Behind the Scenes: After detailing the planning stages last issue, SRO joins the technical team as they stage Starbucks Convention events.
Editor's Note: Last issue, we followed the planning steps taken by Tempe, Ariz.-based AV Concepts, as the company prepared to provide A/V services for coffee-giant Starbucks' March 2004 Seattle Leadership Conference. Starbucks asked Production Support Services, Seattle, to produce the event, and that company brought AV Concepts onto the project to provide state-of-the-art technology to give attendees an immersive way to absorb Starbucks' corporate message. This issue, Matt Hurwitz offers a first-person, behind-scenes account of the event, from load-in to breakdown. Hurwitz spent time observing the AV Concepts crew and its interaction with the Production Support Services team, outside vendors, and the various venues throughout the three-day event.
It's February, and about 6,500 Starbucks employees are wending their way to Seattle for the Starbucks Leadership Conference. Starbucks officials, producers from Production Support Services, and the AV Concepts team have a lot of work to do in the next four days. The crew will install, operate, and break down events in three locations in downtown Seattle.
Four types of programs will comprise the convention: a welcome session and general session at Key Arena, located within the city's Seattle Center; breakout sessions at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center (WSCTC), located about a mile away from Key Arena; additional breakout meetings at the Seattle Center Conference Center; and banquet/awards dinners, also held at the WSCTC.
The breakout sessions were scheduled to take place on Sunday, Feb. 29, and Monday, March 1, at the WSCTC and Wednesday, March 3, at both the WSCTC and the Seattle Center. Monday evening, March 1, a large welcome session would also take place at Key Arena, with welcome speeches and a Brian McKnight concert. Tuesday, March 2, the general session will take place at the Key Arena, with all employees in attendance, Starbucks providing a variety of presentations and company skits and hosting keynote speaker Erin Brockovich. On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, awards dinners will take place in ballrooms at the WSCTC for three of the company's business units each night (i.e., three one night and the remaining three the following night).
AV Concepts' Jesse Lawson and Brian Mitrisin managed the Key Arena, banquets, and the breakout sessions. The company's account executive, Mitch Teitelbaum, (see March/April SRO for Teitelbaum's project diary), was also on hand during the conference.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 28, WSCTC
At 6 p.m., the AV Concepts truck arrives and unloads gear for the breakout sessions at the WSCTC's 4th floor loading dock. Teitelbaum, his three project managers, and show designer/producer Brad Mace,Production Support Services, are all on hand.
The breakout equipment is offloaded and brought to a small meeting room on the Convention Center's 2nd floor, which serves as a staging area for the breakout team. The gear is sorted by category, from which crew members fill carts with the required equipment for each of the 16 rooms to be set up that night. The team has until 7 a.m. to build the rooms.
“It always takes as much time as we have available,” says Mike Barlin, who assists Mitrisin and also serves as lead for the Seattle Center breakout meetings. “We're hoping this will take six or seven hours, and we'll be out by 2 or 3 a.m.”
Each room is laid out according to plans drawn up by Production Support Services' Greg Bakke, who worked with Mace, AV Concepts, and Starbucks to decide room size and program requirements and what equipment each room will have. For the most part, each room will have the same A/V gear.
Depending on size, each breakout room contains one or two LCD video projectors — either 4k Christie LX41s, projecting onto a 9'×12' screen, or, for the smaller rooms, a Proxima DP-6850, throwing onto a 7.5 '×10' surface. A VHS deck is available for video playback of pre-recorded materials, prepared by the client.
Each room has a Mackie VLZ-1202 12×2 mixer, with a Klark DN360B EQ and a Tascam rackmounted CD player. Two Shure MX-18 wireless mics are provided, as well as two SM58 handheld mics. Audio played through a pair of EAW KF300IR speakers, powered by a tri-amped 4800W Crown Macrotech amp rack (close-coupled with an MX300i processor), with self-powered Mackie SRM-450s in the smaller rooms.
According to Lawson, using RF mics in big cities like Seattle, presents challenges. “There's a problem with running out of frequencies — the mics tend to introduce cross-talk from room-to-room,” he says. “Digital television stations are occupying some of the frequencies previously allotted to wireless mics. It's actually beginning to make some equipment obsolete, because none of the frequencies a transmitter has are available any longer.”
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 29, WSCTC
Attendees from Starbucks' Canadian and Northeastern zones, who arrived the day before, are now busy learning about coffee and customer service, while the breakout team ties up loose ends.
“Getting the rooms up and running, that's really the hard part, except for adds or changes,” says Mitrisin. “But they're pretty self-sufficient once they're up.”
Mitrisin was scheduled to leave at midnight, giving lead technicians responsibility for complete setup. Instead, the entire breakout setup crew worked until 5:30 a.m.
