CoNZealand Chairs Apologize for Some Hugo Ceremony Flaws

After last night’s Hugo Awards ceremony CoNZealand posted “An apology from the CoNZealand Chairs”:

We acknowledge that we got some things wrong at the Hugo Awards Ceremony today, and through doing so have hurt members of our community.

We sincerely apologise for that hurt. We apologise for the mispronunciations of names, and any disrespect implied. Phonetic guidelines were made available to us, and we did not overcome the challenges we faced.

As Chairs, we accept full responsibility for this. The Chairs also made the decision to provide an agnostic platform for all the participants, and did not place restrictions on any speech or presentations.

The Chairs also extend our personal apology to Claire Rousseau for not including video in the introduction to the Best Fancast Award. Video is an important medium within the Fancast category and we regret its omission. It was not intentional, but it did cause hurt

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47 thoughts on “CoNZealand Chairs Apologize for Some Hugo Ceremony Flaws

  1. I was taught (and experience proved the advice to be substantially true) that the Worldcon chair’s job is to thank people and apologize…. Lots of opportunities here.

  2. It shouldn’t be that hard, but maybe the concom needs to recruit a linguist to learn the pronunciation of all of the names of candidates (i.e., ask them), and actually coach the presenters. We can’t expect the presenters to handle phonemes that aren’t in their native languages, but we should be able to handle, for example, whether a ‘c’ is a /k/ or a /ts/, and whether an ‘x’ is /ks/, /hs/, or /h/. There are on the order of 100 candidates, but any individual presenter ordinarily needs to handle a fraction of these.

    I’m not good with languages myself, or else I would volunteer to help 2021 with this.

  3. There was so much to apologize for, and very little of it was not entirely predictable and entirely preventable (and I’m not even talking about the technical flaws, though from a professional point of view, many of them they were also inexcusable).

    Most of this presentation was pre-recorded, which means it could have and should have been edited. I don’t think anybody can reasonably look at Bob Silverberg’s scattered Grandpa Simpson monologue and think that either he, Worldcon, or the fans watching were well-served by it. and nobody that seen Bob Silverberg speak at Worldcon in the last 10 years could possibly not have seen it coming, either. That whole thing could have been cut to 90 seconds and everyone would have been better for it, Bob himself first of all.

    Ditto George, who is known for being a rambling ranconteur, though in George’s defense I think that as a Hollywood guy he might assume that the director and editor would cut his long takes together and make him look good, instead of presenting it simply as-is. Raw footage is nobody’s friend.

    And also, and I say this is a personal friend of George, while I believe that George is a fundamentally good man who tries his best to be an ally, he’s not exactly au courant with the current cultural and political landscape in SFF fandom. Why didn’t the director and editor step in and cut his material together so that all of his obvious love and reverence for our shared cultural history could be left in, but maybe the tone-deaf dick jokes could be left out?

    And listen, I get it, unprecedented situation, ambitious production, very complex, lots of moving parts. Hats off to trying to raise a barn under these conditions. And then hats back on immediately for all the inexcusable failures, top to bottom, on technical, editorial and conceptual levels.

  4. I’d submit that one George was enough and that two was definitely too many. Given the death and breadth of talent in our community, surely a second individual could’ve handled one of the two roles that he did. One who was current on what was going on the field and therefore not hauling out fifty year old stories to tell.

    George didn’t even really Handle the announcing of winners all the well. Hint: if the names of who has nominated have already been detailed seconds before, don’t read them again.

  5. @Mike V.

    he’s not exactly au courant with the current cultural and political landscape in SFF fandom

    Ehh what? He was there last year for Jeanette’s speech. He must have known the reason for the Campbell renaming? Basically it seemed to be just flicking the Vs at fandom (I wanted to write something stronger here but I decided to spare Mike the swear word).

    Pronunciations were supplied, and to be honest FIYAH is hardly difficult to pronounce. But even if he got it wrong, he could have done a retake – this isn’t live where the only remedy is to stop and correct yourself.

    As you said the fault isn’t all GRRM’s fault, although he bears a lot of it. Someone should have asked for redos of mispronounced names even if they didn’t feel they had the authority to ‘edit’ the speech and remove offensive stuff and shorten the ceremony to a reasonable length.

    The Hugos should not be about looking at our past, but should be about looking at the triumphs of today.

