CONFESSIONS OF AN NAB JUNKIE: In Search of the OMG Spot Apr ’10

SAN FRANCISCO MARCH 2010. I’m good, I’ve written two Production Diaries, “The Diceman Cometh” for April’s DV and “Dead in Dorking” for May’s. Today, an e-mail from the high ‘n mighty DV editor, David Williams:

Hey Stefan, I want a Production Diary about NAB for our special NAB issue. You know some funny NAB stories. Don’t worry, we’ll use “Diceman in Dorking” some other time.

Write NAB stories? He wants funny ones? No way…

If you’re going to do NAB, it’s an endurance test. They shoot attendees don’t they? NAB is not like MIP in the south of France where you can do the whole show in a one hour flat and spend the rest of the time on the beach or hanging out drinking Pinot.
NAB is neither fun nor funny.

So why go? I go to NAB to chase the elusive butterfly of golly gosh, woo hoo, this is it, this is what we’ve been waiting for, all change now… I call it, THE OMG SPOT.

Stefan at NAB 2008 wearing cool 3D glasses. “Is this two cameras I see before me?”

MY FIRST OMG SPOT I remember the place, date, and time: London, September 21, 1976 — it’s lunchtime, so around 1:15.

Wandering aimlessly up Regent Street. By chance, I meet a friend outside the old BBC building.

“You won’t believe what I’ve just seen,” He says. “It’s a videotape recorder that records broadcast video, not 2″ but 1”. You can stop the machine and the picture freezes. Here take my nametag. Go inside.”

I’m running four audio studios in Soho, London. We record radio commercials and AV presentations. A new videotape recorder, be it 2”, 1” or string, is of no use to me.
I go downstairs under a centuries-old church. Is it a convention? I don’t know. There are lots of people down there, monitors and videotape recorders. It’s a little, wannabe NAB.
Whammy! I see it. OH MY GOD. The videotape recorder from heaven. A machine that can edit pictures the way we edit sound.

I touch her. Put my hands on her tape reels. Turn them and the pictures flick through one by one. Backwards and forwards. I am deeply in love. I woo her.

Now that we know each other a little bit better, wrap your tape around my drum – speed it up, slow it down. Make me feel all right! You are my queen and I am your fool.

And her name is… Ampex. Ampex VPR1.

We’re a sound studio. She is pure video. But I have to have her. I am lost.
OMG spots don’t get better than this.

I buy three there and then. Find an empty 20,000 sq. ft. building. Build a television studio and an edit bay. All for my new love.

It's 1979 -- Peter Tosh, Blondie and Gary Numan get Squeezed and Zoomed at Stefan’s London video facility Molinare.

MY SECOND OMG I met him at NAB in 1978. His name is Nubar Donoyan and he runs and owns Vital Industries. We hit it off immediately. Nubar is one of those magical over achievers who just wows you with his sustainable enthusiasm.
“Stefan I’ve got a new toy that will turn the world upside down. It didn’t make NAB but come visit me in Gainesville. Stay in my Daytona condo. You’ll love the pool.”

I arrive ready for the private demo. She’s called SqueeZoom (above) and blows me away with her digital effects.

“Nubar, you’re a genius. Can I take her home?”

“Only after the Montreux Television Symposium. But yes, she’s yours.”

I bring her home from Montreux on Lake Geneva. She cost $300,000 but pays for herself in six months.

NAB 1986 OMG #3 Quantel’s Harry, a Paintbox on steroids.

NAB 1989 OMG #4 There’s a crowd around a demo. The guy is editing using an ordinary 286/12MHz IBM computer. I’d seen random access “electronic film” editing before at Post Group in L.A. but that used a bank of laser disc players. Who wants 20 laser disc players? Not me.

The company is Editing Machines Corp. Its baby is EMC2. The picture is crummy and the frame rate is wrong. I tell the inventor, Bill Ferster, I’ll buy one when it works. “Sure, this is just a prototype.”

OMG. I have seen the future. This is it! But, sadly not for Bill.

A year later, I buy an Avid. So does everyone else. Bill Ferster is now an academic.

NAB 1999 OMG #5 Apple’s Final Cut Pro, non-linear editing on a laptop.

NAB 2010 OMG What’s in store this year? Surprise me. Amaze me. That’s why I’ll be there.

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