Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Watching the Hugo Awards from the Best Seat in the House

Worldcon (Lonestarcon 3) from behind the curtain

This morning I finally got around to watching Amanda Palmer's TED talk. I liked it so much that I shared AFP's TEDtalk on Google+ even though I know many of my friends there have already seen it.

My friend Bob Lai said:

It's not just asking for help. It's asking for opportunities to learn.
I started as a intern/production assistant and taught myself Chyron by reading the manual (a daunting and thick binder), asked the techs installing the newsroom computer system how to resolve crashes/freezes, etc.
In contrast, I've seen interns/PA's who seem daunted by the challenge of asking to learn things.

This reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about many parts of Worldcon, not least my experience working for the tech team. You see, there is a whole sub-group of fandom, and they are the people who run the shows. The actual shows, not the metaphorical shows. They are the ones who make sure the panelists have working microphones, projectors, and whatever other technical gadgetry they may require for their presentations. In the case of Worldcon, they are also the people who produce the Masquerade and the Hugo Awards. They are the camera people, the script writers, the directors, the sound engineers, the graphics creators, and a bunch of other things you'd never think about that someone has to do for the show to run smoothly.

Informational Aside: the stage crew are called ninjas, and are a different entity (though of course the two groups work together).

Tell the story already, Katey

On Saturday morning, I picked up the update sheet. I don't know if there is a special name for it in con-lingo, but a few times a day, a piece of paper is produced that has schedule changes and general announcements. At Lonestarcon it was called, "La Estrella Solitaria," which I'm pretty sure is just Spanish for Lone Star. Lonestarcon 3 also had an excellent app, but my phone didn't always want to load it, so I liked having the hard copies. Call me a Luddite, I don't care.

Anyway, the Saturday morning La Estrella Solitaria had a "Volunteers Needed" section. In it, there was a request for people with experience handling cameras. Since I ran the camera for the news show produced by the Journalism school where I studied, I figured it couldn't hurt to poke my head in, just in case they were really desperate. After all, I haven't handled a professional camera in longer than I care to contemplate, but surely I'd be better than no camera person.

There began my Unexpected Journey, wherein I felt very much like I had to go north to Rivendell in order to go south to Gondor before I could finally divest myself of superfluous jewelry. Thankfully, I met no orcs along the way. I went first to Conference Room 11, as directed by La Estrella. A myriad of technical equipment lay arranged around the periphery of the room, in stacks and piles. There was a dry erase board with job descriptions in cryptic short hand, but I could see well enough that the "camera" positions all had names next to them. Still, I was there, so I pressed on. There was one person in the room. I don't remember if his name was Chuck, but I gamely informed him that I was there to volunteer.

He said, "Well, what do you know about tech?"

"Well..." I prevaricated. I didn't want to oversell myself and get stuck doing something I had no idea how to do, but I also didn't want to be immediately booted out. "I have a Master's in broadcast Journalism, so I kind of know how to use a camera."

"And, what are you doing with that now?"

"Now? I'm freelance editing and raising my children."

He nodded, seeming to think that that was a reasonable choice for a person to make, and told me that I should go to the Ballroom, where everyone was preparing for the Masquerade that night. Ballroom. Certainly I can find the Ballroom, right? I have no sense of direction, and that my saving grace is my ability to read a map. I was in desperate need of a good Ranger. Eventually I found the Ballroom, and walked in. Anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of show can tell you that bothering people on the day of is an even worse idea than four hobbits looking for a wizard in a bar.

I walked up to the people standing at the front of the stage (one of them had purple hair, a slightly different shade than mine, but still, it put me somewhat more at ease). I told them that the guy in Room 11 told me to come here, to volunteer. They looked distracted, but not overly annoyed, and pointed me towards someone sitting back at the sound engineer's station. I took a deep breath, and walked down the aisle to my next point of contact. It was not Hugo Weaving, though that would have been cool.

I went through my whole story again.

"Oh," he said, "You need to go talk to John. You see that door under the EXIT sign? Go through there, down the hall... just follow the cables... and back into the control room."

I raised an eyebrow. "And you're sure that if I manage to find this room, there will be someone in there who can tell me how I can help? You're not just sending me out the Exit to get me out of your hair?" I wasn't trying to be a smart ass, sometimes it just slips out. I mean, if you were going to make up a name on the spot, it would be John or Joe, right? Out the Exit? Come on, now... I really was starting to wonder if I'd ever see the black gates of Mordor. Er. I mean the control room.

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