrospect, seem like horse and buggy equipment–KayPro computers with a mammoth 64K memory and featuring double floppy disc drives! Video and film production were separate animals. And the most exciting developments were script formatting and budget spread-sheet software programs.
“We lost money on it,” Bob Lasiewicz laughs. “But we learned one important thing: Exhibitors told us that they saw people they’d never been able to even get on the phone before.”
And that got the duo’s brains to working: If producers responded to a budgeting software package, they might also find other products useful.
Surely, and not all that slowly, the show grew. The first two yearsfocused on business services, accounting, payroll. But by year three, cameras and other rental equipment were added. After that, location equipment and lighting companies joined in, along with providers of trucks and generators. Five years on was about the time that new technology exploded and graphics software first appeared.
The shows have grown at the alarming–we’re still on the tail of a recession, folks–rate of 20% a year. It’s a year-round enterprise (there’s a companion show in New York in January) and the staff has grown by a factor of 20 since the Micro Show.
For ShowBiz Expo number 10, there will be 500 exhibitors spread over 80,000 square feet of floor space. Attendance is projected to hit 25,000.
The attendees are a Who’s Who of behind-the-scenes production in feature films, live theater, broadcasting, themed entertainment, corporate communications, cable, multimedia, and advertising agencies. Cinematographers, costume designers, directors, post-production professionals, lighting and set designers will all be roaming the aisles.
The first decade closes out with the addition of a theme park technology row. Why theme parks? “So many of the film and video processes used in creating simulation rides are the same ones we show for TV and film production,” says Nalini Lasiewicz.
But lest anybody think of ShowBiz Expo as only hardware and software–and unless you’re in the market to buy or just a techno-nerd you needn’t attend–there’s food for the creative mind available too, from nuts-and-bolts information to high tech. A vast array of seminars from the opening presentation , “Directing Your First Feature,” to discussions on developing interactive entertainment, global film financing, location filming in New York or Toronto, applications of digital technology and the mysteries of virtual reality, are on the agenda.
“We never call it an equipment show,” say the Lasiewicz’s. “It’s presented more from a generalist’s perspective, someone who wants to know a little bit about a lot of things. Eighty percent of the seminars are business related and 20 percent are technical related.
There’ll be a full day tutorial on postproduction state of the art, to give the big picture to anyone who works in a particular area of postproduction or, again, the Renaissance person, who wants to know something about everything.
While some of the more drastic developments in new technology could not have been predicted by the first show, it’s also true that the gradual disappearance of some areas could not have been prognosticated. Desktop advances have made it possible for in-house graphics and editing, rather than relying on post-production houses. Many of the technical aspects of video production are also accessible through desktop computers.
On the other hand, the death of film was greatly exaggerated– high-definition video was its supposed death knell. But what could never be anticipated was that digital technology would be film’s savior, that the dense information of the film image could be broken down digitally and scanned.
Steven Greenfield, of Screenplay Systems, has been exhibiting at the show for the entire decade of its existence and has introduced software programs such as Scriptor, Movie Magic Budgeting, Movie Magic Scheduling and this year, Dramatica , a story creation and analysis system based on an entirely new theory of story. Says Greenfield: “It’s the first new theory of story since Aristotle’s Poetics. That’s an amazing statement but it’s true.”
For Greenfield, ShowBiz Expo, since its early days, has been theideal fusion of creative and technical aspects for an exhibitor such as himself. “It’s the ultimate show for a vendor such as ours. We’re always busy with producers, directors, screenwriters, production managers and assistant directors. As you know, everyone in this town is a screenwriter. You could ask almost anyone how their script is doing and they’d tell you.”
If there is a downside to the show, he says, it’s that the first day is so heavily overloaded. He wishes attendees would spread out their visits more evenly over the span of the weekend.
That quibble aside, Greenfield says that over the past decade, computers have gone from being a novel concept to an accepted player in the production world.
Even as established a company as Panavision, which has been a ShowBiz Expo participant since 1986, finds the show an important avenue.
“They originally came to us,” says Panavision’s Bob Harvey, “to help create an exhibition that would feature equipment for the film industry. The first year we had a small booth with one table and two cameras. But I found I was meeting people I had never been able to get a hold of in the industry and it created a forum for me to meet people I needed to meet but didn’t know.”
As a result, ShowBiz Expo is the only trade show in which Panavision exhibits and is the official place it uses to debut new equipment. “And we’re still meeting new people. Though I don’t know why, people are intimidated by us. But they feel comfortable coming to the booth,” says Harvey.
One of the byproducts of the “decade of change,” according to the Lasiewicz’s , is that filmmaking has become increasingly accessible and that through the rest of the coming decade many of the revolutionary technical tools that are now in use will be integrated.
“The artistry of the individual will be more important than the cost of the equipment,” says Nalini Lasiewicz.