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BTL Expo Review/Williams

July 5, 2005 | By

“Right now, I’m in a garage band.” Those were the words of Dan DiPaola, a vendor at the first Below the Line EXPO. He was standing not in a garage, but on stage 14 on the Raleigh Studios lot, where all expo displays were set up. And certainly the free quesadillas, egg rolls, salads, cookies, coffee and beer provided to attendees would no doubt be considered a “score”—or at least a vital source of fuel—for any garage band worthy of the name.DiPaola was there with his Digital Production Racks, a one-stop, one-rack system for managing “a production’s digital assets on-set in real time” and sending signals from HD cameras through an Apple-based system that results in Quicktime-encoded files. DiPaola’s reference to feeling like a member of, say, The Seeds or Count Five, was to his own “start-up” status.Next to DiPaola, who said he had DPs coming by to “research” his product during the show, was the First Entertainment Credit Union, whose Julie Bettancourt and Monica Wilson were there to spread the word that as far as financial institutions go, “we get it”—i.e., what it’s like to have a freelance work history listed on your loan application.Next to them, however, expo-goers were given make-up, or at least samples, from Lisa Wagner at Brush Off, a product “known in cosmetics,” she said, for its abilities to remove other make-up products, but “unknown in film,” which she was hoping to rectify at the expo. She said she was having both a “good time” and getting a “good response” at the show.Three IA locals—80, 728, 729 (grips, electrical lighting techs, and painters) shared booth space, with various reps cycling in and out over the two-day run of the show, expounding variously on the state of job flight, how/whether production has picked up, and most importantly, “what it takes to get in,” according to 729’s Ken Deubel, in response to queries from various non-union workers.A brand new guild was there, too: the Location Managers Guild of America, whose Karen Gilbert thought the show was a “great way to get our word out,” as well as word about an LMG-sponsored philanthropic event at the Ambassador Hotel, where crews of students from Jefferson High were given equipment to take a “last look”—location scout style—at the storied inn, each then eligible for an awards show and eventually having their work displayed in an Ambassador-themed show, along with photos and documentation from professional location managers.Vista Credit Union was there to let attendees know that you didn’t have to be a Disney employee to join, but merely to have ever worked on a Disney, Miramax or Touchstone production. VCU’s rep, Jennifer—wearing a redoubtable, Disney-style “cast member” name badge—offered that they hoped to do “whatever we can to improve someone’s financial life,” and who wouldn’t agree that a mission of promoting fiscal salubriousness in such precarious times is always a welcome thing.Dave Rosen found himself promoting the desirability of California as both a place in general, a place in which to do business, and in which to film. He was there promoting his new publication California Film Industry (and its website, with the requisite .com appended), allowing that “for us, (the show) was fantastic.” Figuring that “we gave Arnold about a year,” to tackle, in particular, the dreaded “fff”—feature film flight. “California Film Industry’s is a different approach (than FTAC’s),” Rosen allowed. He hopes to use the publication and the vendor-connected website to “emphasize California greatness,” preferring to sing the praises of Hollywood’s home turf.Getting-the-word-out was also the mission of two side-by-side exhibitors spanning both gear—Creative Media Partners—and services—Entertainment Partners. Creative Media Partners’ Alex Slaten says “we’re known for our editing decks”—systems they put together with Avid, Apple and other components. But, as digits collapse postproduction categories, CMP finds itself expanding into the arenas of networking and image capturing.As for Entertainment Partners, mostly known for its payroll services, the company’s Stephen Koncelik was pointing to items like Movie Magic software and the nifty “petty cash card,” which is kind of like a credit card, or maybe a leash, depending on your previous relation to petty cash, along with “a lot of different services,” though perhaps it was his reluctance to stray above the line at the expo that kept him from mentioning EP’s ownership of Central Casting.Two other exhibitors may have seemed initially above the line, including Final Draft, makers of the legendary screenwriting software. Scott