It was over three years in the making and FISM Beijing is now over. As it said in all the press releases: “Mr. LIN Jian, Executive President of FISM WCM 2009 promises that 24th FISM WCM will be the most successful convention in the FISM history.”
The big question now is – did they deliver?
Was it worth the risk of moving FISM outside of Europe to make it truly international?
Let’s take a look at my personal FISM Report Card.
SUBJECT: ECONOMY – 85%
Registration: All the pre-registration hype promised that FISM 2009 would be the cheapest ever. At a registration of 350 Euros (or 388 Euros if you book later) it was definitely an absolute steal for what they delivered and much cheaper than previous FISMS. FISM 2012 is already offering an early bird price of 450 Euros – and that includes one banquet. The support of the Chinese government and the low cost of living in China certainly helped as well.
Airfares: China promised great discount deals but didn’t offer anything until only a few months before FISM. Thanks to the global financial crisis however, cheaps flights to China were in abundance!
Hotels: In the initial China offer, we could get a 5 star hotel for the equivalent of $150. Once they changed venue to the CNCC however, the price went up to $220 a night. Not really as cheap as we expected. Yes, there were cheaper hotels in the vicinity, and FISM offered shuttle buses between the CNCC and the hotels, but did anyone actually see any buses? As far as I know there were none and people spent the money they saved on cheaper hotels on taxis back and forth all week. (Thankfully taxi fares in China are very cheap).
Food & Drink: One drawcard FISM promote was how cheap it was to eat and drink in China. 600ml Coke for 48c etc. Yes, you could get a can of coke for around 40-50c at the nearby Northstar Supermarket, but it cost you $2 each way in a cab to get there. Otherwise the only place (other than the 4 and 5 star hotel restaurants) to get a coke was in the FISM food court for $3 a can. (During the week the price was dropped to $2 a can). A few shops or cafes in walking distance of the venue would have been a great option, but with 2,500 captive registrants I think the food court did a roaring trade...
SUBJECT: VENUE – 70%
Overall: The CNCC was a brand new, very modern venue, but I couldn’t help think we were the beta-testers as FISM was the first convention they hosted. Plasma screens in all the foyers showing highlights of the previous days were an excellent idea and really brightened up otherwise dull and cold concrete rooms. (Though the music got extremely repetitive after Day One).
Food Court: This was a great way to transform an otherwise dull space into the central hub of FISM 2009. Lots of tables and chairs, big plasma screens, a stage with live music at lunch time and late at night, and dozens of food and drink stalls selling everything including fresh won ton soup, noodles, pizza, pasta, hotdogs, sandwiches, chips, fresh fruit, soft drinks and alcohol. The dealers den, registration desk and exhibition areas were all directly connected to the food court. Also, to speed things up, you had to buy an IC Card (a sort of debit card) to use to make purchases.
Theatre: There were two theatres one flight up from the food court. Identical theatres one seating about 800 which was used for the stage competition, and the second seating 2,200 which was used for the gala shows. The theatres themselves were merely converted exhibition halls so the atmosphere was very cold. The stages were portable, and were the most amazing portable stages I’ve ever seen! The seating was tiered except for the first twenty of thirty rows which were flat. Many people who booked early to get seats up front close to the stage were very disappointed as all they could see was the head of the person in front of them. They ended up watching the shows on the big screens either side of the stage, but the sound and vision were so out of sync it was like watching an old dubbed movie.
Auditorium: This is where the close up competition, and some of the lectures, were held. Comfortable tiered seats with fold out desks helped add to the atmosphere, but as the performers were working on stage the first two rows couldn’t see the surface of the tables and had to watch the acts on the out-of-sync video screen. Also, because the acts had to perform downstage in front of the video screen, the curtains couldn’t be closed on the close up table properly between acts and an ugly black screen was brought out between acts so they could set up – which looked very unprofessional. The video screen was not only out-of-sync, but often washed out by the lighting. Obie O’Brien often set the lights correctly but when the show started CCTV seemed to set everything back to the way they wanted. Three years of preparation seemed wasted as most of the decisions (where the table was going to sit, how the stage would be lit, how contestants would get on and off etc) where made on the day. As at past FISMS, because the auditorium only seated 300 or so, people lined up outside for an hour in hopes of getting a seat, and this lead to a few ugly incidents. If only FISM could solve this by issuing ticketing or something. No-one wants to waste their FISM time standing in line.
