Pulling off large-scale events can be daunting, especially when working with and relying on multiple contractors. If you do it well, you can leverage all of the different and unique skillsets that are around the table and really make your event special. If you do it badly, it can end up being a nightmare, with everyone blaming someone else for things not working and no one knowing where the fault actually lies. Here are a few things to bear in mind when working with lots of different contractors.
Be clear about what you want and who is responsible for providing it
One of the quickest ways of getting on the back foot with large productions is to make assumptions, especially when it comes to who is providing what. It is really important to be as clear as possible with respect to who is providing what and what the expectation is for that company. Companies thrive on clarity. The clearer you can make the brief the better it is for everyone. For example, asking a company to provide lighting for an event is fairly ambiguous. Are they providing the fixtures only? Are they supplying all the rigging? Are they expected to operate the show? Do they need to include transport or are you going to sort this? These things need to be explicitly mentioned at the quoting phase. This will allow them to plan properly as well as give you accurate costings of exactly how much lighting is going to cost. This is obviously true for all other areas of production too. If conversations need to happen between different companies, make sure you facilitate them. For example, if the rigging company is supplying trussing for the lighting and audio company, make sure you introduce all the relevant parties so they know who their key point of contact is and make sure that everyone is happy with who is providing what. Ensuring the right conversations have been had and people are all on the same page is crucial. It will help avoid any ‘I thought you were bringing that’ problems later on.
Have a production meeting
The first time people talk about your event all together should not be as you load into the venue. Large shows need to have input from all areas of production as seemingly isolated decisions can have huge knock-on consequences for other areas. For example, lowering the front light a meter to help the lighting programmer could seriously cause havoc on PA coverage and sight lines for screens. A seemingly simple thing has actually affected several areas in an adverse way, something the lighting company may not spot when making that decision. Having a production meeting where all areas are represented and talk through the plan is imperative to the success of the event, and, it should be exactly that, a talk through of an existing plan, not a brainstorming of what would be cool to do. The two areas that really need to be focused on in this meeting are the rig plot and the production schedule. i.e. where are things physically going and when do they need to be done by. This is where any issues with cable runs and trim heights, for example, can be identified and rectified. It also allows contractors to ask questions that perhaps haven’t been flagged yet. For example, where are they going to be able to park their truck? Where do they store their empty cases? These are things that can easily be discussed and agreed prior to arriving on site.
From this meeting, all parties should leave confident that the rig plot works for them andit can be achieved in line with the production schedule. This meeting effectively is the ‘sign off’ on the plan for the event. Production managers need to walk away from this meeting having identified the potential pinch points in the production schedule and what the priorities are on site. It also allows the Production Manager to check all conversations that needed to be had between contractors have been carried out and that everyone is happy with the agreed plan.
Stick to the plan
Unless you have an emergency or something left-field has come out of nowhere, stick to the plan. The quickest way to frustrate contractors is to change a plan that everyone has worked towards and agreed upon in advance. It risks jeopardising the event and puts contractors in a very difficult position. It can be tempting to tweak and change things when you see everything come together on site, but often these changes offer a minimal improvement to the overall show and can bring about other unforeseen complications and frustrations. When you are on site, it is all about the execution of your existing plan, not the formulation of a new one. Of course, things happen that we cannot foresee and things do sometimes need to change. If this is the case, talk to your contractors and explain the situation. Get their input, don’t just tell them it’s happening. They may have a different solution which could work better for everyone or you may have not fully understood the implications of changing the plan. You will often find that people are more than willing to be flexible when it is required and necessary in order to pull off the event. This flexibility, however, shouldn’t be taken advantage of and be used as an excuse for poor pre-production and planning. Value peoples time on site by creating a good plan and sticking to it. The better the plan is going into the event, the less you should have to change on site.
Debrief after your event
One of the best ways you can improve the quality of your events is to debrief with your contractors regularly. This includes what went well, what didn’t go to plan and what would be helpful going forward. This ensures that each time you run an event you don’t come up with the same issues and problems. It also helps contractors understand what is important to you as a client and can help them in their decision making going forward. Make sure you are also asking for feedback from them as well. Contractors often have great insight and years of experience which can be invaluable when it comes to improving the planning stage of your events.
It is common courtesy to thank people when they have helped you but is often forgotten and neglected. Make sure you thank your team. It is irrelevant whether they are paid, unpaid or whether they work for someone else. If they have been involved in pulling off your event, they should be thanked. Gratitude for hard work and long hours is the oil which keeps everything running smoothly. Events are remembered fondly, even if they were hard work when people leave feeling valued and appreciated.