“The breakout manager is often an unsung position,” explains Teitelbaum. “This show's got 26 breakout rooms — there are shows with over 100 breakout rooms, with one guy heading it all. It's unbelievable the organizational skills needed to keep all of that in order.”
The crew will return at 2 p.m. When the breakout sessions finish at 4:30 p.m., some of the rooms will be reset, while others will host casual dinners and pre-function events, so they must be changed over in an hour. Following the dinners, the crew will spend the early hours of the night resetting the rooms for breakout meetings the following day.
MONDAY, MARCH 1, KEY ARENA
At 1 a.m., Key Arena is still bustling with activity since the previous night's concert by vocalist Sarah Brightman is still clearing out, with workers cleaning up chalk marks and confetti from the floor.
The first trailer backs into the single loading dock. A total of eight trailers will deliver show goods over the next several hours, four of which contain AV Concepts' gear.
Lawson and company co-owner Fred Mandrick watch as the centerpiece of the general session is unloaded from the truck: a 66'×20' Stewart AeroView 100 projection screen, which will display widescreen images during the general session. The screen is fragile and expensive, so Mandrick personally supervises its installation.
While the screen is being unloaded, Lawson and the crew from I.A.T.S.E. Local 15 begin chalking the floor and hanging points — a total of 40 — which takes several hours.
“Key Arena is not a simple venue for hanging points,” explains Mace. “Most venues are on a grid, and you just go up and drop. The structure here is more complicated, requiring baskets and bridles. We did a four-hour call and came in and pre-measured and pre-built the steel. But, even then, once you get off the grid, it can be 25 or 30 minutes a point in this house.”
Nonetheless, things move along at a pretty good clip.
“These guys are averaging 15 minutes a point, which is amazing,” says Mace. “This [union local] just has a depth of quality of labor — everyone really stepped up.”
The riggers hang four trusses. A 120ft. truss upstage supports three screens — the 66ft.-wide center screen for the ultra-wide display, and two 15'×20' side screens, which are positioned vertically, or “portrait style” for IMAG. Two lighting trusses are placed mid-stage, with another located over the audience.
At 3 a.m., after the last AV Concepts truck has left the dock, Seattle-based Carlson Audio's truck arrives carrying supplemental audio gear, followed 45 minutes later by the first of Seattle-based Christie Lite's two semis full of additional lighting gear.
Despite the late hour, owner Mark Carlson is handling the audio delivery himself. “I don't do too many midnight load-ins anymore,” Carlson says. “The crew doesn't need to be here yet. I'm here because it's my name that's on the box. Plus, I'm a glutton for punishment.”
Projectionist Richard Vinson, from AV Concepts' San Diego office, assembles the truss designed to support the massive 20'×66' screen. Vinson was originally slated to work as a video lead for one of the Convention Center banquets, but he was called into duty as a replacement projectionist for a peer who had a family emergency.
“Family emergencies are really tough in this job,” says Teitelbaum.
Mitrisin agrees. “With crews on the road for a good part of the year, we are all cognizant of the fact that emergencies happen and we must pull together as a team,” he says.
The truss and screen were to have been constructed on the south end of the arena floor, beneath the riggers' work, while the stage was assembled on the north end, to be later rolled into place once lights and audio were hung. Concern arises, however, about the way in which the truss and screen assembly will be lifted into place off the floor.
The truss is composed of 8ft. segments of 12in. box truss, and is designed to be supported from the top, suspended from the 120ft. overall truss. At points a quarter inch from the ends, two additional vertical members are to be attached to the bottom member of the truss, extending down to the floor to prevent that bottom member from sagging, once the structure is hung from above.
Mandrick is concerned that assembling the truss at the lighting location and then lifting it off of the floor would put undue stress on the bottom member of the truss, causing severe deflection. After discussion with the head rigger, Jay Wallace, it is decided to build the truss and screen on the stage surface. The crew then rolls the stage and screen into place beneath the lights and carefully lifts the truss, leaving the bottom edge bearing on the edge of the stage until the bottom support legs can support the bottom member, preventing the deflection. Building the screen away from where the riggers are working avoids any risk of damage to the screen, in case an item should accidentally fall from above.
By 4 a.m., Vinson assembles the truss, Mandrick unpacks and assembles the anodized aluminum support tube to which the screen will be attached. The tube will be connected to the inside edge of the 67'×21' clear opening of the truss using clamps. The screen will then be attached to the tube using small bungees with hooks, a system known as “lace and grommet.”
“Because these screens are so unique, you can't just call somebody in Seattle and say, ‘send over another one,’” says Teitelbaum. “We always carry a backup with us.” The backup is a less expensive screen made of similar rear-screen material.