SUBJECT: SECURITY – 40%
Entering: Everyone who entered the CNCC (except the VIPs) had their bags searched, badges checked and had to walk through a metal detector. I don’t know what they were looking for, but it certainly made the event feel more important. You could get through without being searched if you did a trick for the security staff though, or entered through the open backstage doors.
Badges: Though you were checked when you came in, many locals collected the badges of their friends, left the building and returned with more magicians wearing their friends badges. By about the third or fourth day of FISM staff were instructed to eject anyone who wasn’t wearing their badge (except VIPs of course).
Photos & Videos: The rules of FISM were very clear – No Flash Photography or Videotaping during the contests, shows or lectures – yet at least 50% of the registrants did. When the warning was given at the start of an event (English and Chinese) people cheered and others did put their cameras away. More often than not no warnings were made and people filmed unchallenged. Many times friends of the performers or competitors told people in the audience to stop filming or tried to get security to stop them. One performer went to get a security guard only to find him filming the gala show with video camera in hand pointing at the stage. Most performers try to show their fellow artists respect, but if they are not told not to film before a show, and they see others filming and not being stopped, it’s too easy to join the crowd. Many top performers refused to come to FISM because they didn’t want their acts video taped. They were able to request that CCTV not film their act, as Omar Pasha did, but they felt that FISM wouldn’t protect their intellectual rights – and they didn’t. Unless FISM takes this rule seriously and actually starts throwing people out of confiscating cameras, or using metal detectors to stop all cameras and phones from entering the theatres, then don’t make these rules.
Dealers: FISM issued several statements promising that knock-offs in the dealer room would not be tolerated. They even had all dealers sign documents agreeing that if they were caught with knock-offs the items would be compensated or the dealer would be ejected. Many of the big dealers felt FISM were not serious and chose not to attend. As it turned out, they were right. One dealer walked around the other booths before FISM opened and found over 40 knock-offs on open display. He reported it to the dealers committee who said he needed to start a petition... nothing was done. On the other hand, when Juan Mayoral, Rocco, and I approached them on separate occasions and pressured them, they did confiscate the items from the pirate dealers, but the items resurfaced a day or so later. The quality and range of items this year was, in general, poor. There were a lot of bargains to be had but $2 plastic appearing canes (I saw some after FISM in a toy store too) and plastic floating tables are on par with the Masked Magician. There were some blatant knock-offs too – D’Lites being sold by the bag full a few stands down from Rocco (who correctly pointed out that FISM allowing that to happen was showing huge disrespect to him as a guest artist), one stand had an Impaled illusion in the aisle and an Origami behind the counter. Unless FISM takes this rule seriously and throws people out of the dealers room, they can’t expect quality dealers to attend in future. Again, why make a rule if you are not willing to enforce it? These people are paying for the privilege of dealing at FISM where they made an absolute fortune. If they can’t stick to the rules, throw them out. Why pander to a Chinese “Toy Company” who sees magic as a business not an art and considers our ethics a joke, when you could have Collector’s Workshop, Lossander, Kevin James and other quality dealers attending in their place?
SUBJECT: EVENTS – 75%
Chinese Shows: Overall the shows were excellent, with the opening gala and the all-Chinese banquet shows outstanding. World-class acts, precise audio and visual cues, everything went like clockwork.
