ILMC Production Meeting
A welcome address by IPM 10 host Lee Charteris kicked off proceedings at the Royal Garden Hotel yesterday, with the Dubai-based consultant highlighting the event’s almost 200 registrations from 29 countries. Charteris applauded the production community for being the people at the sharp end that allow the promoters and agents who facilitate the live entertainment business to fulfil their business goals.
Weather: The long-range forecast
Chair: David Lawrence, DNG Production & Event Crew Ltd (UK)
Panellists: Jon Drape, Ground Control Productions (UK); Niels Peeters, Mojo Concerts (NL); Pete Holdich, Star Events Ltd (UK); Martina Pogačić, Ultra Europa (HR)
A subject that has been visited by IPM on a number of occasions, the consequences of extreme weather were keenly felt at events around the world in 2016 with rain, lightning, wind and high temperatures all causing issues for event organisers and production teams.
Pogačić noted that festival sites are often unsuitable for production builds and the business should consider involving more engineers and other experts in the planning stages of events. “You need to gather data several times per year and focus on the period of your build to incorporate your logistics to make sure the site is prepared for your production build,” she said.
She cited short-term weather forecasting and explained that temperature differences between the sea and the land in coastal areas should be monitored as it can lead to high winds on-site, which can be predicted in advance. Pogačić revealed this had led to a festival cancellation in Croatia where, knowing that high winds were going to hit the site, production co-ordinators and the promoter agreed that the event should be shut down, but the agents had to be convinced because there were beautiful blue skies at the festival at the time when the decision needed to be made. “It was very difficult for them to understand until the high winds started to approach,” she told delegates. “The longer you wait to make the decision, the more problems you create because the fans are already outside waiting to get in to party.”
Drape commented, “We need to get better at managing the weather. Last year, I had extreme heat during a festival build, which then turned into monsoon rains during the festival itself.” He added, “I’ll take as much data from as many sources as possible. So I’m now exploring putting in multiple monitoring sites across a festival.”
Peeters said that having a weather monitoring service that can provide organisers with information 24/7 is vital. “Instead of looking at average wind speeds we’re now looking at gusts because that’s a lot more relevant,” he revealed.
Holdich said there are many things that the production community can do to plan for extreme weather. “It’s important that you look at the historical weather patterns for a specific site, but there are extremes that happen – and they are happening more frequently.” Holdich cited one experience of being stuck in a festival Portakabin with the promoter and production co-ordinator. “The decision to cancel was mine as the winds were hitting 25m a second. To hear from Martina that so many people were involved in her decision process is encouraging.”
Responding to the observation of a delegate, Holdich agreed that risks to the public are more likely to come from smaller structures at outdoor events. This prompted Peeters to reveal that, “For the past couple of years we have been wind-load testing for every structure on-site, right down to the concession stands, and we’ve spent a lot of money upgrading those facilities. Everything is now at the 25 metres per second limit.”
Chairman Lawrence asked how Mojo goes about tracking everyone and everything that comes onto site and Peeters replied that all the various constituents have to sign-off on their particular areas of responsibility. “But the production team then has to make sure that no other objects are added to the scaffolding, etc,” he added.
A question about local authorities being involved in the decision-making process prompted Drape to point out that sometimes local authorities are not involved at all, citing an event he had to cancel when there was zero local authority interaction. However, he conceded that when an event is on municipal land, then they are usually heavily involved.
Recalling the events of last summer, Drape told attendees, “At Parklife, the build period was particularly hot and a lot of people experienced respiratory issues because of the dust, so we brought in sprinklers to keep the dust down and then within hours the heavens opened and we had a different extreme.”
Talking through the various criteria that teams on-site need to consider, Holdich pointed out that insurers often require evidence of weather monitoring to agree on cancellations. Martin Goebbels of Integro Insurance Brokers stated that some people turn to the insurance companies asking them what they should do. “That’s not for insurance companies to decide – that’s up to the business,” he warned. Holdich agreed, saying that the lower end of the business, where people are not using monitoring equipment or are not as diligent about wind speed loading, is where many problems can arise.