  6. My first beef was with the technical. The technical problems came from trying too hard, trying to be too fancy. There are lots of tools out there that can let a single individual host a live streaming show with minimal effort. For example, you can just have a zoom room where host, presenters and nominees are present, and the controller (called Host in zoom speak) can unmute and “spotlight” the video with just a couple of clicks to put a winner, presenter or toastmaster up as the video seen by the audience. But there are also tools like streamyard which give you a “backstage” where people can be queued up and talked to by the director, and then quickly moved onto and off the “stage” (audience view) along with pre-recorded clips. I’ve participated in a variety of conferences using these tools as speaker and attendee, and while I won’t say glitches never happen, they run much smoother than what we saw.

    There should have been no reason for pre-recorded clips of any kind. You’re a Hugo Winner or a presenter, if you can’t be there, get somebody else. Pre-recorded clips have many seductive values — quality is better, they don’t fail when internet goes out, transitions are smooth, but for all that they suck the life out of a live ceremony and should be strongly discouraged. In the virtual world we are starved for real social experiences. Don’t fall to the seduction of pre-recorded. We don’t want to just be having a watch party for pre-recorded video.

    (It’s also great to have winner and presenter on stage. Remember Chris Garcia’s acceptance in Reno? The presenter and toastmaster become proxy for the audience, with their body language and facial reactions)

    I would have said this to nominees: Be live. Even if it’s 2am in Europe we’re giving you a Hugo — be live. We will phone you X minutes before your award if you need to sleep otherwise (you set X as you like.) If you still can’t be live, you may submit a 15 second thank you. Videos longer than that will be cut off at 15 seconds.

    Presenters: Be live. If you can’t be live, we’ll find another presenter. We’ll also have 2-3 other presenters standing by, including the toastmaster, in case you have technical problems when it’s time for your presentation. Alternately, we can collect pre-recordings but only use them if the presenter is a no-show or has an internet outage. (Ditto for acceptance speeches.)

    Toastmaster: Be in a place with two internet connections, perhaps one wired and one via a 4G cell phone, or ideally both wired. And everybody: Wired ethernet and headset/wired earbuds/airpod pro.

    Now of course George went on and rambled and added an hour to the ceremony. While it is up to the convention to pick a toastmaster, and they should pick one who will manage time, I will say that this is even more important in a streaming presentation because in a physical room you get a sense of the audience. You get a sense you are losing them. You see people go out the doors. There are natural forces which help improve this. On the other hand, since they did so much pre-recorded, they should have taken advantage of one of the things that (otherwise soul destroying) pre-recording gives you, which is if somebody hands in a 10 minute recording and you have 3 minutes you send it back to them and say, “please make this 3 minutes.” Or better, you tell them in advance, “please don’t bother sending something longer than 3 minutes, as we’ll use somebody else if you do.”

    For live presenters you need a stage manager who keeps them on time.

    For all the other flaws people name, about pronouncing names, or not so subtly expressing opinions on Dell’s renaming of the Campbell to the Astounding, you have to accept that you picked your presenters and toastmaster and you have to accept what they do, other than going over time. However, at least if it’s live, there is an excuse. There is no excuse for going over time or ruining a name when you are pre-recorded.

  7. If you have to do virtual, then you should embrace the advantages (like editing, easy timekeeping etc) or else it will look bad. This is wgat happened here.
    TBS Mispronouncing names should not happen in an event of this scope. Pleade just ask how to pronounce what!
    Ive read a lot of outrage edpecially on the mispronouncing.

  8. I’ve seen a number of accounts on Twitter that GRRM has since been asked to rerecord the mispronounced names and has refused, although I can’t source them back to anything official.

  9. A bit of 20-20 hindsight we probably will never need to worry about again: a pre-recorded speech, even by the most successful writer in the world, is the wrong way to go.
    A co-host, an on site director, someone there to throw a flag into shot and say let’s do that one again.
    And if that means dropping the big name author in favour of a pair that can collaborate and have a room to read as they’re presenting, then so be it.

  10. Brad wrote: George went on and rambled and added an hour to the ceremony.

    Chelsea, on Twitter:

    It’s possible that in working on a mastercut of tonight’s #HugoAwards, I cut a THREE HOUR & THIRTY-FIVE MINUTE CEREMONY down to 1:41:02 *JUST* by cutting out Martin & Silverberg.

    For those playing along at home, that means tonight’s host talked for ONE HOUR & FIFTY-FOUR MINUTES

    And FWIW, I wasn’t bothered by prerecorded presenters and acceptances. I particularly liked Mary Robinette Kowal’s introduction to the series nominees, and wouldn’t mind more such short quotes from the written finalists.

