Monday 22 April 2019

Unsanctioned Public Events

Vancouver, BC, near where I live on Canada's west coast, has just finished holding the annual 4/20 event on Saturday in glorification of cannabis culture. One of the main reasons it was held in the past was to protest and argue for the legalization of marijuana. For those who may not know, in 2018 Canada became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana. This has led many to question why the 4/20 event still needs to be held at all.

This year's event drew an estimated 60,000 people to the site which was one of the city's parks. The interesting thing about this was that the event was not sanctioned by the city at all and the Parks Board who must maintain this particular park, seemed reluctant to allow it either but their problem was that they had no authority to stop it; only the city did. In other words, the entire event was unsanctioned. Yet it still needed policing, first aid, electrical power, toilets, ground cover, etc, etc., much of which was provided by the city. Last year in 2018, the Parks Board managed to recoup just under $65,000 of their costs but the city recovered none of the $ 170,796 they invoiced the organizers.

Now I do not have a problem with such an event IF it is properly licensed and controlled, regardless of what the cause is. What I DO have a problem with are the consequences of potential disaster. This could range from injuries of attendees or workers, weather cancellations, crimes like assaults and theft, serious damage to the park and a host of others. If one or more of these were to occur, who would be responsible for making things right? I sincerely doubt that any insurance company would be willing to pay the bills, although in fairness, the organizers of this year's event claim they did have event insurance, but when push comes to shove, I still cannot see them parting happily with millions of dollars if the event has not been approved. The city would not for sure, nor the Parks Board. In fact, the city is already in debt for this event for policing alone and will never see that cost recouped from the event's organizers. And what about the suppliers of staging, tenting, portable toilets, audio, lighting, etc. if the promoters do not make enough money to cover those bills? Those suppliers would undoubtedly never see any money. What is worse, if they had any damage to or theft of, equipment, they would probably never be able to recover the cost from their own insurance company because the event was unsanctioned. Even working such an event I would deem to be damaging to a supplier's reputation because it would tell me that this supplier does not care about  risk management and playing by the rules - not a good place to be in this highly competitive special event industry.

I would strongly recommend to all suppliers for such an event to take a good hard look at what you are getting yourself into and stay as far away as possible from any promoter who is unwilling to do things the right and lawful way.

Monday 17 December 2018

Event Management - A Profession or Not?

