Because I’m weird like that, I decided to write up some bits of the 2012 annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in a screenplay format.
This would never make a good movie or TV show and here’s why: NO CONFLICT! There’s over 1000 of us there, and we’re all so happy to be there that there is no conflict. Nothing happens! Everyone is happy.
So, it’s a lousy script, but it highlights some of the things that go on at these meetings, in its own special bizarre way…
Some names have been changed to protect the innocent, and things are written mostly how I remember them, which might not be reality. If you think I might be talking about you, well, I might be!
Also, please forgive the formatting errors. They’re there. I couldn’t make it work right. Poo.
By the way, these things really did happen. …mostly.
#2012SVP: The movie
EXT. MAJOR HOTEL – NIGHT
PENNY HIGGINS, middle-aged paleontologist exits an airport shuttle bus. She gathers her belongings, pays the driver and enters the hotel.
INT. MAJOR HOTEL – CONTINUOUS
Penny passes through sliding glass doors and is met by the din of loud discussion. She looks toward the bar and sees a crowd within, the source of the noise. She smiles and nods. She knows the sounds of paleontologists.
Paleontology. How I love thee!
INT. DARKENED CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY
Penny is checking Twitter on her phone. A tweet from the host society shows up “Beware the flatulent chairs. Sit carefully.”
Penny raises slightly from her seat and sits back down hard. The chair toots. Penny eyes the person sitting beside her. He’s looking back, eyes wide.
Oops! Excuse me!
The man smiles and returns his attention to the speaker.
Another person enters the room and sits in front of Penny, causing his chair to emit a loud farting noise. Penny struggles to contain her laughter and quickly re-tweets the earlier tweeted warning.
INT. CONVENTION CENTER – POSTERS – DAY
The room is arranged with several rows of posters, presenting scientific results. Between the rows are packed hundreds of paleontologists, discussing the posters among themselves and with the authors. The room is a cacophony of voices. Nearly everyone has a drink.
So tell me your story here.
(points to poster)
Well, our data seem to show that this takes about one year. But I’m told you’ve already done this.
We got our data ten years ago. We just haven’t published it yet.
Well, you need to publish it! Your data sound better than mine. And your results make better sense.
We’ll get to it.
I’m gonna e-mail you every week until it’s published
Maybe you should.
Dan moves on. One of Penny’s friends approaches.
How goes it?
Yeah. This work’s been done already.
This is what happens when people don’t publish.
At least it wasn’t an oral presentation – or worse: a rejection from a journal. We move on.
Judy pats Penny on the shoulder.
INT. DARKENED CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY
A video is playing of a Hyena eating a big chunk of meat and bone. Penny furiously tweets what she is seeing. Numerous other tweets scroll past, highlighting the same thing, each containing the phrases “bone cracking” “hyena” and “pig neck”. Penny grins, relishing the morbidity of her paleontological colleagues.
Someone sits down near Penny, causing the chair to fart. Restraining laughter, Penny heads out to find coffee.
INT. CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY
A silent auction is being set out. Items are spread out over several tables throughout the room. People are running around sorting items and arranging them in an appealing way.
Penny enters lugging a hefty wooden rocking-dinosaur.
Yup. This is it. You’re going to a new home.
Penny looks around and finds who she’s looking for.
(indicates the dinosaur)
Silent or live?
Penny hoists the dinosaur onto a table in front of the stage, where the live auction will take place later in the day.
INT. MEETING ROOM – EVENING
Six people stand around, four of whom are dressed as characters from the movie and comics “The Avengers.”
Penny walks out of a back room in a white and black pleather body suit.
I’m gonna cook in this thing!
Now, who are you?
Mockingbird. From the comics.
Penny dons her long, platinum blonde wig and adjusts it on her head.
Do you have an extra hair tie?
I only have long hair when I’m wearing a wig!
There’s a knock at the door. Thor and Loki have arrived. Tony Stark leaves to set the stage for the entrance of the Avengers.
Becca’s phone bings.
INT. HOTEL BAR – NIGHT
The Avengers (paleontologists in costume) enter the bar to hoots and congratulations from the other paleontologists there.
Thor, Loki, and Penny approach the bar to get a drink.
Whatever you want. My treat.
A woman and her husband are seated nearby and are delighted to see the three costumed paleontologists standing there.
Oh, please! Let us buy! We’re so happy to meet you!
The husband nods and turns away, disinterested. The woman continues to gush.
I’m so glad to have met real paleontologists! Y’know, on our beach I’ve found some really interesting fossils!
Loki and Penny look knowingly at each other. Thor moves off into another conversation.
I’ve seen fossils of a baby bird being born.
Penny and Loki feign interest. There is little doubt in either one of their heads that what the woman has seen is not a bird being born.
We’re glad you got to meet us. We’re pretty tired, though. We just did a big auction and we’re winding down.
Oh sure! Oh sure! I understand! I just think it’s great that you’re here. It’s like a sign or something!
Well thank you for the drinks!
Sure! I hope we can talk more!
Loki and Penny roll their eyes at each other, then join Thor in his conversation.
INT. DARKENED CONFERENCE ROOM – DAY
Penny looks at her phone, checking the conference twitterfeed. A tweet pops up promising a blooper reel at the end of a talk. Penny is intrigued, and leaves quietly.
INT. DARKENED CONFERENCE ROOM – MOMENTS LATER
Penny takes a seat in another conference room (though it looks identical to the one she just left). She settles in, phone in hand, ready to be wowed.
The presentation begins.
It’s hard to motivate an alligator to run.
The audience laughs. Soon videos are being shown of alligators and crocodiles running in a Plexiglas chute.
Penny looks at the twitterfeed. Multiple people are tweeting about this presentation. Penny smiles.
And, as promised, the blooper reel.
On the screen are shown video clips of the alligators and crocodiles escaping from the chute and lunging at the camera. The audience laughs. Tweets fly.
INT. BANQUET ROOM – EVENING
Several hundred paleontolgists are gathered for a catered meal and a short awards ceremony. The meal has been eaten and the few remaining plates have been removed. Attention turns to the President of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. She announces several award winners. As the evening continues, the awards become more significant.
The Colbert Student poster prize goes to Stephanie Crofts.
People rise to give a standing ovation. As all sit down, a series of toots and tweets are heard.
And the Romer Prize for student research goes to Jack Tseng!
The crowd rises again, clapping and shouting. With sitting, the chorus of toots and farting noises is louder. There is audible chuckling. Penny looks at her twitterfeed. A new hashtag has arisen: #squeakyseat
And the Romer-Simpson Medal goes to Philip Gingerich!
The crowd rises once more, delighted for their long-time colleague. The tooting and farting sounds as people sit are very loud this time. Clearly people are intentionally sitting hard to make the noise louder. Penny is laughing so hard, tears are coming from her eyes.
INT. HOTEL LOBBY – MORNING
Penny walks away from the front desk. She pauses, looking back.
(to no one)
Next year. L.A. See you soon.