  11. I recommend watching the Retro Hugos. Nice blend of recent winners and finalists with info about the retro finalists.

  12. Lis Reba, yes George bantered for 1:45, but you would expect the toastmaster to banter for at least 45 minutes. That’s why you “hire” him or her. We’ve all seen some excellent mastering of toast. In addition, though, all those long “interstitials” with the spinning rocket either saying “now back to Santa Fe” and even showing the winner in a slide could have been cut. As I said, there are tools that make those live transitions much easier and more reliable and you don’t need to put in a long interstitial to cover the mistakes. Other presenters should also have been marshaled on time, and frankly, so should some of the winners. With the removal of the Big Heart/Seiun/First Fandom/etc. awards you should pull off a tight and satisfying ceremony in 2 hours. The convention expected it to go 3.5 hours on the schedule though, so I wonder how long ago they got these long videos?

    I know all the fine advantages of pre-recorded. The quality is better. The internet never goes out. You can fix mistakes. You can tell people to make it shorter. There is no confusing transition. And many others, all very tempting. But they are things that make a movie better, not a live ceremony with an audience. A live ceremony is a group activity, the kind we crave in the Covid world. It is better it be flawed and live than recorded and perfect, or of course, recorded and flawed.

    But as I said, tons of people do live-streaming shows today with multiple remote guests. It’s not trivial but it’s doable. It doesn’t require money. Rehearsal and good tech by the remote players and at central control makes it work pretty smoothly. Not every time, but enough to make it worth capturing what we came for, which is a live event. We actually like the mistakes in live events. They amuse us and make it more human. Mistakes in recorded events aren’t amusing at all.

  13. The schedule said 3.5 hours? When I first looked at it, I thought it was blocked for 2. But it did go for 3.5.

  14. They scheduled it 3.5 hours, 11am to 2:30. However, they scheduled a modest number of readings and panels opposite, and didn’t fully restart them until 3pm giving the Hugos even more time! Normally there is no core programming after the Hugos since they run 8pm to 10:30 and many get there by 7 for a good seat and go to parties after.

  15. Laura, your memory is correct.

    On Wednesday, I scraped the schedule to create a personal copy, so I wouldn’t have to keep switching time zones.

    Wednesday’s schedule listed the Hugos for 2 hours.

    When I checked back Friday afternoon, it was extended to 3 1/2 hours.

  16. @Lis Riba
    Ah, thanks. I was probably looking before Fri. I know I was only planning on two hours. Thinking I wouldn’t be up too late. 🙁

  17. Brad Templeton: In the virtual world we are starved for real social experiences. Don’t fall to the seduction of pre-recorded. We don’t want to just be having a watch party for pre-recorded video…

    Not every time, but enough to make it worth capturing what we came for, which is a live event. We actually like the mistakes in live events. They amuse us and make it more human. Mistakes in recorded events aren’t amusing at all.

    Please stop doing this. You don’t speak for me or anyone else here, and you don’t get to insist that your opinions are universal and represent everyone else.

    This is a really arrogant and offensive thing to do. Please just stop.

  18. Pingback: Some Reflections on the 2020 Hugo Ceremony a.k.a. Reminiscing with George | Cora Buhlert

  19. @Brad: Just speak for the people who like live events to be as live as possible and as recorded as absolutely positively unavoidable. That’s a substantial class of folks. Not everyone is going to feel that way. I like bands that sound live and play differently each night. Other folks want it to sound just like the record. I don’t get it; they don’t get me.

  20. That’s OK, JJ, I will presume you are speaking only for yourself in your complaint and ignore it. Actually, I am sure others disagree with me, and that’s fine, but the real reason I am baffled by your statement is I’ve never gotten the idea that anything anybody says here or in other message boards is other than their view of things. I am stating my view based on my experience. I know some agree and some don’t. If you don’t agree, then you may of course express your own opinions and experience. All are welcome to say what is best, and I don’t ask them to “just stop.” You seem to think that when somebody says “we” they mean “everybody” rather than “I an dothers” or even “many.”

  21. @JJ

    We’re not exactly short on people presenting their opinion as fact over the various threads of this discussion (hell, I might have done it – I’d have to check). What stood out to you about this one in particular? Just the repetition? (Am curious.)

  22. Brad Templeton: I am baffled by your statement is I’ve never gotten the idea that anything anybody says here or in other message boards is other than their view of things.

    Trying using the pronoun “I” when giving your opinion, instead of “We”, which implies that you are speaking for others. “I think…”, “I like…”, “I wish…”, “I want…”. It’s actually quite easy.

