What does an endangered Southeast Asian tree have to do with the price of showbiz?

That’s one of the questions that will be answered in the seminars, workshops and panels at this year’s ShowBiz Expo.

Until this year, 80% of the wood used in all areas of entertainment production was luan, an endangered mahogany whose import has been boycotted. Light, pliable and easy to paint, luan was the favorite material for set builders and others in the theater and in film and television.

“It’s loss was a real blow,” says Sheldon Metz, director of the two-day West Coast Theatre Conference, being held June 5-6 as part of ShowBiz Expo.

Another blow came when the U.S. government decreed that some 85% of lumber-growing land could no longer be used for that purpose.

“Since January, the cost of lumber has gone up 135%,” Metz says. “For small theaters and those on a limited budget, even small production companies making sets, the cost of lumber has become prohibitive.”

Duncan Mahoney, technical director of the Odyssey Theatre, brought the situation to Metz’s attention and the result is a discussion panel June 5, “Alternative Stage Materials: Luan Doesn’t Grow on Trees.”

“This panel will show ways of using alternative materials that are low-cost and recyclable,” says Metz, who is a stage director of note, with “Goodbye People” now running at the Westchester Playhouse. “Several companies are taking old movie sets and recycling them for small organizations. There’s been a tremendous spurt in the use of recycled sets and materials.”

It’s one of eight panels included in the theater conference (see story, page P-4).

Another major seminar at ShowBiz Expo is the all-day Post Experience, a presentation by the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers (SMPTE).

Following successful presentations in Montreal and Toronto, The Post Experience brings together all the key elements of post-production into one entertaining and informative package.

“It’s an invaluable seminar for anyone in motion picture and television post-production who is not intimately familiar with the current post-production process,” says Post Experience chairman Harvey Rogers, director of technical development at Toronto’s YTV Canada Inc. “As post-production technology continues to advance and become more sophisticated, this seminar provides a rare overview,” adds Rogers.

In an interactive, multi-media presentation, participants learn how layers of sound effects and automated dialogue replacement is added to a movie scene; how high-resolution film can be mixed with digital technology; the varying uses of off- and on-line editing; and how to create big-budget sound effects with low-budget ingenuity.

The topics covered range from sound and lab reportsto film and tape transfers , foley, dailies, dubbing and closed captioning.

“Most of these kinds of events tend to be very formal,” says Rogers. “They don’t have the pizzazz. Our business is all about showmanship and entertainment, so we want to reflect that in this event.”

Certainly, there were rave reviews from participants in the Toronto presentation of the Post Experience last November. “The tutorial was a good crash course given by people who learned in the trenches,” says John Brewer of Eastman Kodak Co.

“The session provided an excellent opportunity to learn what the new post-production technologies are all about. This isn’t the type of information you can get by reading,” says Brewer.

Master of ceremonies for the event in L.A. will be producer Bernie Laramie (“Dark Justice,””Max Headroom”). In addition to Rogers, speakers will include Michael Beard, post-production co-ordinator for “The Hitchhiker”; John Hughes, president of Rhythm & Hughes; Ellen Heine, product consultant at Adcom Electronics; Phillip Seretti, president and chief re-recording mixer at Post Sound Corp.; Grover Helsley, re-recording mixer (“Broadcast News,””Switch”); Bob Predovich, VP, Masters Workshop; Bonnie Adamson, VP, international distribution, Warner Bros., and Dick Millais, president, IVC.

Needless to say, amidst all the hardware at ShowBiz Expo there are some traditional filmmakers eager to be heard. The Writers Guild of America West is hosting a seminar called “Developing Interactive Entertainment: The Writer as Creative Partner.”

Scriptwriter Larry Tuch and author Michael Utvich are the workshop leaders of a three-hour session designed to help writers and producers develop stories, start projects and build production teams in all the wide new varities of entertainment forms.

Speakers will include Gary Drucker, creative director of Sidewalk Studios, Philips Interactive Media of America; Michael Halpern, scriptwriter and novelist (“Star Trek: The Next Generation,””Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?”) and Christy Marx, scriptwriter (“Twilight Zone,””Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”)

Dov S-S Simens, founder of the Hollywood Film Institute and film-teacher at USC and UCLA, presents the two-part “Crash Course for Independent Filmmakers.” Part one tracks film production step-by-step through scripting, shooting and editing, with stops along the way to deal with issues such as guilds and unions, film stock and permits and insurance. Part two moves on to promotion and distribution, covering such details as foreign sales, pay-cable and video deals and film festivals and markets.

Free trade talk

A discussion panel that is drawing considerable attention is “How the Free Trade Agreement Will Affect Production in the ’90s.” Hosted by Location Update, the session examines the impact of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement on hiring, financing, quotas and production in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Speakers will include Doug Paterson, Canadian consul and trade commissioner, Jim Blankarte of the World Trade Association and Francisco Gomez, director of the Mexican Film Institute in Mexico City.

Women and minorities are also represented in panel sessions. “Taking Risks and Taking Charge: Women Filmmakers Speak Out,” hosted by Women in Film, presents such producers as Pola Miller, Barbara Boyle (“My Left Foot”), Radha Bharadwaj (“Closet Land”), Dorothy Petrie (“Crash Landing”) and director of photography Karen Edmundson Bean (“No Justice”) discussing how to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

The Organization of Black Screenwriters hosts a panel titled “Hot Property or Distress Sale? Pumping Up Your Script to Sell.” With writer Linda McKeever Bullard as moderator, speakers will include Paul Lucey, professor, production design, cinema and television, USC; Steven Duncan, writer/producer (“Tour of Duty”); and Linda Seger, author of “How to Create Unforgettable Characters” and “How to Make a Good Script Great.”

New technologies are discussed in a panel titled “Digital Film: New Tricks for Old Dogs and Vice Versa”; “Virtual Reality 101”; “Visual Art of the New Media,” and “Touring the All New Digital Production Studios.”

Money isn’t ignored. Panels include “Film Financing: Hollywood Goes Global”; “Financing and Marketing for the Home Video Market”; “The Art of the Pitch–Selling Your Project”; “Following the Money: Who Gets What and Why?”; “Economic Incentives for Production in California”; “Making Your Deal as a Writer, Producer, or Director,” and “The Truth About Qualifying, Hiring and Working as an Independent Contractor.”

Lighting designers tell their secrets in “Case Studies of Lighting for Specials,” and Internation Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes Photographers Local 659 hosts a panel on choosing film formats: “Shoot Today So it Will Play Tomorrow.”