Is event management a "profession" yet? I have been pondering this question since I personally entered the field in 1985. Coming up to 2019, I would have to honestly say NO, it is not. Here is why - and for simplicity, I'm going to use my own original profession, engineering, for comparison.
  1. The field is fragmented. Practitioners can be found in several different categories, each of which has their own advocacy organization and certification. Some of these include: International Live Events Association for special events (which could mean anything these days and I have written about this extensively in my books - CSEP certification); International Festivals and Events Association for festivals (CFEE certification); International Association of Exhibitions and Events for expositions and trade shows (CEM certification); Meeting Professionals International, Professional Convention Management Association, and Association of Meetings Professionals, all for meetings and conferences (CMP certification for all these). In engineering, a true profession, there is only one advocacy body per geographical jurisdiction (e.g. state or province) for all types of engineering, whether it be mechanical, civil, structural, materials, aeronautical, or any other. Certainly some amalgamation has taken place in event management but not nearly enough to consider the field united.
  2. Certification and advocacy are self-serving. The certification process began in most of these advocacy bodies as many as thirty-plus years ago. At that time - and even today - the advocacy was and is self-serving. It appears to be done for superficial reasons and almost entirely to financially support the individual organizations themselves rather than to make the "profession" more responsible to the public and the individual members' clients. In engineering, the professional association is more attuned to advocating for the general public and members' clients in its role as a "watchdog" with strong disciplinary powers.
  3. Basic education requirements for entering the field are set at too low a standard. In most cases, no basic formal education is required to be granted a certification. In engineering, in every case, at least a university undergraduate degree in engineering is required, or the equivalent in experience. In these cases, the experience requirement is much more stringent than for the field of event management. As well, harder and more all-encompassing exams must be passed to be considered for certification than are given in the event management field.
  4. There is no public respect for this field. Most of the general public still views event managers as "party planners" no matter what the size or complexity of the event. Until there is extensive public education and media coverage, this perception likely will not change.
  5. There is a breath-taking gap between the theoretical side of events (i.e. those who study events from the point of view of such other professions as psychology, anthropology, history, and sociology among others) and the practical side of events (i.e. event managers). Currently it is mostly university scholars in various disciplines who pursue research in events and then publish their findings unbeknownst to the vast majority of practitioners, the very ones who should be the recipients of this knowledge. Theory in any profession must inform practice. Indeed, engineering requires that registered professional engineers maintain currency in the latest theories and advances in their field of endeavour. 
  6. Professional conferences do not exist. This is going to raise the hackles of many readers. The conferences that are generally available in the event management field are also self-serving. For the most part, they are hosted by such organizations as the aforementioned biased advocacy bodies and/or industry magazines, both of whose main purpose is to make money for themselves. I have been watching the topics offered at such conferences over the years and find that they continue to re-invent themselves in different forms but the content seldom advances theoretical knowledge about events. That is again because the purpose is to make money and the attendees to a large extent do not have a basic theoretical grounding, as do professional engineers. Somehow this has to change if event management is ever to be considered a profession. The academics must be invited to practitioner conferences, and vice versa. Sure, attendees may hear about the latest and greatest smartphone app for registering event attendees or the "in" colour for chair covers for this year, but do they hear about the latest theories in crowd movement predictions? Are they made aware of how important ritual is in event design? Do they know the psychological impact of different types of music on listeners and event attendees? Definitely not. Which topics are more important to the well-being of the event-going public - the colours of chair covers or how audiences may be affected by crowds, rituals, or music?
  7. Questionable ethics abound. The industry remains rife with kickbacks, referral commissions, favouritism, and intellectual property theft. Without a respected regulatory body with disciplinary authority this will never go away.
  8. Risk management still leaves a lot to be desired, especially with public events. Every year major disasters continue to occur all over the world, in many cases resulting in death and serious injuries to event attendees and employees. This must be dealt with. It would never be allowed to happen to the same extent in the engineering profession. Of the few times when it has happened, deterrent penalties have been extremely severe. 
How, then, does the industry advance to being considered a true profession? Here are a few ideas to start with.
  1. The industry must "get over itself." It's not a high school clique or a contest for the best looking  and most outgoing person. Only the most professional companies should succeed. To this end, restrictions must be put on entry to the profession. The most basic of these should be a requirement for an undergraduate university degree, with programs that are multi-disciplinary.
  2. Advocacy organizations across the industry must amalgamate into a single entity responsible for certifying practitioners and organizing official industry conferences whose primary goal is to advance knowledge, especially theoretical knowledge.
  3. This single entity must further be given the authority - with the public's blessing and encouragement - to discipline breaches of industry ethics, particularly anything to do with safety.
  4. Consideration should be given by all industry sectors to re-naming the discipline as "event studies." Within this discipline must fall all education, including all existing courses and programs in "event management" given at universities, community colleges, and conferences, but adding courses from other disciplines as they relate to events, including anthropology, history, psychology, sociology, and even religious studies, economics and others.
  5. A cross-industry public education program must begin as soon as possible to explain what event managers do and why they are needed as the professional overseers of events.
Who should instigate these changes? Maybe that question is better worded as "Who has the courage to instigate these changes?" Anybody can do it, but if it is someone from within the industry, there may be consequences in terms of getting contracts or staying employed. At the very least, I think it should be a topic of conversation at all future conferences, which also may be hard, considering the sponsors of the conferences. Maybe the best person is someone like me who has nothing to lose and can view the industry from an unbiased, external point of view. I would welcome the opportunity to present my ideas at any industry gathering.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Photographing Onstage Event Action

I'm relatively new to photographing live action at special events, although I have actually been a photographer all my life. I am rapidly learning how difficult it is to get really good images of onstage action at events. I'll share a few ideas from my experience.

First, if you want to catch stage performances up close and personal, you are going to have to put yourself right at the stage itself, preferably directly in front. Depending on the event and your part in it, you may need to get special permission from the organizers to allow you to place yourself there. This often involves getting an "All-Access Pass," which allows you to wander most anywhere with the typical exception of right ON the actual stage.

Second, you are not going to be able - or allowed - to use flash, mainly for two reasons: one, it is distracting to performers; two, because of the way cameras read light, you will inevitably have a very dark background and too much light on the performers closest to you. If you are further back from the stage than "the pit" directly in front, you will likely get only a shot of the first few rows of peoples' heads in front of you with a dark stage. People who try to take shots of concerts from up in the stands will usually end up with just this - well-lit heads and no stage action.