  23. As a historian, I’d also like to add 2 cents on the past vs. future discourse. Anyone who watched the Gary Wolfe – Joe Haldeman dialogue last night, can see that it’s quite possible for two older white men to talk about the past without it devolving into the Silverbob/GRRM dynamic. There’s a real difference between providing historical context and nostalgic story-telling. I’m not saying that the historical narrative has to be black and white with good guys vs. bad guys, but what was so annoying to me about the GRRM segments is the extent to which they centered him and his friends, as if the Hugo’s were the family dinner table where the patriarch trots out stories you’ve heard a thousand times. I have respected GRRM for a long time. I l enjoyed his books – which are good because they are not nostalgic for the middle-ages. Without his advocacy for the anti-Puppies campaign, I probably wouldn’t have even known that much about the entire puppy debacle, or the relationship between WorldCon and the Hugos in general. That’s what made this awards ceremony so disappointing.

  24. GRRM is an old man; it’s hardly surprising that when asked to speak at an event he would ramble on with copious reminiscences. I’m inclined to cut him some slack.

  25. I also really started following GRRM with his bulwark work against the Puppies. Yet with this Toastmaster performance he managed to both validate their complaints of gatekeeping and SMOFdom and TRUfan exclusion and also take their position of venerating old dead racists while sitting backwards on the rocket. He has become the Puppy he fought against.

  26. Has anyone asked Ricky Gervais to take the future gig? I’d actually watch that…

  27. Become the Puppy he fought against? This is ridiculous hyperbole. The puppies tried to cheat against the core spirit of the Hugos, succeeded in destroying them at least one year and partially in others. Even if you think George is not as fully opposite to their ideology as you imagine him to be, to compare him to them is false and uncalled for. The puppies complained that fandom had become a place that enforced ideological purity. This argument seems bent on making them right. George is entitled to his opinion on Dell magazine’s name change for the award, and on Campbell, no matter how many fans agree or disagree with it. He was not there to represent any ideology. He was there to MC the awards in an entertaining way. As we’ve discussed, many people find he could have shortened it quite a bit, or understood what sort of comedy works over remote video better, and that’s reasonable criticism to make.

  28. Brad Templeton: The puppies tried to cheat against the core spirit of the Hugos, succeeded in destroying them at least one year and partially in others.


    This is ridiculous hyperbole. The Puppies did damage, yes, but they didn’t “destroy” the Hugos, FFS. Get a grip.

    Brad Templeton: He was not there to represent any ideology. He was there to MC the awards in an entertaining way.

    And what a pity it is that he failed utterly at both of those things.

  29. @Brad Templeton: did you by chance watch Sondheim’s 90th birthday party? That was presumably done by professionals (plausibly some of them in the tech field, not just theater) — but it started over an hour late because they were having problems getting together, and it wasn’t even 100% live (unless Mandy Patinkin was somewhere east of Suez). I don’t know why the clips weren’t bound together more closely (e.g., Kowal staring at the camera for several seconds after “handing off” to GRRM) given that they were mostly prerecorded IIUC — but the bits I saw looked a crew working at the very edge of its capacity. Given the conferring I’ve been doing on Zoom et al over the last few months, I don’t believe it’s as easy to do dozens of inputs live as you claim; given the span of time zones, ISTM that going with clips was the sane way to do the show.

  30. The Puppies did damage, yes, but they didn’t “destroy” the Hugos, FFS.

    It seems pointless to quibble over “destroy” vs. “damage.” The Puppies did an incredible amount of harm and forever denied some creators the recognition they deserved for work during those years. I’m still bitter about it.

  31. The issue was that indeed they were working at the limit of capacity. And I have not seen the Sondheim thing but the key factor is understanding your tools and not trying to over do it.

    You don’t do it will if you’ve never done it before, but lots of people do livestreams with many guests these days. I’ve seen quite nice productions done with the host also being the stage manager/video director, but I would of course not share that duty in a case like this.

    But at the same time, a lot of people are not familiar with all these tools, and it is very easy for things to go wrong in every platform, so I don’t want to get too harsh on the team who produced this. I’ve seen it done worse — but I have also seen it done better, and the key is to not be too ambitious, and to rehearse the things you are going to do. A couple of times because things go wrong the 2nd time too. In the end that’s why people pay big bucks to the people who have done it 1,000 times and thus don’t run into trouble much. A fannish effort is not so likely to do that.

