The Insider's Guide to NAB
I have been going long enough to see some dramatic changes not just in the show but the infrastructure that is Las Vegas and the convention center. Twenty-three years ago the show was much, much smaller. I used to cover editing and graphics and I remember the year when it became impossible to visit all the manufacturers offering products in both those disciplines. It used to be possible -- crazy, yes, but possible -- to visit four booths an hour because they weren't that far away from one another. Bigger is better, but also more challenging.
The other, very positive change has been the influx of great restaurants to NAB. I'm sure other old-timers remember when the best meal in Vegas, outside of a handful of small eateries, was the hotel restaurant. Now it's a food destination...if you can get in the door during NAB that is.
Everybody has their own way of making the most out of the show while staying vertical for as many hours a day as possible. Here are some of my tips and tricks on having a good NAB and living to tell the tale.
Minimize what you carry. After years of carrying a briefcase, I broke down and now pull a wheelie...because I have to have my laptop (which I keep replacing with lighter and lighter versions). If we all pulled wheelies, NAB would have even more serious traffic jams than it already does. So I recommend that, if you're not a journalist, bring a handheld digital tape recorder to record information you've got to have. Forget the briefcase unless it's absolutely necessary.
Bring high protein snacks. Unless you've got a nice leisurely lunch hour, forget the high priced hot dogs and sandwiches, and the very long lines to buy them. Do yourself a favor and bring your own food to stave off hunger until dinnertime (I recommend almonds and high-protein power bars). Or frequent one of the carts in the off-lunch time hours when they don't have a line. Dove bar for lunch? Hell, yeah. Its Vegas, it doesn't count.
Bring enough business cards. It's like B roll: you never shoot enough. Bring double the business cards you think you'll need. You may still run out. There is no social exchange at NAB -- however pro forma or minimal -- that does not spark the exchange of cards ritual.
Wear comfortable shoes and -- says my editor Tim Wilson -- bring enough clean socks. With regard to shoes, I still see women in spike heels at the show. What are they thinking? Pounding that concrete floor, barely covered with a thin rug, all day long is already tough on the spine. Nobody will be looking at your feet. I personally wear incredibly comfortable classic Hush Puppies. Dorky? Absolutely. I don't care.
What to see? First, give up the idea that you can see everything. You might be able to breeze by everything in a drive-by viewing -- and that's certainly one way to do NAB. But it makes more sense to focus on what you're interested in. For lots of attendees, that's not a problem. You're a sound mixer, you go visit all the relevant audio equipment manufacturers. And so on.
Second, expand your definition of NAB to reach beyond the exhibit floor. Yes, of course you want to visit the exhibits relevant to your interests. But there's a lot more going on at NAB that could and should draw your attention. Here's what I suggest.
FOLLOW THE BUZZ
The first day of NAB, everyone is struggling to figure out the show. By Day Two, the buzz begins to build about certain products or certain companies. The buzz could be spurious...but the buzz tells you that attendees' collective imagination has been engaged. It's worth following the buzz, even if it's to satisfy your suspicion that most people are ignorant fools. You might discover something wonderful and, in any case, you will have a story to tell -- and a point of view -- before anyone else has seen whatever the buzz is about. For a brief moment in time, you will be an authority to your colleagues and friends back home.
GO TO THE SESSIONS
Why would you want to spend every waking minute on the show floor when you can sit down, be comfortable and actually learn something? I'm not saying this because I moderate panels at the show (check out "On Set Workflows for Features and Television" and the Hollywood Post Alliance's Post Pit), but because it is true. James Cameron and Vince Pace talking about shooting affordable 3D sounds like one good place to start.
NAB Show Opening - James Cameron, Academy Award Winning Director; Vince Pace, PACE
There's something for everyone. From a quick perusal of the show website, some of the other interesting people who'll be speaking at the show include producer Gale Ann Hurd, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, ASC, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Betty White and Freakanomics author Stephen Dubner. Cool session topics range from converting Titanic from 2D to 3D and creating cross-platform content to cloud computing and mobile TV.
CHECK OUT THE "DESTINATIONS"
NAB has done us the favor of crafting 'pavilions' or 'zones' to gather together companies engaged in creating technologies for specific, often emerging arenas. This year, check out pavilions for Cloud Computing, Online Video, and Mobile DTV. There are also International Pavilions. This year, Brazil, Bavaria, Belgium, France and the UK are among those hosting destinations for information.
The Content Market is where you go to tantalize buyers with your unique content. Fremantle Media and YouTube are just two of the companies and organizations you'll find there.
If you're interested in new technologies, I advise a visit to the Start Up Loft, ATSC TechZone and -- my favorite -- the International Research Park. A special note about the latter: the International Research Park has got to be the most interesting, futuristic and quirky spot at the entire show. That's where you'll find the stirrings of research and prototypes from academic, government and advanced research labs around the world. No matter how busy my schedule, I always try to make this a destination at NAB.
You can take your own fieldtrips to the Liberace Museum or the Hoover Dam. But, for the first time, NAB is offering a Saturday field trip with instructor Rich Harrington. It begins with a 90-minute tutorial on shooting time-lapse and panoramic photos and then convenes to the nearby and very spectacular Red Rock National Conservation area for hands-on practice. You'll have a chance to shoot the sunset at arguably the most beautiful spot in the area. And there's not a slot machine in sight. What a nice way to start off the show.
A proper visit to NAB is exhausting because there is so much to see and so many people to talk to. As it should be. But that doesn't mean it has to be a slog without meaning, purpose or enjoyment.
Have a great NAB 2012 -- and let us know what you saw this show that really got you excited.