Magic Galas: The magic galas paled by comparison. The talent was there, but it was almost as if the crew were simply not interested: Curtains opened too soon, closed in the middle of acts and sometimes only closed part way. The wrong music tracks played on a few occasions, microphones got feedback, and lighting cues were missed or the wrong states were played exposing things that shouldn’t have been seen. Performers reported that the crews were difficult to deal with, generally refusing to do anything unless word came directly from their boss. This proved to be a headache to many performers and resulted in tension backstage in not only the shows but the comps as well. Even though there was a stage manager brought in from the USA, the Chinese crew didn’t recognise him as boss. Even when Topas was on stage and asked for houselights, it never happened, and you could see the frustration growing on his face. This has happened at FISMs in the past, but never quite like this. After FISM ten performers were booked to stay on and do a series of massive public shows. The AV problems remained the same. One artist told me he asked a tech to play his music at a different time in the show. The tech said he wouldn’t unless the magician taught him some magic.
Lectures: As usual with any FISM we had a mixed bag of lectures. Some were outstanding, others looked unprepared while some were simply dealers dems. The 2009 lecture schedule was very thin compared to previous FISMS and very few were repeated, which they usually are, often in different languages.
Banquets: Two banquets, each equally sumptuous. An astonishing venue seating 2,500 with each table having it’s own waiters and an abundant supply of food and drink. Add to this a world-class line up of the best non-magic acts China has to offer and FISM have raised the bar to an impossible standard for future FISMS. The only criticisms I heard were: no magic acts, no food if you don’t eat Chinese, the music was waaaay too loud.
Stage Competition: This year the standard was very low. Not as many bad acts as previous events, which was good, but hardly any outstanding acts either. Mike Close, booked while FISM where still in negotiations with Frank Wilson, is a talented magician but it really wasn’t the same without Frank. He seemed to keep the energy in the room between competition acts and held focus on the stage. Several questions were raised about sponsors: Should Jury members be allowed to judge the acts they sponsor? How can sponsors not know what the artists they sponsor are going to do?
Close Up Competition: Again the standard was very low, and only 35 entrants too. Lots of technical issues with mics being turned on too late, the video screen being washed out and out of sync, and local crew doing what their bosses told them not Obie O’Brien who was hired to make the comp run smoothly. Also, the people who always got to make the final decisions seemed to be not Obie, or the local FISM crew, but CCTV. One CCTV staff member sat next to the head of the Jury, a chair which must be kept vacant, even Eric Eswin is not allowed to sit in it. But he was allowed to stay there because of the large amount of money CCTV was paying for the rights to film. He even blatantly watched everything Boris was writing down on his score sheet and took notes!
Magic Salon: After the evening gala shows everyone headed back to the food court area for the Magic Salon. The atmosphere was great with food, drink, dancing to Cuban bands, but not much magic. Juan Tamariz did several shows to small groups in one room and the lines were always long. David Williamson and Lennart Green tried to spread themselves among the registrants but everytime they started they were surrounded by people five deep so only about 30 or so could watch each magician at any one time, leaving 2,400 magicians missing out. Better staging or more magicians would have been great, as they did in Den Haag, or more magicians in more rooms, as they did in Stockholm.
Exhibitions: The massive photo exhibit of pictures by Zakary Belamy and the Chinese Folk Exhibition were both excellent additions and this sort of this definitely should be included at every FISM.
Registration Desk: Efficient, easy to find and never crowded. A big bonus here for FISM organisers. On the other hand, we arranged for pre-registration for our Aussie group at 10am in the CNCC Grand Foyer the day before FISM started. We all waited in the foyer for 30 minutes but no-one showed up. We found an organiser an hour later who apologised, got the right person on the phone, and it was rescheduled for 5.30pm but again no-one showed up.
Staff: Staff overall were excellent. Not as many English speaking staff as promised in the original bid by China, but they certainly tried hard. One plus would have been more announcements to registrants to keep them informed and up to date. Even messages typed on the plasma screens would have helped. Communication was always going to be a problem at FISM China.
SUBJECT: MEDIA – 80%
FISM Website: This was the first port of call for most interested in finding out about FISM 2009 and it was extremely disappointing. Layout and design was amateurish, updates were infrequent and often wrong, and the forum was abandoned and filled with spam. This could have been a powerful promotional tool as was Stockholm’s website in 2006, and it could also have been a great live broadcast site during FISM where the rest of the world could get the latest FISM news. But it wasn’t.