By 5 a.m., the tube is attached to the truss, and plastic sheeting is laid down on the stage surface into the clear opening of the frame to prevent the front of the screen from coming in contact with any dirt or becoming damaged. Wearing rubber gloves, the crew carefully lifts the rolled-up screen surface from its shipping container.
Mandrick and another crew member slowly unroll the screen. The material is rolled up with sheets of paper, to prevent the layers of the plastic screen surface from sticking to each other, and these are removed once the screen is unfurled. Once in place, the crew then attaches the bungees to the edge of the screen.
Lighting instruments are being attached and connected to the 16in. box and “swing wing” trusses. The fixtures consist of conventional Source 4 lights, PARS, and Mac 2000 moving lights, which will be controlled by an M.A. Lighting Grand MA 4000.
The rigging crew is hanging 24 EAW KF-760 line arrays, supplemented by 8 EAW KF-761s as down fill, and 24 EAW SB-1000 subwoofers, placed at the foot of the stage. Front-of-house will be controlled with a Midas XL4 56 channel console, while the monitors will be mixed through Midas's Heritage 3000 desk.
At 5 a.m., both Teitelbaum and Mace arrive. Mace has been supervising by telephone during the night. The producer is pleased with what he sees.
“This was an incredibly tight, aggressive, load-in schedule, coming hard on the heels of the Sarah Brightman show,” Mace says. “The time spent in preproduction is really paying off, and all of the crews are doing a great job on this, everybody has really ponied up.”
At 6 a.m., the video crew installed the IMAG/video record switching system, along with cameras, the Montage video processing system, a playback and record system, and a Vista/Folsom control system. The playback and record system are composed of a Quvis Qubit HD hard drive player, Sony HDW-500 HD Beta player, four Doremi hard drive players, two Beta PV-2650 players, and six PV-2850 Beta recorders.
MONDAY MARCH 1, WSCTC
At 7 a.m., the banquet gear arrives at the Convention Center. There will be three banquet rooms at the site — rooms 6E, 6ABC, and 4B. While the two rooms on the 6th floor are already true banquet rooms, 4B has a concrete floor and fluorescent lights. Carpeting and dimmable lighting, consisting of PARS hung from lighting trusses suspended lengthwise down the center of the room, are installed there.
The three individual rooms that make up 6ABC were used as breakout rooms, so the breakout gear has to be removed for the room to be a banquet room.
Each of the banquet rooms has a pair of double-stacked, video projectors and screens, video cameras, switching/recording/playback gear, and audio systems for speech and for a DJ to play dance music.
Room 6ABC has Christie LX-100 10k projectors and 15'×20' screens; 4B has Christie Roadster S9 9k projectors and 15'×20' screens; and 6E has 4k Roadsters with 12'×16' screens.
Each room also has a pair of triax cameras, switched through either a Sony composite switcher or a Grass Valley switcher and fed through a Folsom ScreenPro Plus scaler. VHS and Betacam SP decks provide playback, while hard disc recorders provide recording capability.
Audio is mixed through 24×8 DDA-CS8-24 consoles, with a simple effects rack. Each room has four Shure MX-18 wireless mics and four Shure SM58 handhelds. Room 6ABC gets six EAW KF-850EFs and SB-850 subwoofers; 4B has Meyer M2D line arrays; and 6E has EAW KF-650ISR/Es and subwoofer cabinets.
Lighting consists of combinations of Source Fours with some gobos, Technobeam, and Mac 500 moveable lights, controlled with Echelon consoles, and mirror balls and hazer/foggers.
Mitrisin keeps things running smoothly. More than 30 audio, video, and lighting technicians handle set-up.
MONDAY, MARCH 1, KEY ARENA
By 3:20 p.m., things have progressed at Key Arena. Brian McKnight begins his sound check only 20 minutes past the scheduled start time — an accomplishment that doesn't escape Mace's notice.
“The only thing that changed from the original plan was building the screen on the stage and then rolling it all into place,” Mace explains. “This pushed the scenic load a bit, but that only affected the overall production schedule by 20 minutes. I credit that to the technical vendors, some flexibility in the preproduction planning, and the quality of the local crews.”
Projectionists Vinson and Charlotte Ibarra spent the afternoon aligning the six video projectors (three double-stacked) behind the ultra-wide screen. The Roadster S9 9k projectors must each be adjusted using built-in test pattern grids, which Vinson uses to converge the projectors. A 25 percent overlap is introduced between projector images. The devices are then further aligned with test images generated by the Montage system. It's a tedious process.
