5 Questions With Mark Schubin: The Maestro Speaks
Mark Schubin has been closely involved with the HPA Tech Retreat for more than 20 years. His unique perspective and unparalleled depth of knowledge have informed the curation of an event that is seen as one of the most important technical conferences of the year. The 2017 HPA Tech Retreat returns this year to Indian Wells, California from the 20th to 24th of February. Before that action packed, thought packed week unfolds, we took time out of Mark’s busy schedule to ask him a few key questions.
How did the HPA Tech Retreat come to be, and how did you get involved?
Twenty years ago, I was asked by what was then called the International Teleproduction Society (ITS) to moderate an HDTV panel of broadcast networks at their Tech Retreat in Monterey, California. I made it in before a big storm; no one else did. So I made some gigantic paper hats––one for each network (and PBS)––and wore them one at a time as I explained network positions. I also worked with Panasonic and Sony on some demos, and, when Sony’s techs got stuck in the storm, worked with Panasonic on getting Sony’s projector to look its best––that’s the spirit of the Tech Retreat. The next year, I was asked to assemble the whole program, and Bruce Jacobs of Twin Cities Public Television put together an amazing demo area in which people could ask to see any source via any bit-rate-reduction system on any display (there were even more parameters). It was like engineering improv.
When ITS died, I was asked if I’d be willing to do the Tech Retreat for HPA. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Help us set the context for those who have not experienced the HPA Tech Retreat first-hand. What is it like?
The HPA Tech Retreat is an informal gathering for the exchange of information relating to motion-image and related technologies. It has some of the top engineering talent from around the world (presenters have come from locations ranging from Bombay to Buenos Aires and Norway to New Zealand) but also creative people, investors, and even lawyers. If an attendee is from MPEG, that could be either the Moving Picture Experts Group or the Motion Picture Editors Guild; both have had representatives at previous retreats. There have also been people from NATO the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and NATO the National Association of Theatre Owners. Major manufacturers have introduced technologies at the HPA Tech Retreat before they’ve been shown anywhere else, and sometimes organizations like the BBC, the European Broadcasting Union, or the Japan Broadcasting Corporation criticize those latest developments.
Every year, new processes and new people are on stage enabling attendees to look at things differently, or understand what’s happening in the industry – creative, business, technical. How do you determine what these presentations are?
In two words: we don’t. Unlike other events, we don’t determine anything in advance. We don’t say, for example, “There should be a session on high frame rate.” The program is determined by what gets submitted. This year, for example, we got five submissions about a topic we haven’t discussed before; they’ll probably get a session or a panel. We try to keep the first main-program day devoted to distribution and presentation: broadcasting, streaming, displays, theatrical sound – things of that nature. The second day we try to keep to production and post. The last is usually fun for geeks.
Are there any hints at trends that you see as critical?
Nope! You have to show up!
Sometimes the HPA Tech Retreat features presentations from outside media and entertainment. Why is that?
We never know where new technologies will come from. Image scanning was invented by a clock maker; submarine telegraphy led to image sensors. We’re all here to learn and share. We don’t discriminate.