  32. What I said was they destroyed the Hugos that one year, primarily the fiction ones and a few others. I certainly don’t assert that they were unable to recover, though some things linger, or that every single Hugo was destroyed. As we know, 5 were taken to No Award, and some more had as little as one real nominee, putting a metaphorical asterisk beside them both because the other nominees pushed off the ballot lost their chance, and the winner will never know how they would have fared in a real vote.

    But again, this is not the real question, whether you like that particular vocabulary or not. This is a tangent to the main point, which is that it’s grossly unfair to describe George has having become a Sad Puppy, and that deserved to be called out.

  33. Brad Templeton: it’s grossly unfair to describe George has having become a Sad Puppy, and that deserved to be called out.

    I wouldn’t call him a Puppy, but he certainly engaged in an attempt at marginalization of women, POC, and transpeople as the Puppies did.

    GRRM is an incredibly intelligent man. I don’t for one moment believe that he didn’t know what he was doing when he waxed on endlessly about Campbell the racist’s sterling qualities while introducing an award for which the name had to be changed for exactly that reason, which was being awarded to a person of color. That was a blatant act of passive aggression to get even for the award being renamed.

    And the casual disregard for the pronunciations of the names of the finalists, many who were POC, may not have been passive aggressive, but it sure as hell was a diminishment of them, whether deliberate or not.

    The sniggering remarks about the ambiguous sex/gender of a statuette, and the casual diminishment of his female co-presenter by referring to her conception were so unbelievably inappropriate.

    And that unfathomable 17-minute monologue? The two hours he spent just talking endlessly — mostly about himself — while finalists and audience members put off sleep or more other enjoyable activities waiting for him to get to the point? What presenter in their right mind would consider that an okay thing to do — centering the awards on themselves, rather than on the recipients?

    (Also, his assumption that New Zealand fans are ignorant bumpkins who need to be educated about Worldcon and fandom was just plain insulting.)

  34. I do have to say that I’ve heard the tech team who ran the Hugo ceremonies say that they were called in to do the live work 3 days before the ceremony because the primary tech team flamed out and had to be replaced. So I’m very inclined to forgive tech problems, because THREE DAYS prep, yeeowch.

    I am not inclined to forgive endless rambling by GRRM in prerecorded material. The ConCom should have known better and should have set strict time limits. Come on, this is basic. Awards ceremonies are supposed to be about the awards winners; the host only rambles if there’s a delay which requires filling time.

    I presume it was incompetence rather than maliciousness on the part of the ConCom. But from now on, strict and short time limits on anything other than (a) the actual award acceptance speeches or (b) vamping while waiting for an award recipient to show up / resolve tech problems needs to be part of the rules for the ceremony. (Honestly, in this case I would have liked it if the delays for tech problems had been filled with pictures of the New Zealand scenery which attendees didn’t get to see.)

    I don’t really care whether the endless self-centered rambling was incompetence or maliciousness on the part of GRRM (evidence leans towards maliciousness, but I don’t care because I don’t care about GRRM) — it was the ConCom’s job to prevent it. ConComs need to prevent that. Hell, presenters rambling when everyone just wants to hear from the award winners was complained about at the Oscars 30 years ago, it’s a known problem with known solutions.

  35. I will say that if they had to put it together in just 3 days, I withdraw much of my criticism with the technical production, since that is a lot to be asked to do. Though my core point — they tried to do too much — remains, in a short time you might not even figure that out.

    Awards shows have of course sometimes regretted their host. When you book a host, you are supposed to choose them with care. But once you name them, it is mostly their show — indeed normally it is live, as it should have been here, and there is no opportunity to veto recordings. There is at most a stage manager who makes constant whispers to speed things up, but can not easily enforce such orders short of giving the host the hook and grabbing somebody else.

    I will not suspect that in 3 days they didn’t really have time to review and request changes to the videos. They could have trimmed them for length, removing some of the anecdotes. Only for time though — as much as many have posted they would have wanted them edited for politics, that would be censorship, which they decided not to do, and unlike many, I feel that is a good default decision. Censorship decisions, such as they are, should be made perhaps in choosing the host, but you don’t micromanage them once you name them.

    For all the (entirely valid) love of diversity, we must also love diversity of opinion. (And no, don’t cite Popper at me, that doesn’t apply in situations like this.) I don’t agree with George’s opinion on Campbell and the renaming, but I don’t forbid him from having it or saying it, or suggest he be barred from saying it when he’s invited as Toastmaster.

    For the names, there was no excuse.

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