As for equipment, there is lots of information available on the web for shooting concert action. Let me briefly summarize:

  • Use a camera that can shoot at high ISO (i.e. up to at least 3200 or 6400) and crank the ISO up to around there, usually at least above 2000. Oh, yes, and put your camera in Manual mode.
  • Use a "fast" lens with as large an aperture as your budget will allow. 1.7 is great if you can get one. Whatever lens you use, you will need to open it to its widest aperture to let in as much light as possible. 
  • With a wide open lens and high ISO, you can play with shutter speed to do several things. The first is stop the action, so if you have dancers, for example, you will need a shutter speed of at least 1/100 sec, preferably faster. However, if you want to catch more of the exciting lighting shooting beams through haze, you will need a slower speed, probably under 1/100 sec. As you might guess, each of these presents a dilemma - either you get clear, in-focus performers with little fancy lighting effects, or you get nice lighting effects with possibly out-of-focus performers. You need to play around with speeds and ISO to hit it just right.
  • I prefer to use a super wide angle lens to capture the whole essence of the performance. My favourite is a 10-24mm Nikkor lens with which I can pretty well capture the entire stage, including lighting, from right at the downstage edge.
After you finish, you will undoubtedly need to do a fair bit of post-processing (i.e. work in either Lightroom or Photoshop). Why? Because most of the shots will no doubt have either a little bit or a lot of graininess due to the high ISO setting. Much of this can be taken out with software, Nik Define 2 being my personal favourite. You also may also have to play with colour temperature, exposure in some areas of the image, cropping, brightness, contrast and a few others. 

If you follow these general guidelines, you will likely get some good  - or even great - shots, but it does take work and practice. 

Below are a couple of my most recent attempts.

Friday 9 December 2016

Don't Go Cheap on Audio

In my spare time I am also a pianist/organist and last night I, along with other musicians and a large choir, were rehearsing for an opening performance for a new church. The church has beautiful acoustics but is extremely reverberant. It is so much so that the sound designers for the building took out all of the low frequencies for the sound system that serves the altar.

As for those of us in the choir loft, we were on a separate mixer that feeds into the same main speaker system. Since the building is so reverberant this means that balancing the output is going to be a very critical matter. This is not the time to use cheap equipment (main speakers, microphones, mixer, monitors, etc) OR people who do not know how to mix properly. In a room that is so alive, it is very easy to go from low volume intelligible but barely audible speech, to a high volume ugly wish-mash of music. I know, because it has happened to me in many special events. Usually the reason is that the equipment (often the speakers) is incapable of handling the load or the audio tech is not knowledgeable enough to know how to fix equalization problems or how to set up main speakers, not to mention which types of mics to use in certain situations.

For example, in our rehearsal last night, we had to "make do" with a single vocal mic for a 30-voice choir. Of course, it sounded terrible. What should have been used was at least two or three choir mics (condenser overhead mics with unidirectional pickup) placed up high and just in front of the first row of singers. What happened? There was not enough of the right equipment (e.g. mics) available and we had minimal time to check and gain experience with the system.

So what is my point? It is that if you have an event that has a critical audio component (i.e. speeches, stage show, even a dance band), then you would be well served to not always go for the least expensive company to supply the audio. Do your homework and make sure you get techs who have lots of experience in running audio for your kind of event and that the company uses only the highest quality equipment. You will save money and your reputation in the end.

Thursday 1 September 2016

Getting in the Creative "Zone"

In this industry creativity is a much-revered talent. Not only that, but it must be almost instantaneous creativity, thanks to short lead times for proposals.

I have practiced and taught creativity for many years, but only recently have I discovered what for me is the best scenario for coming up with good ideas. It is not a gimmick but it does involve getting up from your desk and doing a little exercise.

Basically it is walking at a steady but not too strenuous a pace and it must be done for at least 30 minutes and not up an incline. Personally if I do this on a nice level walking trail, particularly away from traffic, I find that after about 20 to 30 minutes, my mind starts to de-clutter. At this point once I feel relaxed and able to move smoothly, I begin to think about a problem or proposal or whatever needs solving. I find that very quickly I will begin to develop related ideas that are creative, logical, and ultimately workable. I then continue to concentrate on this generation of ideas and try not to think about the physical walking or about my surroundings. In reality, this seems to be a form of hypnotism if one can call it that. By the end, if it has been a productive walk and lots of ideas have come forth. I often think back and realize I have no idea how I got from the start to the finish of the walk as I was so involved with the great ideas.

This seems to beat many other techniques for generating ideas, at least for me. But why? Here is what I think. When we walk at a steady pace, it has been proven that most people tend to fall into a regular pace of 120 steps per minute. This coincidentally is the almost universal pace that armies march at because it literally makes their minds numb and susceptible to taking orders and it also fosters togetherness. Not only that, but recent studies have also analyzed top musical hits over the years and found that the majority of songs are at a tempo of - you guessed it - 120 beats per minute. Finally, this number corresponds to an actual frequency of 60 cycles per second, a "mesmerizing" frequency in our brains. 

Think about this as a way to come up with new ideas. If you try it, let me know if it works.