It was really good to catch up with so many people last weekend in New York at Machinima '08. I spent many hours on the street outside Eyebeam smoking and chatting, or in Jake's Saloon drinking and chatting, or wherever-it-was-we-ended-up eating and chatting. About machinima, what we've been doing, what we're going to do, what we really want to do, what we think other people should do, and where it's going. And, equally importantly, we chatted far more about life, movies, music, places we've been, things we've eaten, families, politics, and every other topic under the sun.
The common theme throughout all of that, you might notice, is chatting. What we didn't do was sit and watch panels (apart from Phil & Ricky on sound) or watch machinima films. We all know what we have to say on our pet subjects, because we talk about them endlessly on blogs, forums, podcasts, twitter, or Web sites. We've all seen the movies already, because that's what we're into. And if we haven't seen them, we can catch them online any time. Meeting with other machinimators from far and wide is something we can only do at events like this. As far as I'm concerned, that's what festivals are for.
So it was a little disappointing that there was nowhere in Eyebeam to just sit and chat. The few comfy chairs and sofas were in an area with student films showing on a continuous loop (and with sound that kept bleeding through into the area where they had the panels, so you couldn't hear the speakers). And, what was worse, there was no coffee (let alone beer!) so if you wanted a drink you had to go a couple of blocks. As a result, I spent hardly any time at the festival in Eyebeam itself. I'd go off with someone, chat for a bit, head back, bump into someone else I knew somewhere on the street, and we'd head right back to a bar or diner. The party after the awards was OK, but it had only just got going when we had to head out to a nearby bar for the after-party, and then I lost touch with most of the people I wanted to chat to.
There were maybe thirty people I wanted to talk to, and I could have spent an hour with any of them. Sadly, there just wasn't time in a one-day festival.
It's very tempting for anyone organising an event to think that the reason people are coming is to see the things that are laid on, but it just ain't so. The scheduled events are generally excuses to be there, or places to meet, or a way of structuring your day. Events like this are gatherings, a way of getting people into the same place at the same time so they can interact face to face. The time and space needs to be built around those interactions, with the scheduled events providing a backdrop. MFF08 could easily have been a two-day event, even with no extra events, just more space between them.
Still, I did enjoy myself immensely, and I'm glad I made the trip across the Atlantic. I feel I know many of you much better now, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of it. And, of course, looking forward to the next one.