I'm back from the road, having visited a pair of trade shows — ShowBiz Expo in LA and Lightfair International in San Francisco. Trade shows usually provide a snapshot of an industry's state of mind, so it's interesting to have had such different experiences in a matter of days.
I haven't been to ShowBiz Expo for years and, my, how it hasn't grown. Time was when you'd see a broad range of exhibitors, but ShowBiz Expo has devolved into a small film industry exposition. It still provides a service — one exhibitor said that it is still the best place to meet a large concentration of film lighting personnel — but the buzz was muted, to say the least.
Not that the film industry is doing poorly — check out the grosses each Monday and you'll see that the summer blockbusters are minting plenty of coin, as they say in Variety. But film production has largely gone elsewhere, to Vancouver and Toronto, among other places, in search of lower costs, which means fewer jobs in Southern California. People sense that the industry is undergoing fundamental changes, but nobody knows what to do about it.
On the other hand, the mood up north at Lightfair was buoyant by comparison. Some exhibitors said the show was a bit smaller this year; it is true that the third and final day was notably slow. Still, there was plenty of buzz, most of it about the 1,001 LED products that were shown. The LED is this year's It Product — although how long this will last is anybody's guess.
The other topic on everyone's agenda was energy efficiency. Some exhibitor claims were hard to take — apparently, we'll soon be lighting whole cities with four 50W bulbs — but it's certainly good to know that the topic is out there. It was particularly welcome, as the Bush administration announced that (a) global warming is a reality and (b) the government has no plans to do anything about it. Seems to me that, if we're going to save our environment, we'll have to do it ourselves. In this respect, Lightfair was a step in the right direction.
There was one other big event on my itinerary: Moleapalooza, a kind of mini-trade show put together by the folks at Mole-Richardson in LA. Now 75 years old, M-R is still one of the industry's top film lighting companies, and its birthday was celebrated with a well-planned, well-focused, fun, and informative event. A highlight was the premiere of Incandescence: Peter Mole and His Legacy, a documentary on the history of the company and the family that continues to control it. In these mixed-message times, it provided a welcome note of continuity. Look for it to be screened at a trade show near you.