EVERY LITTLE DETAIL
On a brutally cold morning in January 2014 I found myself slogging through 6 inches of snow behind an arena in Grand Rapids Michigan loading in a country music tour. Things were running later than usual due to snow on the overnight drive to the venue and a small dock that only allowed 2 trucks to unload at a time. I was eager to dump my truck and get load in over with. Unfortunately the cold weather had other plans. When I pulled out my keys to unlock the trailer I discovered the lock was frozen solid. One little detail I had neglected to check was now holding me up, and I had the pleasure of the trying to use hot coffee, a bic lighter, and an angle grinder to get my truck open in front of an audience of 20 grumpy union stagehands.
Attention to detail is so important in live event production. It is absolutely astonishing how quickly a the smallest little details can have an enormous impact. Anyone who has been around live events has heard the stories: The projectors that showed up without lenses. The 10 foot truss tower in the 9 foot meeting room. The trailer stage that was set up directly under overhead power lines and had to be moved so the roof could be built.
The good news is, with a little extra time on the front end, it is possible to avoid many of the pitfalls that get in the way of a great event.
Details surrounding the event venue are ones that I often see missed. Especially when the venue is new or unfamiliar it is easy to forget to check on little details that can slow you down later. My solution to this problem was to create a simple questionnaire that I send to the venue as part of my production advance process.
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When looking into details, there’s a slew of questions to be asked. Essentially this is just a list of simple questions that tell me nearly everything I need to know to do a show including
Venue Access: What times will each room be available? Nothing like showing up to a locked venue when you expect to be loading in several trucks full of production gear.
Parking: Is there parking available for trucks, crew vehicles, etc? Are there any costs associated?
Loading Dock: Is there one? How many bays are available? Are there levelers/dock plates?
Backstage Area: How much room is available? Where is dead case storage? Dressing Rooms?
Rigging: What rigging is available? Weight limits? Does the venue have an exclusive or preferred vendor?
Power: What power is available? Isolated Grounds? Amperage of each service? Cam locks or bare tails? Is shore power available for buses/trailers?
Internet/Phone/Cable: What is available? What are the associated costs?
House A/V: What does the venue have? Can we integrate any of our production into the house systems? How is house lighting controlled?
Dimensions: Dimensions of all production spaces including ceiling heights. Is there a balcony or other overhead obstruction?
Once the venue details are squared away, the second place I often see details missed is in production design and prep.
Great events are possible when we can get the details out of the way focus on creating the experience.
DESIGN & PREP
Cable paths: Have a plan for where all your cable is going to run, especially for any flown elements and cable that has to run through the audience. Plan for single cable paths as much as possible. Utilize cable picks and truss bridges to keep flown cable as clean as possible and out out of the way of video screens and other visual elements. Make sure you have long enough cable for all your runs, plus extra. Don’t forget to account for cable swag and trim heights when planning flown cable lengths.
Cabling and Interconnect: Make sure you have all the necessary cables for your gear, especially required adapters and specialty cables. Check specifications/manuals for any unfamiliar or cross rented gear. Confirm which cards are installed in projectors, consoles, computers that you plan to use – I have been on way to many shows where gear showed up missing ’standard’ I/O cards. For mission critical systems, consider planning for redundant signal chains or having analog backups to digital systems. Always plan for spare cable. Pack extras of all your critical cable. Consider running spare DMX, Cat 5, or other signal lines to flown truss – running a new line after the rig is flown can be challenging. Keep signal loss and maximum cable length data in mind when designing your show. Spec distribution amplifiers or re-clock signals if necessary.
Lensing: Make sure you have the correct lenses for lighting fixtures, cameras, and projectors. For projectors especially, double check throw distance and confirm that the your image will be the right size.
Hardware: Check to make sure you have all the correct hardware and tools to put together your production. Clamps, bolts, and pins are all shockingly easy things to forget.
Power: Make sure you know what power each piece of equipment you plan to use needs, especially rented or unfamiliar gear. Some lighting fixtures and projectors will require 208 volts. Keep an eye on amperage loads to make sure you won’t overload circuits or services. Always insure your systems are properly grounded. Meter all power before using it, and be especially careful when using generators. Plan to use UPS and surge protection devices to protect sensitive equipment.
Obviously we’ve only scratched the surface of the many details behind successful live events. Each area of a production has their own unique set of details to manage. Some topics, are so detail rich that they require their own discussion (trucking and rigging come to mind).
Great events are possible when we can get the details out of the way focus on creating the experience. What details do you manage for your events? How can we make event planning and execution smoother so we can spend more time on the important things? Let’s take care of the little details and focus on the big ones.
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