Costly changes on show site

Every event budget is preceded with a timeline. That timeline estimates the ideal schedule required to move in an event, tech all components, perform a cue to cue rehearsal, dress rehearsal, show and move out. Changes in the timeline on location are very costly as well as a risk to the event. It often results in dozens of crew members standing around waiting for client changes as the OT clock ticks.

In the early days when the corporate event business was in its infancy the "national meeting" was a field trip for marketing and sales execs. They actually looked forward to spending long nights in a cavernous ballroom making the decisions that could have been made weeks or months earlier.

One client’s national sales meeting comes to mind. The two previous years were risky and painful for everyone. The final budget was always higher than planned due to decisions put off until on site.

Preparing for their third annual meeting I was able to convince all the executive team, the agency types and very famous client president the error in the ways.

We all shook hands on this as the show was being packed for transport. In those days content was created with 36 slide projectors (2,900 slides) focused on one large screen driven by a punch paper tape computer program. I won’t bore you with the risk of changing just one section of a module that may require changing the order of hundreds of slides and remaking a new punch tape.

We were on site, moved in and in client rehearsals. The Marketing VP decided to change the order of the next day opening session…at 2 am after a long move in day. He was not interested in our unanimous agreement the show was at risk making wholesale changes at this late hour.

I left the producer to fight the good fight and went to the hotel pool for some fresh air. After a dozen calls to me on the walki-talkie to I returned agreeing to tackle the task.

I pleaded for a client rehearsal to confirm the sketchy notes for changes would work in front of the audience. I was rebuffed. The client wanted to get some sleep.

With no sleep for the crew, and significant show sweat, the opening session went off without a hitch. The only stressed person in the room was me. It would, of course, be my fault if the exec was embarrassed with the wrong slide dropping. As the stage manager I was the visible target on the riser behind the audience.

I was not hired for their fourth annual meeting. The client felt vindicated for his decision to put the show at risk.

Why the paranoia? Because I have witnessed costly shows that did not work after long nights making last minute changes.

It should not be hard to understand the production crew goes from one show to another, not the big party once a year. This is a full time job for them. They cannot survive back-to-back shows with little or no sleep.

Union crews learned to build in tight penalties for these overnighters. Straight time for the first eight hours. Time-and-a-half for the next four, then double time until the next eight hour break. Add it up. 10 stagehands at $60 an hour straight time working two 24 hour days. Actual cost: $66,000 with high risk of errors. Original budget: $9,600.

While the risk is still there the younger clients managing marketing and sales organizations are fearless. They also all fancy themselves as PowerPoint experts.

“How hard can it be?” They have PowerPoint on their laptops. Their reference is a high school play with only a few lights, a set and some bit parts with an audience of adoring family members.

This is a now a high wire act without a net.

We always produce to the budget based on a timeline. That timeline should be crafted with important decisions made before arriving on show site.

Unfortunately we are returning to the days where clients have little regard for the pain and risk to their event by making decisions on site.

Sooner or later they will all experience obstacles and failures caused by loss of sleep to learn the lessons of on-site embarrassment and budget busting schedules.

The seasoned production manager should provide the realistic schedule that will match with the work required and the venue availability. The budget follows.

In future posts I will share experiences with the drunken executive that just wants to “hang around” in the ballroom with the crew putting them in overtime and the show at risk.

Another producer client swore the show we rehearsed in his studio in NY was different from the one he saw 3 days later on site in Hawaii. He had been snorting a white powder on the 13 hour flight, on no sleep for 24 hours. He began making changes to match his drugged out memory until the show was unrecoverable.

One client failed to book the ballroom with a 24 hour HOLD. We moved in, rehearsed then had to move out for a previously sold banquet. Starting at 11pm we re-assemble the show overnight for an 8am morning opening session.

Of course I don’t remember any mistakes I made causing overnights to recover.

Share your nightmare long hours on site.