Acknowledging that crowds can go from passive to hostile within minutes, Pogačić highlighted the importance of crowd control management systems that include plans to communicate to fans about weather conditions and possible cancellations.
With extreme weather being compared to terrorism – eg we don’t know it’s going to happen, but when it does it can hit you fast and it can be disastrous – Holdich also spoke about the investment that can be involved in preparing for bad weather or production teams convincing a promoter not to use certain areas or structures, but then the storm misses the site.
The panel concluded with a Dutch delegate observing that one difficulty for international production suppliers is that every country has its own set of rules. However, he revealed that there are now moves to standardise the limits for wind-gust speeds across Europe.
Welfare for Workers
Chair: Carl AH Martin, cahm.uk
Panellists: Mark Harding, Showsec; Penny Mellor, Health, Safety and Welfare at Events; Nick Love, Assess All Areas; Andy Franks, Music Support
The second panel of IPM 10 began on a sombre note, with a cautionary tale from Showsec MD Mark Harding. He recounted a tragic incident in which an employee lost his life at one of their festivals, prompting Showsec along with the UK Crowd Management Association to approach the Events Industry Forum with an offer to sponsor a new tailored section for staff welfare in the purple guide to help the rest of the industry.
After an 18-month inquest, Showsec worked with the Health and Safety Executive to develop new recommendations for larger events industry – the results of which have been fed to Penny Mellor who has been tasked with developing staff welfare improvements.
Harding encouraged everyone in the room to examine their own staff welfare procedures continuously from the point of application to every aspect of staffing throughout their operations.
Safety consultant Mellor gave a short presentation on her Welfare Handbook addition to the 'Purple Guide,' which provides advice for production staff on everything from bereavement to running a lost-property service, using on-site radios and how to deal with allegations of sexual assault.
She also emphasised the importance of staying properly rested, quoting from the UK NHS website that more sleep “boosts immunity, can keep you slim, boosts mental wellbeing, increases sex drive, wards off heart disease and increases fertility”; the opposite, conversely, leads to under-estimation of risk, difficulty concentrating and reduced co-ordination. “We’re trying to reduce this at events,” she said.
Discussion then turned to the importance of welfare in later life, with Britannia Row Productions MD Bryan Grant, speaking from the audience, asking about the possibility of a special pension scheme for retired production staff.
Grant said he’s known people who “have committed suicide as they can’t go on; they can’t stay on the road indefinitely and they don’t know what to do.”
Andy Lenthall, GM of the Production Services Association, responded: “Yes: it’s called a private pension.” He said in most industries people are salaried, wherein most governments will match their pension contributions – however, in the production world workers are mostly self-employed, so “have got to invest in a private pension. All we can do is encourage people – we can’t plan for people who haven’t planned financially.”
While some called for more support from promoters – Franks said Melvin Benn (Festival Republic) has offered Music Support a ‘safe tent’ at its events as a refuge for production workers – audience member Tim Roberts, of The Event Safety Shop (TESS), highlighted the importance of the production industry looking after itself. “We need to build a positive safety culture,” he said. “We don’t need any new legislation from Brussels or Westminster – we need to grow up and realise this is work. We got into rock and roll because it’s fun – but we’re not in the entertainment business to escape reality. It’s a proper job and proper work.
“We can’t look at promoters and say, ‘You’re not giving us enough money’ – we’re the only ones who can do it.”
The Un-professionals: A business reality?
Chair: Martin Goebbels, Integro Insurance Brokers (UK)
Panellists: Martin Holmes, Bergen Live (NO); Boyan Boiadjiev, Pan Harmony (BG); Renatas Načajus, Falcon Club (LT); Hide Whone, Riverman Management (UK)
As the industry works to establish and adopt ever better working practices, this panel dealt with the question of safety – for example, how can responsible production teams ensure that the suppliers they work with conform to similar standards.
Goebbels stressed that the panel should not only address large events, but that the smaller gigs are equally important and that the question of safety should start with artist management and agents and then filter down.
Holmes explained that his background was as a production manager and working in safety. He reported that there are often some strange approaches to safety at smaller shows especially – “You’ll hear someone say that barriers aren’t necessary because X band was here before and they did not need them,” he said.
