One of the biggest challenges a production manager faces is producing a show that is in another location. I recently produced a show in Houston, and I was working for a company in Southern California at the time. After the budget came through, my team decided that it would be best to rent the majority of the gear locally in Texas rather than truck our own gear to the show.
This suggestion posed several potential challenges. Communication is key. You not only need to communicate clearly, but you also need to know what things are important to communicate. Scheduling of deliveries is also of great importance as, often, there is only one location for drop-offs, and drivers are paid hourly. Ideally, you’d partner with one company and split the profits. This way, they are more inclined to help you out if you need something extra or last minute.
In my situation, we did our best to find one company that could handle all of the gear and labor. Unfortunately, the company we found decided to jack up their prices due to a lack of gear because of a last minute show they landed around the NBA finals. These changes put them outside our budget, and therefore, put us back on the path of sourcing gear. We did end up finding all the gear we needed, but instead of one local company, we had to source from two separate companies, one of which was a two-hour drive outside of Houston.
Up to the day of load-in, we had produced this show like every other show. I went for a one-day flight there-and-back site visit. I took all the measurements and drew the plans. We scheduled all the deliveries and labor. I consulted with the client and game-planned our load-in/out and show strategies. I had the entire production timeline laid out on a spreadsheet with everyone in the loop on the schedule. You’d think that for a small, three-hour production, I had really overdone it.
On the morning of the load-in, a truck from the company that was two hours out of town was late. They were scheduled to arrive at 8am and had the majority of the gear necessary for the production. My team scheduled them to arrive an hour before the site opened for us to load-in. We did this on purpose to ensure that they would arrive on time. The labor call was set for 9am when the site was to open. The truck had still not arrived by 9am and didn’t arrive until 11:30am, which meant that we were paying techs to stand around for two and a half hours. That error, later explained to me as traffic, was the first of many challenges to be faced that day.
The next issue was that of miscommunicated gear. Without going into details of the specifications of each piece of gear here, let me just tell you how important it is to be extremely clear about the gear you think you are ordering. When initially shopping rental gear, it is perfectly fine to be general. However, before a decision is made as to what gear specifically will be rented, be sure to review in detail and even check out a couple manuals before assuming that it is what you need for your specific application. Needless to say, some gear was not what I thought I ordered.
A few more challenges arose throughout that first load-in day, including missing gear and more wrong gear. I did have a local company just a quick drive away that I was able to call on to fill in all the missing and wrong gear. We also got everything that I had planned to accomplish on day one finished on time.
I think the takeaway here is that even the most well thought-out plans can have holes. As much as I continue to improve my processes, I will never be perfect (even though that’s what my LDI session title states). Having a backup plan, or in my case, someone that I could call for eleventh-hour adds is a must, even if you don’t intend to use them. Also, in an unexpected circumstance, maintain a good attitude, and don’t react hastily to challenges you face. If you’ve already considered the problems that you could face, you will have a better chance at fixing them when they come up.
While the first day of load-in was very stressful, we were able to overcome the obstacles and the show was flawless. If I hadn’t planned for potential challenges ahead of time, the headache could have been much more severe.
Mark Randel started in entertainment as a performer. He side-stepped into technical entertainment and started touring as an LD in 2005. He graduated in show production from Full Sail University at the top of his class in 2012 and has been working as a production manager in Southern California.
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