Press and Television: This is where FISM excelled. Maybe it was because of their deal with CCTV but FISM was all over the television every day and night, with some evening broadcasts showing entire shows or competitions. Whether the FISM contestants had agreed to such open use of their acts or not is debatable, but it certainly did increase the awareness of FISM in China. There was also a lot of coverage in the local papers including a two page colour spread. Every day there was a 1pm Press Conference and FISM 2009 was even picked up by CNN and some other international media outlets. Of course, this offered the opportunity for FISM China to make bold statements like “Peter Marvey is a far better magician than David Copperfield”.
Daily FISM: Similar bold statements were made in the daily FISM newsletter we received each day. Unfortunately, this double sided A3 flyer mainly did nothing more than repeat the previous day’s program of events rather than offer any helpful information to prepare us for the next day. Again, this was a wasted opportunity that could have been so much more.
SUBJECT: AWARDS – 70%
Trophies: The trophies themselves were beautifully made copies of the 2006 FISM awards. They also came with their own road cases so the winners could take them home safely, brilliant idea. Unfortunately, two broke a few hours after they were presented. Also, in the case of ties, one of the magicians got a blank trophy and was told they would get a plaque mailed to them they could stick on. Maybe the next FISM could try what we did at the 2004 Australian Convention and get and engraver in to engrave the trophies complete with the winners’ names before the presentation. A small extra cost but well worth the effort.
Ceremony: The ceremony was fantastic. Efficient, straight down to business and very professionally staged. Still, it would be nice if the first place winners were allowed to say a few words. However, a lot of the excitement was ruined by someone deciding to run the rehearsal for the Close Up Grand Prix the day before the awards were presented. As a result, the winners were notified before the presentation, plus due to a glitch courtesy of CCTV, the rehearsals were broadcast in house throughout the centre immediately before the banquet, so everyone knew who the winners were in advance. This was not necessary as the rehearsals were scheduled in the programme for after the award ceremony.
Grand Prix: Everything was going tremendously well and very smoothly (well, except for all the tech troubles the guest artists had to battle through) until the time came to present the awards. The two Grand Prix winners were announced, celebrations began, then they were sent off as a dignitary came on and read a speech which essentially told us how many days FISM lasted, how many registrants attended, and what a success it was for China. This VIP performed the vanishing audience as, the longer his speech went, the more audience members filed out of the theatre. Why not do the speeches first, then announce the winners and party on!
SUBJECT: POLITICS – 45%
FISM in China was always going to generate political feelings, but when Mago Larry had three flags from Asian countries randomly chosen for a mental effect in the Close Up Comp and his prediction was revealed to be three countries he’d like to visit and one was Taiwan, a Chinese registrant leapt to the stage at the end of the act, physically dragged the bewildered contestant back on stage and demanded he apologise to everyone because “Taiwan is not a country”. Now the poor guy, like most magicians, was not aware of Chinese/Taiwanese relations and was totally humiliated. Other Chinese in the audience applauded while everyone else in the room sat stunned. The registrant, regardless of his political views, should have been reprimanded for invading the stage but he wasn’t. The magician was not making a political statement about Taiwan, but the Chinese registrant was. Taiwan was not allowed to have their flag flown with all of the other FISM countries (though FISM recognises them as a country, China does not) and China printed badges for the Taiwanese registrants saying they came from ‘Chinese Taipei’ instead of ‘Taiwan’. Many Taiwanese used black markers to cross out Chinese Taipei and wrote in Taiwan instead. All of this ran against Eric Eswin’s opening FISM address where he said FISM was not a country, but a feeling.
TOTAL SCORECARD - 66.48%
In some areas FISM China did exceptionally well only to be let down in others.
As far as most registrants were concerned, they had a fantastic time. Dealers and artists, not so much. It was a great first try for China and exceeded our expectations in many ways, but in others they failed to deliver on their promises.
Bring on Blackpool!