If you expect this column to be dead serious, deeply analytical, and very technical, I suggest you move on. It will save you five minutes of your life that you can spend on something much better. If you expect this to be potentially politically incorrect and sarcastic, I’m all yours, honey.
Celebrating 25 years in this industry, there is no doubt that I’ve experienced many things over the years, ever since I rolled my very first road case as a stagehand during load-in of a Scorpions concert at The Globe Arena in Stockholm in 1990. That day was an awakening for me and changed my life forever, for the better.
Since then, I have managed to climb my way all the way to where I am today, working as a technical director/manager on large-scale events around the world. Along the way, I went through most of the steps in our industry, including being a stage builder, forklift driver, catering assistant, production runner, backline technician, lighting tech, lighting designer, production designer, and production manager. Hell, I even did sound once, but that ended in disaster. The lesson? Stick to what you know!
On that note, let’s talk about innovation in our industry:
Over the years, I’ve had the honor to be a part of the innovation award jury for the PLASA trade show in London. Being on the jury is a really fun task, but it’s also very hard work, since you have to review around 40 products in one day. Keep in mind that each product comes with a 10-minute presentation, so this is not at all glamorous in any way, just a lot of running around like a headless chicken, trying to find the next booth and product to review. The second day is even less glorious, since we start dirt early to go over the short list and find the products that should be awarded. I’ve still not managed to start off any of these two days without a massive hangover, but maybe I’ll learn some day (but I seriously doubt it). Anyway, I think it’s fair to ask that manufacturers that submit products to the innovation award actually have invented something new. That is what I thought and expected when I joined the jury.
But sweet Lord baby Jesus, was I wrong.
The number of un-innovative products that I’ve seen over the years is unbelievable. Not too long ago, I looked at an LED PAR, and the innovation claimed to be that this fixture did a primary blue better than all other LED fixtures on the market. For f’s sake, that is not innovation. If what they claimed had been true, it would have been an improvement, sure, but not even that was the case. Thanks for stealing 10 minutes of my life that I could have spent in bed instead.
Did you know that the first patent for moving lights was filed in 1906 by Edmund Sohlberg of Kansas City? The lantern used a carbon-arc bulb and was operated not by motors or any form of electronics, but by cords that were operated manually to control pan, tilt, and zoom.
Now, if you compare that with the evolution of the cellular phone, that was first introduced by Motorola in 1973, I would expect my moving lights not only to be 10 times brighter than they actually are, but I would expect them to buy my groceries, do my laundry, take my kids to and from school, and slice cheese, not to mention make a very good espresso, and give me a neck rub every now and then, but for some reason, they don’t.
So, contrary to my former statement, don’t stick to what you know. Think outside the box, and let’s find more stuff that will revolutionize our industry the way that motorized moving lights did in the ‘80s and media servers did in the early 2000s.
I’m not saying that the brilliant minds of our business—and there are quite a few—have not achieved anything in a long time. There have been tons of improvements that have made our lives easier and our shows better and safer, but most of it is just that: improvement of an already existing product.
So, here’s my challenge: The next time you’re having drinks with your buddies and saying, “What if there were a thingy that could do this? That would be awesome!” write it down, send it to your friend at ABC Corporation, and see if it flies. You never know; you could win an award someday.
I did just that, and came up with the Blowsucker, a confetti machine with an onboard vacuum cleaner that can clean up the mess after shooting the confetti. I’m sure you can do better!
Remember, the world never remembers a coward. Over and out.
Ola Melzig has 25 years’ experience working in the entertainment concert industry, working his way up from stagehand through all facets of production. Today his resume includes technical director on large-scale events worldwide, including the Eurovision Song Contest, the Commonwealth Games opening and closing ceremonies in New Delhi, India, Espectáculo Conmemorativo, the Cinco de Mayo 150 year anniversary show in Puebla, Mexico, and the 2014 IIFA Awards. He is currently working as senior technical manager for the closing ceremonies for the 2015 European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.