The Coolest Thing I Saw At GenCon

For all the coolness of the industry’s largest convention, the coolest thing for me was getting the opportunity to shake the hand of Howard Tayler, creator of the Schlock Mercenary web comic, who was at the Margaret Weis Productions booth.

I don’t read his comic (which was the focus of his booth presence), but, as I told him, his keynote address at the 2008 Utah Open Source Conference was an epiphany for me, and has completely changed the direction of where my company is headed.

He seemed genuinely thrilled to have someone thank him for that keynote, rather than his webcomic efforts.

Here’s the video of the keynote. Watch it.

GenCon for the Aspiring Professional

Jess Hartley has put out a 16-page PDF article, “GenCon For the Aspiring Professional,” which details tips and suggestions for folks looking to use the largest convention as a venue to break into the industry.

The tips offered are solid, and well worth reading.

The only thing that I would suggest as an addition is that I don’t think GenCon is the best venue — I think that the GAMA Trade Show (GTS), held in the Spring in Las Vegas, is far, far better. The publishers are far less busy, the show (and its after-hours socialization) is far more centralized, you’re not likely to be just another face in a sea of thousands that the publisher has spoken to that day, and, perhaps most importantly, going out of your way to attend a trade show (rather than a gamer-focused convention) sends a message about your professionalism and seriousness — you’ve made the trip to specifically talk business, rather than squeezing business talk in between slots where you’re shopping or gaming.

GenCon is a more “target rich environment” — but I would argue that you get more face time, and get taken more seriously, at GTS.

Something to consider.

Either way, read the PDF.

Inglorious Basterds – Non-Spoiler Review

Went last night with the family to see Inglorious Basterds.

Short version: Easily the best Tarantino film since Jackie Brown — far more restrained and character-driven than I was expecting, or was evident in his last few movies.

It’s still another example of his remixing of past genres he loves — yet in this case, the source (the early 70s ahistorical WWII actioners produced by the Italian studios in the wake of the Spaghetti Western era) is far less well-known, so the riffing isn’t as obvious as it otherwise might be. It’s all there, though — the amoral characters who are “good” or “bad” pretty much by definition only of what side they’re on, the Morricone-esque slow-build-up music, the sudden bursts of over-the-top violence.

The opening 15 minutes is an absolute masterpiece of tension-building — and probably the best single scene that Tarantino has ever directed in his life. A long conversation, ranging through French into English, which has you squirming in your seat — a clear lesson taken from Hitchcock’s famous words to Truffaut:

“There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise’, and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the d├ęcor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb underneath you and it’s about to explode!’

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. “

Tarantino was paying attention. We don’t see a bomb — but when one of the conversants is an SS officer, speaking charmingly and innocuously to a French dairy farmer, we know that *something* bad is going to happen. Tarantino takes our expectation and draws it out to an excruciatingly fine edge.

…and with that one, long, talky scene, he sets the tone for the film.

The title, and the American ad campaign, is fairly misleading. It leads you to believe that the movie is about the “Basterds” — the over-the-top revenge squad commanded by the broad comedic caricature played by Brad Pitt — when in reality they are only an element of a larger story, which is far more restrained and complex than the ads would have you believe. The studios are giving us ads promoting Kill Bill Tarantino, and that’s not what this film is.

Inglorious Basterds received an 11-minute standing ovation at the Cannes film festival — and it deserved every second of it.