I managed to take a couple of hours out a couple of weeks ago to pop along to PLASA 2013.
Plasa is an audio and lights conference for entertainment professionals – sound techs, lighting engineers etc. A previous life…
I caught a talk by Al Gurdon – an Emmy award winning lighting designer, who’s past work includes the Superbowl (past four years) and tours for The Who, Madonna, Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and more. Oh and the Olympic Ceremony!
It was interesting to see the parallels of his work, with that of agency life.
One theme that came up time and time again was that of compromise.
He mentioned that in the initial ideas stage, he’s always very keen that he and the team don’t think about the mandatories / budget / timings / locations etc.
“You shouldn’t ever start with the idea of compromise. Instead you should decide what you want to do, and then fight as hard as possible to get it to those ideals.”
Once the general idea is there, you can then start working through the specifics of what you know. If the stage is in the round – you can’t do backlighting particularly well, if there’s not a roof to hang lights from – you’ll have to find some other way of doing it etc.
It was interesting to hear the different levels of involvement that the talent will allow.
The Who were quite happy to accept a change in the set-list to accommodate an idea he had for a big start. Beyonce and Madonna on the other hand were a little tighter – they’d send across a medley / compilation in the order they want to run in, and they’ve often got certain ideas about what they want to do from an AV point of view.
In particular, I was amazed to see the artists themselves giving really specific feedback.
It’s something that they definitely don’t get enough respect for – you expect them to not be that involved in the creative process, but here they are – giving pages and pages of notes…!
Talking more specifically about the Superbowl, I was amazed by the precision and timing pressures that the team are under.
From the point when the half time whistle is blown by the referee, they have 8 minutes.
8 minutes to build the entire stage and secure it tightly, set the lights, calibrate the video screens, check the audio.
Al mentioned that there’s around 500 volunteers on the night, who are each given one job. Like ants, they each drop off one bit of stage, or bolt together one section, or plug in one cable. The project manager must be a god.
Once the talk had finished, I had a quick twenty minutes run around the conference to see if anything caught my eye.
These things stuck out for me: