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I've been to a few entertainment gatherings and for the most part, they're pretty much what you'd expect. There's this spectrum of seriousness, ranging from festival to convention and it's usually not hard to tell what an event is trying to be.
Arriving with an Intent
The week before my trip to NATPE, I had attended the Future Film Festival in Italy. Though tragically disorganized, they did manage to put together a nice collection of screenings and conversations. They delivered what they had promised. And, despite my bizarre return on Lufthansa, during which the 'head steward' demanded I surrender my precious window seat to a full-paying passenger, I landed in Las Vegas in good spirits. NATPE was sure to be rewarding. By no means some casual festival, this was a serious market and I had come to sell my show.
I should make a disclaimer that I wasn't selling your average property. Our company focuses on interactive narrative and Flash-for-broadcast productions. I was mainly interested in the iTV market and the broadcast animation world. However, I attended the seminars and stopped into the booths, so I got a good sense of the event in general.
Now maybe it was just the economic climate but it seemed like everybody at the convention had the same intention: to sell. I'd been warned this might be the case but this was pretty pathetic. The conversations in the cafes, the presentations in the booths and the bets at the tables were all from a sea of creatives. At a festival, that's pretty cool. At a convention, built on the pretense of a market, it's no fun. To make matters worse, if not ironic, I was surrounded by seminars boasting the secret of the perfect pitch and by gladiator-like competitions pitting desperate writers against each other in battles of elevator conversation. (Heck, if you're going to throw a party and invite a bunch of guys, don't insult us by acting like you know how to pick-up chicks.)
Luckily, I had already set up a nice handful of meetings. That's the obvious strategy for any event, but in this case it was especially necessary. Those meetings went well but I wouldn't say that NATPE was at all necessary for them to happen. It was a coincidental backdrop.
Like I mentioned, I was focused on interactive narrative and spent a good deal of time at those sorts of seminars and in their so-called "Digital Town." Unfortunately, the seminars were mired in the same technology-focused rhetoric that seems to prevail when traditional entertainment executives begin to explore that landscape. It's almost as if they're hiding their confusion under a pile of platform politics. I was hoping to hear how they were moving ahead with new types of entertainment, revolutionary formats and millennial narratives. Alas, I learned about Tivo instead.
Digital Town was a cool idea but there were so few participants that it was hard to make any real connections. Again, the companies that were represented were selling and mostly selling technology, not content. I had some great conversations and met some nice people but there was not much professional progress to be made.
In general, I found the opportunities to sell very thin and the margin for learning very generic. The situation was compounded by the fact that all the major studios had decided to parcel off their participation in a separate hotel, in private rooms like an aloof aristocracy. In the end, I found the greatest successes were with the people I already knew. Festivals and conventions are always a great excuse to see old friends and Vegas is certainly a unique and fun forum.
So, next year, if you go -- don't expect too much. If you're new to the industry, it's a great place to get an overview. If you're not, you're sure to connect with old colleagues. On the spectrum of seriousness, it's a festival wrapped in a patina of a convention. Unless, of course, your booth's over in that other hotel.
Eric Oldrin is President of Telepathic Transmissions, an entertainment production company dedicated to the exploration of new interactive formats and the digital perfection of traditional animation. Prior to Telepathic, he was senior producer at AtomShockwave, where he developed much of their key content, including Tim Burton's Stainboy and David Lynch's Dumbland. Eric holds a BA in Philosophy from Pomona College and lives in San Francisco.