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The Past Present and Future of Intersection

The main reason for reviving Conrunner was to provide me with a platform to say what I think needs said about Intersection. I invited other people to write to me with their comments and those who replied are included later in this issue.

I had originally envisioned writing about 10000 words analysing the successes and failures of Intersection and trying to draw some useful conclusions. I have decided instead to be much more succinct (1200 words) and present my conclusions first (to save you reading the rest), followed by some reasons for anyone who wants to read them.

Conclusions

1) Intersection was a success from the point of view of the attendees, the staff and the committee.

2) The problems that they had on the day were no greater than those experienced by any other convention of that size in the last ten years.

3) The amount of effort required to achieve the above situation was completely out of proportion to the benefits accrued.

4) A future British or European worldcon should pare down the programme to a very few streams to make the operations and programme easily manageable.

5) Anyone who actively promotes a new British bid should be given over to Hugh Mascetti for target practice.

6) Some of any surplus should be used to survey a random sample of the attendees to find out exactly what they did at the convention, where they went, what they saw, what they avoided.

Reasons (You Can Leave Now if You Like)

If we take 1 & 6 above first: whether a convention is a success is a fairly subjective thing. Unless a financial yardstick is used you have to rely on "the buzz", which comes from people enjoying what they are doing, whether it is working or attending. The quality of the experience is not dependent on the quantity attending. I don't see the buzz from a worldcon as any better than the buzz from a 100 person relaxacon, mostly because my experience of both conventions is very similar: I sit around and talk to people. Mostly I will talk to forty or so friends and acquaintances for most of the weekend (and a different set of 40 at the next convention) and maybe meet four or five new people to add to my social group. There simply isn't time to meet any more people. I attend very few programme items. So why should I go to a worldcon and pay much more than normal for membership, and have to put up with a desperately uncomfortable venue to do the same as I would at a small convention?

I contend that the majority of people at Intersection have a similar experience to mine: they effectively filter out the hugeness and participate in a limited social framework while attending maybe only two programme items per day.

I would like to send a random sample of the membership, say 10%, a questionnaire about what they did at the convention. Using this data it would be possible to reassess the whole programming and site management strategies, the two biggest headaches for any con.

When I challenged worldcon enthusiasts to give a good reason why people would run worldcons instead of smaller local or national cons nearly all the replies were concerned with the opportunities the big con provided for the conrunners to play with new big toys and did not relate to the enjoyment of the attendees. The best reason given for big cons was the possibility of meeting new people from other parts of the world. Intersection certainly had possibly the most cosmopolitan membership of any worldcon, but is the nationality of the five new people you get to know important? I stick by my theory that most people have a similar con experience to mine, no matter the size of the convention.

Another reasonable excuse for a worldcon is the huge number of professionals available to fill programme slots. (Of course, if you limit your programme you don't need all the pros to fill it...) As the programme participants aren't usually known in advance I'm not sure this is strictly speaking a"draw", but am willing to grant that experienced worldcon attendees can be fairly confident that their favourite writers and scientists will probably be there - but wouldn't they be better attending a smaller convention where their favourite was GoH and be able to get closer to them for more of the time?

Conclusion 2 is reached simply by talking to past committee members. Every worldcon has a division that gets into trouble and needs bailed out. With Intersection it was Programme, where they left it too late to discover that the computer software needed to run the programme couldn't do the job they needed it to do. Delays in advance of the convention fed through to problems on the day. Programme changes were made on the fly. Changing the time of item A to time Z because participant X couldn't make time T meant that the other participants in item A had to reschedule their participation in items B, C, D and E to stay part of item A at the new time. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to be available to tell the people running items B, C, D and E that their participants had been taken away. Or if they found out what was happening by reading a programme update pink sheet and tried to reschedule their items, the whole mad circus would simply escalate.

Which leads in part to conclusion three; it's not worth the effort. A minimum 2 years bidding then 3 years from winning to the day of the convention. 5 years out of your life and it's over in 5 days. A worldcon is certainly a challenge, but the challenge is not worth taking up because at the end of it you have achieved only intangible results. You will always feel dissatisfied with your performance and you will get little praise and fewer thank yous. It's a waste of your time compared to the more immediately rewarding but no less challenging task of running an Eastercon or any other convention for that matter. And it costs a fortune. The best estimates available seem to indicate that you cannot win a bid for a worldcon without spending $20000 (about 14000) in running parties and having a presence at conventions across the world. (I won't get into the argument about whether the world extends outwith North America). That stake money comes out of the pockets of the bidders and their supporters and may never be repaid even if the bid wins. It represents the equivalent of the entire budget for a big Eastercon. Why not invest in our National convention than gamble on winning big.

Conclusion 4 is based on the low audience numbers at the vast majority of programme items at Intersection. The atrocious acoustics in the subdivided halls probably contributed to audiences staying away in droves. This was a consequence of the lack of suitable venues for all of the 20 + streams and the impossibility of doing adequate tech with the resources available in the halls used. Reduce the programme streams to around 10 gives each item a better chance of getting an audience and makes ops much easier to manage.

Conclusion 5 is obvious when you realise that, starting a week after Intersection, the e-mail has been flowing like a river in flood as a hard core of really sad staffers, who realised that after 5 years working on the worldcon they have absolutely no life outside it, have begun recording their thoughts on how the next one can be made better. So far they have sent each other over 500 messages on topics as diverse as pigeon holes and sausages. They seem set to egg each other on to bidding again for 2003, though possibly as part of a Berlin bid.

They are all sad gits and deserve a merciful death.

I have spent fifteen years talking about convention running and have been involved in a dozen or so conventions. They could spend fifteen years talking and only manage two conventions. It simply isn't worth it.

There is a belief that worldcons act as a showcase for SF because they get more media coverage than local cons and so they channel new blood into fandom. It will be interesting to see whether Intersection has that effect. People most often attend their first con when they go with someone who is already a fan. If more fans go to a worldcon then the number of new fans tagging along will be numerically greater than for an Eastercon, but will it actually be a greater proportion?

I had an argument with Ben Yalow about the morality of a Worldcon bid hijacking British fandom, throwing it into years of turmoil. He made some very cogent remarks, pointing out that the contract is between the people who vote and the people who offer to run the convention, it isn't encumbent on the host country's fandom to do anything at all. In a legalistic sense he is correct, but the reality is that when the worldcon comes to town everyone gets caught up in the circus. Some stick their heads in the lion's mouth, others write to the paper complaining about the noise. There seems to me to be no long term or short term benefits that accrue to our fannish community because of the worldcon but there are many penalties. Why don't we just ignore it and concentrate on making our home grown conventions better? The skills required to run a worldcon are not transferable down the scale to even our national convention, so why not refine the skills we really require?

That was why I started publishing this fanzine in 1984 and look forward to printing lots more of your good ideas for years to come. (Hint: Running another worldcon doesn't qualify as a good idea.)


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This page updated on 09 July 1999