Millennial anxiety hung over ShowBiz Expo 99, which Variety presented June 25-27 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The theme of the keynote panel was "The American Film Industry: Competing in the New Millennium," and most of the conference sessions had to do with swiftly evolving technology. In addition, there was the sense of Hollywood's diminished role in the movie industry as production decamps to cheaper shores.

Still, it was business as usual on the show floor, as professionals and wannabes alike came to gawk at the equipment. Long lines formed for presentations in the Visual Effects Theatre, a makeshift structure near the Intertec booth. Here, demonstrations of animatronics and puppeteering were given by principals from Jim Henson's Creature Shop; greenscreen lighting was discussed and demonstrated by members of the American Society of Cinematographers; and the Visual Effects Society (VES) and Society of Motion Picture & Television Art Directors sponsored a presentation called "From the Printed Page to the Finished Look."

In addition, the VES offered four conference sessions. Craig Barron of Matte World presented an overview of "Traditional and Digital Matte Painting," illustrating the latter with examples of his company's work on such movies as Kundun and The Truman Show. In "Models & Miniatures," Gene Rizzardi, Jr. discussed various techniques used on Apollo 13 and Titanic, while Independence Day and Godzilla effects supervisor Volker Engel talked about his traditional and digital models for those films. Panels on "Visual Effects for HDTV" and "Reality Check: A VFX Overview" rounded out the sessions. In the latter panel, Balsmeyer/Everett principal Randy Balsmeyer summed up his wildly expanding and contracting field: "It's a fabulous time to be a visual effects artist; it's a scary time to be a visual effects businessman."

With business threatening to go soft, companies are looking at new ways to compete. Both Mole Richardson and Matthews Studio Group, for example, introduced expanded websites at ShowBiz Expo. On Mole.com, one can now order 5,000 products, including lighting equipment and Star Wars merchandise, often at special discounts. A link to E-Bay also offers deals on used, rare, and closeout items. Matthews' ShowbizMart.com also features merchandise and products for auction, along with online production directories and location and shipping information.

Other companies were content to tout new products. GAM Products introduced the GAMtorch, a self-extinguishing stage prop that produces 16" of real flame from solid GAMfuel pellets. GAMtorch is non-toxic, relatively smokeless and odorless, and comes with an automatic safety release latch to snuff out the flame. Rose Brand showed its new Trevira Silk(R), stretchable Poly Knit, and lightweight velour-type Super-Vel(R) flame-retardant fabrics, while Dazian debuted six new flame-retardant fabrics--Trapeze, Venetian Velvet, Diamondlite, Sculptured Velvet, Florentine Velvet, and Royal-Vel. Lee Filters introduced 70 new patterns and four new filter sets, including Sunset, Sunrise, Landscape, and Twilight. Reel EFX exhibited the RE Fan II with Varibeam, as well as an attention-drawing milling machine service, which the company will rent to art directors.

Lighting companies with new products included Mole Richardson, Sunray, DeSisti, LTM, Cinemills, and LP Associates/Lighting Strikes. Underwater lighting exhibitors on the floor included Hydroflex and Pace Technologies, both of which were abuzz about the upcoming film The Perfect Storm, while lighting balloon companies like Airstar and Lights Up! and mobile lighting companies like Musco and Night Lights by Bebee were visually apparent.

In company news, Production Resource Group's latest acquisition was Production Lighting Systems, a Burbank, CA-based rental house to television, theatre, and industrial productions in the Los Angeles area. This recent member of the PRG family threw its annual party to kick off ShowBiz Expo, and was able to show off new inventory--not to mention hors d'oeuvres--made possible by the relationship.