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HPA Tech Retreat 2021: Exactly the Same, Completely Different, and Over the Top

By Debra Kaufman

Shortly after last year’s HPA Tech Retreat – the event’s 25th anniversary – COVID-19 shut down all such gatherings in the state. “Last year’s HPA Tech Retreat in the desert was maybe the industry’s last in-person event before the shutdown in California,” notes Hallen. When it became obvious that an in-person event in 2021 presented “too many unknowns,” the HPA team began to envision what a virtual or hybrid Tech Retreat would look like. Welcome to HPA Tech Retreat 2021, the first in its 26 year history to be online.

HPA president Seth Hallen, programming curator Mark Schubin, and a committee of experienced others are creating an innovative plan that will appeal to even the most Zoom-fatigued. “Much of HPA and the Tech Retreat is about community,” Hallen says. “People fly in from around the country and from other parts of the world and drive across the desert to connect with old friends, collaborate and learn. It’s definitely built around that great educational programming and knowledge sharing, but it’s all about the connection.” The HPA has an ambitious plan to recreate the event in a way that will seem familiar to past attendees.

The first change is the timing. Rather than four consecutive days in the desert, HPA Tech Retreat 2021 will take place on Monday and Tuesday, February 15 and 16 and the following week, also Monday and Tuesday, February 23 and 24. On opening day, Schubin will kick off the Tech Retreat as always, with his annual Tech Year in Review, followed by a panel discussion on how the industry has been impacted by COVID-19. Another tentpole of the Tech Retreat, the Supersession, will take place on February 23. Hallen notes that last year’s “Lost Lederhosen,” which highlighted remote and cloud-based workflows, ended up being incredibly relevant in the months that followed. No surprise then that this year’s event – again hosted by Joachim “JZ” Zell – will revisit the terrain, but in a much bigger way, looking at how these remote and cloud-enabling technologies can support multiple, global productions.

HPA Tech Retreat 2021 will continue to showcase the kind of educational and informational programming it’s known for. (Proposals are still being accepted through 5 pm PDT on November 20.) And the Tech Retreat will stay true to its core, with main program presentations “strictly reserved for marketing-free content” and, as always, sessions can and will focus on a range of topics. But 2021 differs in that “an important focus this year will be on how technology has helped the industry overcome the impact of the COVID 19 virus and the role it will play as we adapt to a new set of industry challenges and opportunities.”

Presentations will also have a new format. Be it a panel or a presentation, the maximum duration will be 20 minutes – and there is no minimum duration. Schubin notes that, “we might be able to accommodate more presentations, so consider splitting big topics into multiple presentations.” Those whose proposals are accepted will have to deliver a pre-recorded presentation before the event. As to the content – it’s too early to tell. “I never know what’s going to be in the program until we finish going through the submissions,” says Schubin. “I can tell you we’ve gotten a lot of good ones, many related to the pandemic.”

Key to the next HPA Tech Retreat is the HPA Content Platform, still under construction, where the presentations will find a home along with other asynchronous presentations, enabling attendees to watch whenever they want. That’s a bonus for attendees who live in other time zones. Hallen reports that HPA will be dropping new content on the platform every day. “Asynchronous means more slots,” he explains. “But they will still be curated and vetted.” The presentations will have interactive components and still allow the attendees to ask questions of the presenters.

Community is a big part of the 2021 remote event, which will include the familiar breakfast round tables. Although everyone will have to fix his or her own breakfast, again, any registered attendee can sign up to moderate a table and attendees can “sit down” at any breakfast roundtable they want. The Innovation Zone will also be open, where attendees will be able to watch demos of showcased products.

Hallen reveals that HPA Tech Retreat 2021 will also enable a range of more impromptu connections among attendees and other opportunities to create community. Networking options, chats, connections are going to be enabled.  While it’s not sitting on the golf course with someone, there will be plenty of opportunities to connect and convene. With a combination of more and shorter presentations that can be watched on demand, content that explores the wins and struggles of our industry during a pandemic, and the familiar community venues for greeting friends and sharing information, the HPA Tech Retreat 2021 promises to be a noteworthy event. As a remote event, it also promises broader outreach to more people around the globe. In other words, it’s yet another Tech Retreat not to be missed.

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