The event and show industry is seasonal which often leads to a highly volatile production industry work schedule. As show techs, show callers, producers directors or whatever… if you work in the production industry you are not living a normal work / vacation life. Most “normal” people working “normal” jobs only get two weeks off a year and they focus that around the Christmas holidays. So what exactly does a schedule look like for an event production professional?
Well first, we need to acknowledge that different sectors of production have different seasonality and work schedules. Professional sports have very specific seasons that line up with their respective sport. Chris Slepokura, Director of Broadcast Production with the LA Rams, and his team are working intensely from September thru January and then it straight drops off.
“Game week starts on Monday’s, meet with the organization, run through the full script including entertainment elements and additional video packages. We do lots of prep in the off-season but once the football season kicks-off in August, it’s all about deadlines week to week. Not only are you planning for the upcoming game that weekend, but you have another right on the heels next week so you often work on multiple games at the same time. On game days, the production crew will arrive around 5 hours before kick and get ready for the fans to entire the stadium 90 minutes prior to kickoff when the show begins.”
We also have house of worship, which basically is always on with productions every weekend, but they have marquee weekends including Easter and Christmas. The thing to remember with church productions is that there is often a core production team that is on staff which really bears the brunt of a weekly gig “service” the entire year. Most production crew in the house of worship industry are made up of volunteers, who while there are some regular re-occurring ones, often are only serving one weekend a month. The hustle is real and church production is often overlooked but can be the most demanding of a show techs schedule, time and attention.
“Since we have full-scale “production events” multiple times throughout every week and weekend, we are almost always working on different types of services and events several weeks out. Schedule-wise, our team takes most Mondays off, then back at it on Tuesday—from there, it’s all about the ramp up to the weekend. And on and on it goes, fifty-two times a year.”
The theater production industry work schedule can be tricky to figure out… you have community theater which is often unpaid, everyone works a normal day job and we are all working towards a single show that can last from one weekend to several years on broadway. Theatre is similar to the house of worship industry, in that it’s a set location where the crew can build a lifestyle around as opposed to traveling from gig to gig and leaving your family. Don’t get me wrong, there are some traveling broadway and theater shows that are as brutal as a concert rock-n-roll tour, but that is the minority.
The television broadcast, sports and news production industry work schedule varies on the type of broadcast you do. If you work for a television show that airs daily, you are working five days a week or more. That sounds miserable to a corporate event tech who works 15 days a month, but remember that television is often not nearly as physical. These are studios where all the gear is already set up, the cameras are ready to go and simple on switch activates most pieces of gear. That is certainly an over simplification of the requirements, but compared to loading in six 50′ trucks of AV into a ballroom or stage, hanging truss and projectors… the studio crews have it good. The sports broadcasting is a whole other animal. Sports production travels from game to game. Sometimes you are on the road for six-plus games before you come home, flying from city to city and checking in and out of hotels. It can get rough.
“My year is pretty wild, this year I’ll have 9 games that are “out & backs” (fly there, do the production and fly back) and then I have another 32 games that are apart of various longer road trips… I think I have a 6-gamer and two 5-gamer trips. Last nights was rough, a 7:40pm tip off with 2 OTs and then a long flight afterwards about did us in. I think I’ll have 62 flights this year alone. The bummer is we don’t get miles or hotel points for our travel.”
– Greg Hartung, Broadcast Sports Director
Finally, corporate and specialty events production industry work schedule. These are the crews that are firing up for a single day or week somewhere in the world. They are flying to the city, staying in hotels, loading into an empty ballroom, rehearsing for 3 days, show for another 3 and then flying to the next gig and doing it all over again. Tours are often more difficult, where they are on the road for 12 weeks traveling from gig to gig on a bus. Corporate certainly gets the comfort (not always) where they stay in hotels, often fancy hotels with the guest, and get to eat buffet food and more. Either way, the per event life of a freelance event production professional is unique to say the least. Often leaving the family at home, they are on the road making day rates and living lives that nobody can relate to. They can’t go home from the studio every night and kiss their daughter goodnight, they face time and skype. But don’t forget that while it is a crazy schedule, it’s a freelancer’s schedule to choose what days they will work or now. Often freelance show techs will work only two weeks a month, allowing two free and concentrated weeks with their family and friends. Not to bad actually.
“I try to work no more than two weeks a month on average across the whole year. As a freelancer you want to take as many gigs as you can because nothing is guaranteed but that is not always healthy. I am very intentional about calling and face timing with my family when I’m on the road… but it’s hard. A work day in production is very different thana most peoples. We are either loading for 18 hours, sitting in rehearsal or show locked to our seats unable to make or receive calls. But when I’m home, I’m home and my family knows that. The time I spend with them is, for the most part, focused time for two weeks straight, which I believe is even better than just seeing them for two hours each night after a long day at the office. I’ve come to learn that “work/life balance” is impossible if you look at any given moment, but something to focus on over a longer period of time.”
– Richard Dunn, Freelance Lighting Designer for Corporate & Broadcast Events
The production industry work schedule is different to say the least. It’s not wrong, it’s just different, and it varies from industry to industry. In this article we have only scratched the surface not even talking about holidays schedules and more. But know this, while working in this industry can be hard at times, and being away from your family or never being able to take a vacation because your role is so vital weekend and week out… remember that you don’t work a desk job. You don’t work under florescent lights. You get to create entertainment every day. you get to deliver a show. Most “normal” jobs would spazz and shut down if they had to do what we do for a day 😉