In a more typical venue, Vinson would triangulate distances using a tape. In this case, with the projectors located on a mezzanine of a sports arena, it isn't feasible to stretch a tape from lens to screen.
Vinson learned the new alignment process in-house while preparing for the event. “The first system they did, I messed around with it for several weeks at our shop, trying various things to get the blend right,” he says.
MONDAY, MARCH 1, 7 P.M.
The welcome session begins, with several speakers followed by a concert by Brian McKnight. The team in Video Village is fully engaged. Located behind the stage, the video station has everything from video switching and graphics control to Montage control systems and teleprompting.
Four triax cameras run through Camera Control Units (CCUs), housed with routers, waveform generators, and other equipment in a single, large case in the middle of the control area.
“It's pretty much the whole system in one case,” explains Teitelbaum. IMAG is sent through two switchers — a Grass Valley component switcher that sends the signal to tape, and a Vista Systems 1202 that sends it through Folsom VFC-2200 scalers and on to the Christie 12k Roadie projectors, projecting on the outboard IMAG screens.
During the concert, video director Rick Portin switches cameras for IMAG, while AV Concepts' engineer-in-charge (EIC), Larry May, operates a shader. McKnight, who is wearing a bright white shirt, washes out if the camera switches to his image without constant aperture control adjustment.
Montage programmer and operator Abe Hermosillo takes advantage of the brief downtime when only IMAG is running on the side screens, to load various video clips into the video system hard drive for use in the following day's general session. The projectionists are also hard at work, continuing their projector alignment work for the widescreen display.
TUESDAY, MARCH 2, KEY ARENA
At 8 a.m., the centerpiece of the convention begins — the general session. All 6,500 attendees are present, watching skits, listening to speakers, and watching presentations by executives who make full use of the enormous PowerPoint and high-definition video presentations that tower above them.
A wide variety of media is fed to the Montage SC-3200 controller, including IMAG, pre-recorded video, and a mind-boggling assortment of PowerPoint images, created by graphics designer/operator Joel Buchholz. Working in conjunction with creative director John Barry and Starbucks' Marty Fisher, Buchholz created approximately 500 individual slides to be used as backgrounds to video or in text presentations.
During four different show segments throughout the day, speakers signal Buchholz to change slide images using a handheld signal button, which illuminates an indicator near Buchholz's workstation. Presenters are provided pairs of monitors in front of the stage — confidence monitors — showing the images as they appear on the ultra-wide screen above them, along with teleprompting.
The Montage system receives the images from Buchholz, tape/hard drive, and other sources and combines them into pre-set windows pre-programmed during a session that took place a week earlier at AV Concepts' Tempe office.
A presentation window for a particular speaker, for example, might contain a background image with text graphics being sent from Buchholz's station, with a high-resolution picture-in-picture (PIP) video image window in the left-hand portion of the image, playing a video on the topic being covered, fed by the hard drive. Within that presentation window, Buchholz feeds follow-up slides or text. On cue from production stage managers Cherese Campo and Paula Sanchez, Hermosillo advances to the next preset, again drawing image data from the various sources.
TUESDAY, MARCH 2, WSCTC
Back at the Convention Center, Mitrisin and his teams put the finishing touches on the three banquet rooms, in preparation for the evening's banquets.
“The unload for the gear for these rooms went smoothly, which made setup go flawlessly,” Mitrisin says. “All the gear that was supposed to go into each room made it without any real mix-ups. All of that because we did our job in prep.”
Meanwhile the breakout supervisor sees something he hasn't seen in a few days — a whole night's sleep, which he'll need for tonight's work. While no meetings are taking place at the Convention Center during the day, and the General Session is going on at the Key Arena, eight of the breakout rooms are turned into pre-function rooms, and then will have to be reset as breakouts after 1 a.m. for Wednesday's meetings. In addition, banquet room 6C (from the composite 6ABC banquet room) will be turned back into a breakout room for Wednesday, only to be converted back to the 6ABC banquet room later that evening.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3, WSCTC
Breakout sessions continue throughout the day, both at WSCTC and at Seattle Center. At 5 p.m., after the last session closes, the breakout gear is broken down and struck for load-out. Banquet gear follows, later that night, after the last three banquets.
It was, as Mace says, “a big show.” More than 90 individuals setting up and operating equipment for 6,500 Starbucks employees. The hard work paid off.
“I ran into Marty Fisher last night, who said, ‘Let's get together next week and start talking about next year,’” a tired Teitelbaum says on his way out of town. “That's what makes it all worth it. A flawless show and chance to do it all over again.”
Matt Hurwitz is a freelance writer and regular SRO contributor who covers music, film, television, and the live-event industry for a wide range of publications. Email him at ByMattHurwitz@aol.com