[REVIEW] Post Production World Conference (2012)

This year I got the opportunity to attend Post Production World at NAB for 5 very full days of learning. I realized that while I crafted the story of my first NAB experience and somewhat touched upon my Post Production World experience, a more practical and straightforward review of the conference might be helpful to those looking to possibly attend in the future. Originally I thought this might be better suited to post closer to 2013. Ultimately I figured people would benefit from it hitting the internets now – PPW isn’t cheap and might take a little financial planning if you want to attend. It seems a lot of people don’t start thinking about conferences until it’s too late. Well, here’s your warning shot: this one is about 8 months away!

I brought a notepad, Deb Eschweiler brought an artillery of devices!

To briefly explain – Post Production World is a 5 day series of sessions about variable topics in post production, ranging from Premiere to documentary editing to After Effects expressions to color grading. The topics change each year but they’re pretty reasonably similar. The biggest change this year as far as I could tell was more focus on web video.The generally sessions last from about 10AM until 5 or 6PM, with an hour for lunch. In 2012, it cost $900 for the conference pass, and there are often $100 off coupons floating around if you book earlier.

A+ 5 stars, two thumbs, 10 points, check-plus – yes.

INSTRUCTORS: The instructors for the sessions are among the best instructors in the video production field. They all have practical, real world experience. Some of them instruct full-time now, while others work full-time and take a special interest in education. I talked with several after class, and they were all extremely approachable and nice.

SESSIONS:  I felt like I was getting world class education from people like Abba Shapiro, Jeff Greenberg, Scott Simmons, Alex Lindsay, and Jem Schofield, and Steve Audette, among others. I was really happy with the sessions I attended except for a couple that were presented by another instructor. Those were mostly on the corporate video track which was disappointing because that’s my main work. I just felt like the work being demonstrated wasn’t on par with the other presenters at PPW, and I found that I shared the sentiment with a lot of other people in those sessions. It would be good for PPW to get someone else teaching those in my opinion, but it seems unlikely because the presenter does a lot with education and seems tightly integrated into the lecture circuit. That was really the only down point of the whole conference. It wasn’t to say that his information was bad – at a basic level, it was decent introductory stuff. But it didn’t match the description of the class, nor did it match the level of the other instructors.

And yes, I considered maybe I felt it was less good because I had familiarity with the subject – that’s not it. His work was just not very good for the most part. But those were only 2 sessions out of the 5 days of learning. The other sessions were beyond my expectations. In the past when I attended workshops at conferences, I felt they were intentionally dumbed down to appeal to more people. That wasn’t the case here at all. You need to have a pretty good basic knowledge in video production to really get what you want out of these classes. Certainly there are sessions that are at a more basic level, but from a different starting point: After Effects expressions, for example. Intermediate to Expert level knowledge of After Effects was needed, but not any experience with expressions. There’s no time wasted filling in the basics. And you can jump from session to session if the one you chose isn’t what you expected.

OTHER STUFF

KEYNOTE: There was a keynote on Sunday morning that featured Rob Legato and Steve Wozniak, which was pretty cool and well done. There wad discussion of technology and creativity, and a demonstration of the fusion IO card and After Effects CS6, so that might help you see the kind of weight PPW carries in the industry.

LOCATION: Pretty standard for a conference. The classes are held in conference rooms in the convention center. It’s a decent walk from the NAB show floor, maybe 10 minutes. The rooms don’t have a lot to offer in terms of electrical outlets to plug in, but sometimes you’ll find a table with a power strip. The rooms are also freezing cold. There are water coolers throughout the hall that were always fully stocked, and I really recommend a water bottle to fill up because water is like $4 otherwise.

It’s also worth mentioning that it was really nice to be able to arrive before the show floor opened. The conference began on Saturday, so I didn’t have to mess with any taxi lines at the airport, or check ins at the hotel.

WIFI: It seemed that there was wifi available, but it wasn’t working all that well. If you want to stay connected to what’s going on in the exhibit hall, you’ll want to make sure you have a 3G device or maybe a hotspot. But it’s quite distracting to have 300 tweets an hour about a new camera, so maybe it’s better if you are cut off!