McMenamin said everyone who came by “showed a lot of interest,” but was that because virtually everyone in Southern California will claim to be “writing a script” at any given moment? No, he allowed. It was mostly because of the scheduling and budgeting aspects of the software (though we can report that a new version of Final Draft will be released in 13 months—which is to say, just after Below the Line EXPO II).The Actors’ Fund has the infamous above-the-line job description of all in its name, yet was there to let everyone know that the non-profit, founded the century before last, was “for all entertainment professionals,” a social welfare organization in an era badly in need of them—and how can you not want a group promoting free seminars in “getting and keeping health insurance” and starting a second career in the “healing arts?”Similarly, the Motion Picture and Television Fund was there, fulfilling the mandatory tradeshow requirement that an Elvis impersonator be present in at least one booth. In MPTF’s case, it was because the original, accept-no-substitutes Elvis had donated to the MPTF in an early and generous fashion, and the King’s original check was blown up to, well, king-size proportions, to get everyone in a giving mood. And if that didn’t work you could get your picture taken with Elvis.There were, of course, plenty of cameras—because without cameras, we’d be back to doing live vaudeville. North Hollywood’s The Camera House simply wanted to “have a presence” and show off the spiffy digital Viper camera from Grass Valley, while Panavision Remote Systems had an array of gear, gimbals, and cranes, with Damon De Grignon calling the show “well done,” adding that he had “talked to people” throughout the weekend—all made easier, no doubt, by his display area being located just a few short steps away from the aforementioned beer and chips.The J.L. Fisher folk were there with camera dollies, including the Model 10, and though this heavy-duty, double-axle tracking shot special—with its two seats and steering—could nearly double as a second family vehicle, no joyrides were offered on the expo floor.For holding cameras, at the opposite end of the Model 10 spectrum was the hand-held SteddiPod from BarberTech, which company founder Eddie Barber—when not regaling folks with stories that were both colorful and alarming about his romantic entanglements that wound up impinging on national security—modestly dubbed one of the “best products ever.” And indeed, the device, for DV cameras, which is both a kind of tripod and held-held faux-Steadicam device, was one of the most frequently demoed items on the floor—if for no other reason than replicating a long tracking shot generally took you close to the dessert section of the expo food display.A scone’s throw from that display was the Skylight boothâ€
”which sounds like the show was in Staples Center instead of at Raleigh Studios, but which in fact refers to the Skylight Balloon Lighting exhibit, where the company was touting its lightable, floatable light sources as not only good sources of kilowattage, but in some cases, so unusual that they’ve been used “for the set itself,” according to rep Mark Carlile. And, they added, the expo was the first show the fledgling company had done.Ed Colman, the owner of SuperDailies, said he had “nothing to sell but what we do,” which is provide fast turnaround on video dailies, supervised, the company assures, by experienced cinematographers at every telecine. In that regard, Colman said that he “did talk to a fair amount of people” at the expo, while at the same noting that more foot traffic wouldn’t be so bad, either.And Chris Gilman, owner of Global Effects, which makes, well, cool stuff—replicas of historic astronaut costumes, knightly armor, and even a cartoon John Lennon suit replicating the Yellow Submarine look—also opined that more foot traffic would be peachy keen, allowing him to concentrate on the “nuts and bolts” non-digital FX work he likes, and that he gets, when he can press the flesh and hobnob with other companies.Lisa Sotolongo of Dalsa believes the amount of flesh to press at Below the Line EXPO will increase exponentially in the future. She and confrere Josh Greco had a fine time showing off the company’s 4K Origin digital camera and explaining to various cinematographers that it offers a full line of image-grabbing equipment, standard res to high. At the next show “you’ll double your attendance,” she laughs. Remembering the cerveza, noodles, noshes and dippin’ sauces, “everyone will bring a friend.”Probably even those garage band folks.

Written by Mark London Williams

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