Monday, 16 March 2009

A Rant About Planners and Technical Production

This must be my month for rants. Lots I want to get off my chest.

This one has been bothering me for a long time. I produced events for over 19 years and now teach event production. I have noticed a disturbing trend towards ignorance and lack of concern on the part of many event planners and students towards the technical areas of audio systems, lighting, and visual presentation technology (i.e., A-V by another name). Here comes the part that a lot of readers are not going to like. It is gender-based. That's right. The females shy away from the technical equipment and anything to do with it as if it were a venomous snake waiting to strike them dead. Since most planners tend to be female - at least that has been my experience, around 80 or 90 % - that means just about everyone. I thought naively that we were in an age of enlightenment now, but apparently not. What is going on here? Are we still really dividing up jobs based on pink vs blue, transformers vs Barbie dolls, fluffy decor vs the technical stuff?

I have noted regularly that in presentations I give - especially at conferences - audiences ask where they can obtain more in-depth information. Well, folks, that knowledge involves the technical areas in many cases. Certainly, a lot of technical people I know have done a bang-up job of presenting seminars in these areas, but in many cases they are barely scratching the surface of what I would call a necessary base level of technical knowledge.

I compare this to an airline pilot who can fly the plane but knows nothing about aerodynamics or gas turbine engine theory. Sooner or later, this lack of knowledge is going to get him/her in trouble. I doubt that Capt. Sullivan could have landed his plane on the Hudson without knowing a fair bit about aerodynamics and the reaction of the plane to the required tail-down attitude needed for a successful water landing.

Why is this basic technical knowledge necessary? Well, let's take a look at what might happen, because a lot of it is about risk - and it goes WAY beyond knowing how to tape electrical cords down. Here is a sample list of potential scenarios:

1. A truss loaded with lighting gear falls from a venue ceiling, injuring a number of event attendees. If this happened, you can be sure that the event planner would be near the top of the list of defendants in an expensive law suit for liability. Remember that the planner is responsible and liable for all his/her subcontractors and anything that they do. That means that the planner should be able to provide documentation that has been completed to prove that the loading on the truss was safe and calculated properly, as well as proof that the rigging was done by someone qualified. Do you have this information for all your events where rigging is done? By the way, do a search on the Internet for event disasters and you might be surprised at the number of trussing collapses.

2. Your incentive house client - yes the one with loads of money - cannot understand why a 2-hour sound check is needed for the stage show and dance that is to follow their expensive dinner. Do you:

a) Calmly and confidently explain the need for setting up the monitor mixes for the large band and the requirement to EQ the venue to avoid feedback, plus ensuring that all equipment is functioning properly, OR

b) Sheepishly admit to complete ignorance about audio systems while introducing your client to an overworked, tattooed, pony-tailed audio tech who has no time or interest in talking? (OK - a bit cliched for the tech, but it does happen) Would your client still be a client and have confidence in you the next time around?

3. As a wedding planner, you have been contracted to provide all technical services for a huge, 500-person Italian wedding. The groom's family is from North America but the bride's is from Italy. Both sides want you to show old analog videos and PowerPoint shows from the couple's childhood. They are bringing them to the event. Unfortunately, you know nothing about the different video standards or the formats for good still images. When the A-V tech tries to play the Italian videos they won't work on his equipment and when the PowerPoint slides are shown, the quality of the photos is so bad, nobody can tell who the people are. If you had known even some basic information about international video standards and about the optimum resolution needed for large image projection, this catastrophe could have been avoided by asking the right questions at the beginning.

4. You are dumbstruck when your much smaller competitor wins a big contract by proposing the use of some new and amazing automated lighting in a unique way. Did you know that these products were on the market or if so, how they could enhance your creativity? Maybe you missed that presentation at the last event conference or maybe you missed the suggestion to visit your lighting supplier for a briefing. Sure, you always thought that the lighting supplier would do all the thinking for you. Guess again. It's your problem.

I mention the above with all due respect and apologies to some extremely creative and talented females who are technical producers in the event industry and certainly some planners as well. However, I still firmly believe that they are in the minority. Ladies, it's time to get serious if you intend to make this your chosen career path. Don't miss that next technical lecture or, for that matter, any opportunity to learn about the technical side of our industry. Embrace it with enthusiasm as you have done all other aspects. It will help not only you but also the credibility of the entire industry.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree Doug! Former student of yours here.. from a few years ago at Cap, continuing Ed.. I was lucky in University to get trained weekly at the local music venue, on back-end sound tech gear and AV stuff. They were the most invaluable lessons- like learning about mics, setting up PAs, how to wrap cables, run lights etc. As a musician, these skills have allowed me to perform in places where there is NO one around who knows about this stuff.. And as an event organizer, its given me the confidence to work with sound techs and production crew.. who, yes, are almost always men... Feels really good to both feel in control and to understand how to set up shows, with the most important aspects (sounds & lights) being well taken care of. More women need practical and supportive mentoring, I agree.. I was one of the lucky few I feel, but I hope there will be more. It just takes sound techs/production people to slow down, explain, inspire and include.. the results will reflect the patience of the mentor and the drive of the student!
    Anywho, just found your blog.. I look forward to continuing to learn more about event planning & keeping in touch.. The festival I co-created is ArtsWells.. now it's 6th year!!