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Working in the Production Industry

Working in the live event industry
Working in the live event industry

Written by: Miles McCreery


Getting Started

There are many reasons why someone wants to get started in the live events industry, most aren’t for the fame though. Getting started in the live events industry is never the same for any two people, for some it is hard and others seem to fall into it by accident. Some have a crazy passion or a goal when they start and others are interested in where this career path will take them. Some start in small college programs like Jeff Atkisson, others start at large schools doing sports statistics and sideline reporting like Melissa Ward, while others start when they’re only 10 years old doing speaking competitions like Mark Sanborn. Starting out doesn’t have to be hard, but is where most people find their passion for what they hope to achieve in their career. Steve Mitchell’s early dreams were to be a rockstar, but quickly learned that “keeping a band together was like herding cats”.

“It’s tough to be a musician, and I remember her saying, “Look at this guy over here. He’s moving these faders and that’s cool too you know.” I ignored her all the way up into my teenage years trying to still be a rock star” – Steve Mitchell

Regardless of when, why, or how you start, a lot of industrial professionals can agree that the role you start with is not where you have to end in live events. A camera operator is not chained to his or her position handling cameras their entire career, and an audio technician isn’t forced to deal with audio levels and microphones. There is no linear path between the beginning, middle or end of someone’s career when working in the hectic and fun live event industry. If one is willing to seize opportunities and take risks there is room for movement.

Dave Nuckolls is one of many industry professionals who seized opportunities in his career. He moved cross country to begin his career and eventually snatched at the opportunity to step up to the plate when crisis loomed on the horizon. Dave confidently took the risk in writing down an impromptu speech for the President of Disney. This was no ordinary speech to a room of eager Disney kids and parents though – this speech was to be given in front of Ronald Reagan during his presidency. Risks like these led Dave Nuckolls to securing some really great jobs and opportunities such as curating and starring in CNN’s “Voices of the Millenium” and interviewing Nancy Reagan and idols like Alan Alda.

“I interviewed Alan Alda, who I’ve always kind of considered to be my idol just because he can be very smart, very profound, but very, very funny.”

Finding Your Way in the Industry

Once you’re started in the industry, its all about finding your way- it’s about finding the opportunities to make the jumps, steps and leaps between where you are and where you want to be.

“What I do is I talk about leadership and turning ordinary into extraordinary. Leadership is kind of my passion.” – Mark Sanborn

Dondi Sanchez talks about what it takes to make the right hires within the industry and one thing that he identifies as a key asset is passion.

“I want team members who will be great assets to our company someone who will bring their passion and drive to work everyday.” – Dondi Sanchez 

Many find their passion and dreams within the industry, the hard part is finding how to achieve those goals. There is no secret formula, but there is a common denominator between all event industry professionals: HARD WORK.

Working hard isn’t an option, it is a necessity when trying to be successful. This hard work comes in many different shapes and forms. Work schedule can mean long 12 hour days, or long 3 week trips away from the family. Last second changes in the script or show run schedule can send chills down your spine. Equipment failures and technical problems can sink production value. But these challenges are where the true creativity, wit and hard work show. Sometimes doing your job well means no one notices that you somehow single handedly saved a show.

“That flexibility that we have with our schedule, on the surface of it, a lot of people look at us and think that you travel all the time and it must be really hard, and it is.” – Jon Allen

Live event professionals know that hard work, tough jobs and long travel are not done alone. Each job has a host of others within the industry and outside that are constantly assisting and helping make sure that everything goes well. Inside a working relationship there is no room for egos or pride and as Jeff Atkisson explains respecting everyone regardless of their title really can make a job go more smoothly.

“I guarantee you that if you serve and respect your stagehands they will work harder for you.” – Jeff Atkisson

  • Work relationships: these are work friends who form a sort of unspoken family while on the road or show site. These relationships last much longer than a show run and are the phone calls, texts, emails and “long-time-no-sees” that keep the gears turning.
  • Home relationships: our friends and family that help push through the tough times at work with encouragement and understanding. The ones who are at home during long stints away and the ones who make coming home all the more worth it.

  

Finding Support

Having a support system is ideal in the live events industry. The hours are long and the schedules are chaotic but there is nothing more important than being able to gear up and unwind.

Some in the industry are lucky to have spouses and family members work alongside them or in related fields, others have family members who work somewhere else but like Judie Kavanagh described about her own family, support and love is the most important thing that they can give her.

Hopefully all friends, families and colleagues are supportive of their road warrior/audio guru/lighting wizard/or what have you.

“You become road warriors. You have to have a good support system whether it’s your parents or your spouse or friends and family. It truly becomes a situation where it does take a village, if you are in this business, to raise a child. Simply because there’s always, again, the unexpected where, you know, all of a sudden you get sick, or they get sick or whatever.” – Melissa Ward

Working in the live event industry is peculiar to say the least. Work schedules are wonky, hours are ridiculous and there are not clearly defined paths to success. But between getting started, finding your passions, defining your goals, working hard and enjoying those support you there is some semblance of method to all of the chaos.

 

The Production Channel has had a great time covering all of the stories and more from above and will continue delivering insight and wisdom into what it means to work in the live events industry. 


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