PLACE TO STAY: I stayed at the Riviera, and it ended up being a really nice spot for PPW. You can walk in a pretty direct fashion from the hotel to the convention center across a parking lot (it’s marked as a short cut by the Riviera) so it only takes you about 10 minutes to get to a session. You don’t have to mess with taxis, shuttles, or the monorail – and I saw a picture from the morning of the monorail, you really don’t want to mess with that. In Vegas, where you might be out until dawn, it’s nice to be able to sleep in and meander to your session instead of fighting rush hour. I think there are other, nicer hotels nearby within walking distance as well. The total cost for the Riviera was about $60/night, which is fantastic considering you’re only in your room to sleep for a few hours. The atmosphere of the Riviera is also a lot sleepier than other strip hotels. On any given night, the casino in the MGM or Mirage is packed full of people. Even on Saturday night, there was relatively low activity. Would I do a Vegas vacation at this spot? No way. But for a conference, it was more than fine.

FOOD: Not as bad as I thought it would be. I only spent about 30% of my food budget (during the conference, the other days in Vegas exceeded things so it worked out.) There is a small vendor near the PPW hall that sells cold items that cost quite a bit, if you’re desperate. There’s also a food court closer to the central hall that has a variety of hot items so you can have more of a “real” meal. All the vendors do open pretty early – I had Sbarro pizza for breakfast on day 5, which I simultaneously recommend and urge against.

SHOW FLOOR: You don’t get much time built into your PPW schedule to visit the show floor, so you might have to sacrifice a lunch hour and a session or two if you want to see a few things. You need a full day at least to properly see everything, so you kind of have to make a decision about what you want to see. There is plenty to see on Thursday after PPW ends, but it’s not anything like the excitement on Monday, and many vendors are already gone. I wish that some days PPW would build in a couple of hours for exhibit hall exploration, and go later in sessions or something.

MERCH: The NAB store is pretty close to PPW. And if you come for all 5 days of PPW, you get the benefit of shopping before mostly anyone else arrives. If you see a shirt you like, BUY IT, because when the NAB crowd descends upon the shop on Monday, everything will be picked over.

OTHER ACTIVITIES: Probably the thing that really makes NAB overall worthwhile is the plethora of night time activities going on where you can meet people and network. Events like the Media Motion Ball or Supermeet are definitely worth looking in to and attending instead of hanging out by yourself in the evening. You end up burning the candle at both ends for a couple of days, spending 6-8 hours in sessions and going out until late hours, but it’s worth it.

OVERALL: Post Production World definitely has something to offer anyone in post, no matter if you’re relatively new to the industry, or if you’re a 20 year seasoned pro. There are new ideas and ways of thinking, high level training, and direct interaction with some of the most knowledgable people in the industry. I could go back each year and find something new, I’m sure. I will personally probably try to go every other year or so, as my schedule and budget allows. If you’re trying to figure out if it’s a good way to spend your hard earned money: yep, it is.

And no, nobody paid me to write this. Unfortunately.

So, now you’re convinced. Need to convince someone else to let you go or fund your trip? You’re in luck! I’ve included some handy bullet points for you!

  • Expert instructors and speakers – look these people up and you’ll see their array of credentials. You don’t often see them all in one place – this is your chance.
  • It’s 5 freakin’ days for $900. Unless you can find a coupon. Then it’s less. That’s kind of a steal considering a lot of other conferences charge that for just 2 days.
  • One-on-one interaction. You get all your questions answered face to face, and make connections for the future.
  • Being immersed in an environment of your peers helps to motivate and inspire future work.
  • Continuing education is important to prevent yourself from becoming stagnant. Even if you’re an expert, there’s something for you to learn.
  • Hotel accommodations aren’t that expensive, and flights to Vegas are often pretty low cost and direct compared to other cities.
  • Your budget for the trip otherwise is as big or small as you want it to be.
  • Being in Vegas for NAB in general helps you stay on the forefront of new technology. Even if you aren’t interested in changing or buying new things right away, it shows your clients that you care about staying current, and you can have a knowledgable conversation about your field.
  • It’s fun and will make you happy.
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