Asked whether agents and promoters should, perhaps, be asking more in-depth questions of their production suppliers, Boiadjiev observed that, “From the agent’s point of view the questions are usually limited to ‘Who have you worked for previously, when did that happen and how much can you offer us for the show?’ And the next you hear about it is when the production manager calls you up crying…”
Načajus agreed that starting from the small shows put on by small companies, everyone should be working to improve safety. “Nowadays anyone can book a show because all they have to do is pay the money, but they don’t have to think about who is working on it and who is in charge of safety etc,” he lamented.
Artist manager Whone talked about the importance of industry relationships and underlined the due diligence that his company relies upon when considering dealing with new events or promoters.
Goebbels pondered how often promoters are asked about venue specs by agents, to be told by Načajus that sometimes agents will demand a bigger venue, while they will also ask if there is a production manager on board and who that person is. Reinforcing Goebbels suspicions, however, Boiadjiev told delegates that when a new arena opened in Bulgaria it did not have any technical specs, so it was up to the local industry to draw up those details for the venue to work as a concert host.
As the drive toward professionalism continues, Holmes noted that more and more artist managers and agents are bringing in their own production people early to check out the technical aspects of venues. “Acts can now go from showcasing at Groningen one year to playing at Wembley Arena the following year – that’s a steep learning curve for them and for production teams,” he said.
Turning to the issue of training tomorrow’s production professionals, Goebbels cited a number of great training courses at universities, “But that’s only reading out of a book and doesn’t give people any practical experience on the road,” he said.
As a former musician, Boiadjiev recalled a number of times when the show could have gone disastrously wrong, but citing his time when he lived in Texas, he said, “There was always a follow up call from the booker to find out if everything was ok. The conversations were usually about power supply, to be honest, but it was a great idea because it could resolve problems and ultimately make things better for everyone, so it’s a practice that I have adopted in Bulgaria.”
Throughout the session, Goebbels referred to the book ‘Killer Show’, which details the tragedy at The Station club in Rhode Island in 2003 where 100 people died in a fire. Holmes pointed out that similar incidents in Russia, America, Brazil and Romania had caused deaths in clubs during the past 15 years – locked exits, overcrowding and home made pyro. “It’s frightening how the pattern has repeated itself so many times and how many people have died,” he said.
Explaining the progress made in the likes of the Baltics in recent years, Načajus recalled that such emerging markets initially had no equipment, no stages and no Mojo barriers. “When we first built our stages, thank God nothing went wrong and nobody was hurt,” he said. “In this business we have a habit of not learning from other mistakes, and in the emerging markets, like Belarus, there are companies who just buy the shows but have no experience and that is where the problems start.”
Načajus continued, “It’s ok to ask questions, but the local mentality in places like Belarus, unfortunately, is that nobody asks questions because they are scared of looking stupid. There are maybe two companies that can manage the shows in a safe way, but the cowboys who are paying for the big shows don’t care who they work with.”
Delegate Carl AH Martin noted that such problems are not limited to emerging markets. “Nobody got prosecuted or jailed after Love Parade,” he said. “Money is one of the evils that is causing us these problems.” Picking up on that sentiment, Načajus cited an example where a band refused to go on what they thought was an unsafe stage, but then went on when the promoter added €50,000 to the guarantee.
Session attendee David Lawrence suggested that when it comes to training tomorrow’s pros, veterans should consider mentoring or buddying less experienced people in the industry to give advice and guide them through situations that they themselves have dealt with over the years. Whone revealed that Riverman sometimes reserves crew slots on the road to allow young people to gain experience of working with a tour manager, where budget allows.
One issue that happens around the world, Boiadjiev observed is when agents play promoters off against each other to get a higher fee, but nobody thinks about the unprofessional people who work on the production and the danger that poses. “Perhaps a little bit more transparency and a sharing of responsibility – to check who has signed off on safety, for instance – between the agent and promoter could help improve the situation,” he suggested.
