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Just Wing It!

by Chris Lose • in
  • Current Issue
  • February 2018
  • LD at Large
• Created: February 15, 2018

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Illustration by Andy Au

Unorganized productions are the body of the chicken flailing around after the head has been chopped off. They are, pun intended, “just wingin’ it.” Organization is the guard dog that keeps the feathery artistic minds of our field contained in the coop of progress.

Since I have started working on high profile gigs, I have become complacent. I have started to take daily schedules for granted. They come in my email; I glance at the lighting lobby call time and then discard them as if no one put any serious time and effort into producing them. After my most recent gig, I will never take another schedule for granted.

Thankfully, I have been lucky enough to work with some of the most dependable production coordinators, production managers, stage managers, line producers and crew chiefs in our industry. They make my life easy. I know that the people on the other end of the emailed schedules are organized professionals who are at the top of their industry. When the organizers have done their job properly everyone else gets to reap the benefits of their hard work.

On a recent show, this was not the case. Without an organized leader sending schedules to the entire crew, our Titanic sized production bounced off iceberg after iceberg. It didn’t sink, thanks to the crew covering the holes with gaff tape and scooping water out using empty soda cans. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s best that I not say which production I am writing about, but I am going to tell a few stories about the right and wrong ways to deal with scheduling interdepartmental tasks on a daily basis.

‡‡         What About Communication?

I arrived on show site in a dreary jet-lagged state. My local translator greeted me with a bubbly effervescence that snapped me out of my drudge. She was a twenty-something native. She speaks perfect English, thanks to her time studying in England. She was quick to learn some new terms like VL4000, Neutral Density, CTO and RGBAW. She was very helpful in communicating what we needed from the local lighting crew. Sadly, that was the best communication that happened all month long. Communication between nationalities was far better than the communication between departments. Schedules came late, if at all. The rigging department made changes without consulting lighting, the scenic company refused requests from camera ops based on misinformation. It was a fiasco. The technicians and department heads were in defensive mode just to get the bare necessities. Without a clear, organized leader who could communicate with everyone, each department was forced to fend for themselves in the name of self-preservation.

‡‡         Never Underestimate Cooperation

Grumpy would best describe the way I felt when I came in at 11 a.m. after leaving the venue at 3 a.m. I arrived to find that all of the flags that I had spent hours framing in had been moved while I was asleep. The riggers came in at 8 a.m. and moved every flag. I asked who had asked them to move them, and they said it was for the promo shoot that started in 20 minutes. There was no promo shoot on the updated schedule that I got at 11:15 a.m. that said all crews should be standing by at 10:30 a.m. During the promo shoot, the flags were not lit, and people quickly noted that the flags were now placed directly in the light path of the primary key lights for the talent. Simple inter-departmental cooperation could have very easily avoided this unnecessary ordeal.

‡‡         It’s All About Efficiency?

We somehow made it to our last day of shooting. And that’s when the biggest iceberg of inefficiency busted through the hull of our Titanic. After a week of eight-hour turnarounds, my console buttons began to look a little fuzzy. I had been staring at monitors and consoles for nearly 20 days straight. We had finally shot all 40 songs that were slated. The producer said, to our relief, “That’s a wrap.”

We all packed up headed to the office, ate some pizza and prepared to head back to the hotel. Then, 45 minutes since said “wrap” had been announced, Emma, the primary translator, came out and asked me to go back to the console for some artist pickups.

I was positive that she was joking and started to get on my bus headed for the hotel. She grabbed my arm and said, “Please, we need you back to work.” I couldn’t believe it. The 99-universe rig had already been lamped off, the video wall powered down and the media servers had all been put to sleep. The camera ops had already started covering cameras and coiling cables. She was serious. Someone in the control room seriously felt that they had missed a few shots and brought everyone back to the venue to reshoot a handful of artist entrances. If they had just communicated that earlier, we could have gone home much earlier and much less frustrated.

‡‡         Organization is Key

Reducing stress in the workplace is the first priority of any organized production coordinator. This means having to balance many tasks efficiently and effectively.

If production is not properly organized, tasks pile up, paperwork gets lost and valuable time is lost. Instantly readable and accessible schedules that are sent to the proper people at the proper time have saved productions countless fortunes. Accurate schedules, and the people who put them together, are the hemp ropes that keep our shows on the rail.

Without inter-departmental organization, our worlds can easily fall into chaos and frantic decision-making. On the above-mentioned show, we would often receive our hastily slapped together schedule in a mass text message. We would receive it only to have it immediately challenged by an out-ranking member of the group.

‡‡         Do We Need to Thank Someone?

If you have read this far into the article and you are a production coordinator who has tolerated me being on one of your gigs, thank you, thank you and thank you! I want to use this article to send out an astounding hooray for all of the hard-working production coordinators, production managers, stage managers, tour managers, line producers and interns out there who are assembling the necessary information to keep their productions on the right track. I know people who can book flights for 70 people, arrange their food, book their hotels a month out and arrange same-day laundry service with a smile. They are the first ones off the bus and the last ones back on the bus. They are the ones that handle mountains of passport paperwork, per diems and Band-Aids in a single day. These are the jobs that make our jobs possible. These are the people that make entertainment happen.

Everyone out there who is busting their hump to keep their crew fed, happy and on track deserves a round of applause. Not from the audience, but from us. We get to sit out in the house and collect our percentage of the applause while production coordinators arrange our fourth meal of the day, whether we need it or not. Thank you to all of the production organizers out there who do so much with so little.

Chris Lose is a touring lighting director who has never seen a chicken running around without a head. He’d like to keep it that way.

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