As a promoter, Načajus admitted that he had implemented a number of changes to his day-to-day operations following his visit to IPM in 2016. “This was mostly to do with risk assessment and communication, so that everyone who works on a site is made aware,” he revealed.
And drawing parallels with other sectors that take safety more seriously than live music – which often involves tens of thousands of fans – Načajus admitted that most companies have their share of ‘oops’ moments. “That is somehow acceptable for us, but let’s face it, you don’t want to hear ‘Oops’ from an aircraft pilot or from a doctor, so we should try to avoid those incidents as well in our business,” he concluded.
Terror, Safety and Security: The world today
Chair: Paul Sergeant, PMY Group
Panellists: Claire Cosgrave, SSE Arena Belfast; Tim Roberts, The Event Safety Shop; Chris Phillips, IPPSO
More than a year after the massacre at the Bataclan, IPM 10’s final panel saw venue operators and security specialists debate the ever-present spectre of Islamist terror and its effects on the global production sector.
Former police officer Chris Phillips, now head of security consultancy IPPSO (International Protect and Prepare Security Office), opened by saying there is “nothing new about terrorism.” “It’s been happening since time began – the only difference is that now we’re dealing with Islamic terrorism,” he commented.
What has changed, however, is terrorists’ methods, Phillips continued. “Terrorism has changed,” he said. Before it was about land – Northern Ireland is a good example: the IRA said ‘get off our land and we’ll leave you alone’ – but what we’re fighting now is an ideology: ‘We want you to live the way we live.’”
He added that modern terrorists, unlike their 20th-century counterparts, are increasingly targeting large crowds. “As a policeman, the IRA would have seen me as a target, but now it’s all about crowded places,” he said.
While Phillips said delegates should “put it out of your minds that this [terrorism] is going to go away – it’s not,” The Event Safety Shop (TESS) founder Tim Roberts warned there is a “possibility of overstating this,” saying official responses should be proportionate to the threat, and event producers should be “alert, not alarmed.”
Steering the discussion to terrorists’ methods, Roberts said he believes external traders, such as F&B stands, are the “leakiest” potential back doors for terror at large concerts and festivals. “You have 60,000 staff at Glastonbury for a week, and then they all go home… How are you going to know the names of everyone flipping burgers?”
Moderator Paul Sergeant asked Claire Cosgrave, operations manager at the 11,000-cap. SSE Arena Belfast, how venues such as hers are dealing with increased post-Bataclan security around live events. Cosgrave replied that, “more security conscious tours” are a “great thing,” but lamented that, “many people who come through here don’t really have any concept of what they’re asking for.” “We constantly have to explain to touring security that to do a full building search will take close to a week,” she explained, adding that “having sniffer dogs looking for bombs isn’t going to reassure police!”
Part of her job, Cosgrave said, is to reassure artists’ security that “you know what you’re doing” – often unsuccessfully. “If they do insist on ridiculous requests, I’ll give you a dog and charge it to the promoter,” she said. “That gets passed on further up the line, which will probably lead to higher ticket prices for fans.”
Moving on from terrorism, Cosgrave spoke on the arena’s response to a cancellation by One Direction ten minutes before they were scheduled to play.
She said venue staff were forced to “babysit” the band’s tween fans following the promoter’s announcement that the show wouldn’t be happening – “children were wailing, people were collapsing; we had to send medics in!” she laughed – but the situation would have been worse had the venue not already had plans in place in case of emergencies. “It was tweaking the plans we had for an emergency to this scenario,” she explained.
“I bet you didn’t have a manual for If-One-Direction-Cancel!” joked Roberts, who said the best preparation for any crisis is simply having qualified staff with common sense to respond to the situation. “Crisis can come to any business type and any organisation – you need sensible grown-ups who can make quick decisions based on facts,” he said.
“People will forgive us if we are the terrorists’ target; people will not forgive us if we respond in a disorganised manner and put people in danger. A chaotic response to a crisis is something that can make or break a business.”
Phillips concluded by recommending that venues and events should foster a “security culture” in which everyone feels part of and liable for a show’s security. “Encourage your teams to all think about themselves as security for the event – not just the security guards,” he said.
Photos: Sytske Kamstra