Route 66 Takes Sony Movie Presentations To Seven Cities
IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE Berlin. Or Paris, London, Sydney, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo, the seven cities Sony Pictures Entertainment brought a traveling show to late last year as part of a promotional tour for three of its films.
Stuart Little 2: The painted backdrop transformed for other presentations when illuminated with black light. The center screen displayed video, while the other screens showed a variety of PowerPoint images.
To generate enthusiasm among exhibitors, broadcasters, and potential licensors for Stuart Little 2, Men In Black 2, and Spider-Man, Sony asked Route 66 Productions, Culver City, Calif., to conceptualize, design, build, and run a whirlwind tour in seven countries in eight weeks. Founded in 1995, Route 66 has worked with an array of entertainment clients, including MGM, Warner Bros., Universal, Columbia TriStar, HBO, Sega, and Nintendo.
“The entertainment industry has become a cornerstone of our business,” says Deena Suffin, Route 66 Productions president. “Most people don't realize that there are many opportunities to build support for a film many months before it's released.”
Light and Paint
The first challenge for Route 66 was to conceptualize and design a set that was capable of representing, and at the same time, differentiating between three different films. The one thing the three movies have in common is that they all take place in an urban environment. A forced perspective view looking upward at a mass of skyscrapers therefore became the central theme of the scenery. Route 66 built six conventional theatrical flats depicting the stylized skyscrapers, with a sky-blue painted muslin backdrop. For the sunny-themed Stuart Little 2, standard theatrical lighting (Lekos and PAR cans with standard gels) illuminated the skyscrapers against white puffy clouds in a bright blue sky reminiscent of the movie's saturated palette.
To completely transform the set for the other two movies, however, Route 66 gave it a special effects treatment, painting it with Wildfire UV/black light paint. For Men in Black 2, the company illuminated the backdrop and set pieces with black light, and the Wildfire paint that had been transparent for the Stuart Little 2 presentation suddenly took on a peculiar glow.
“All of a sudden, the backdrop looks like a nighttime sky with stars,” explains Suffin. “The entire environment is nighttime with an eerie glow.”
For Spider-Man, Route 66 used a combination of theatrical lighting and black light, which gave the set a nighttime look that was a bit less eerie.
“We felt it was important to create a change in look just with the lighting package, because we needed to keep the touring package as light and efficient as possible,” explains Suffin. “That's why we ruled out switching out backdrops or other theatrical measures. With lighting, you just push a switch and get a different look. Most audiences don't get to see that very often, so it's also a big surprise.”
Supporting the presentation was a wealth of audiovisual material, projected by six Sharp Notevision LCD projectors onto five Da-Lite rear-projection screens with custom screen surrounds built into the flats. The center screen was the only one that projected video, while the other screens were used to display a range of PowerPoint images. All video portions were recorded on Beta SP tapes, and a simple, two-source switcher enabled the crew to switch between video and PowerPoint.
The presentation for each film began with a bang: a two-minute-long “sizzle video” of images from the movie cut to upbeat music and designed to convey the film's story and theme. Once that video ended, the set returned to whatever lighting effect was associated with the film in question, with the film's logo visible on the central screen behind the presenter. The video and important PowerPoint information appeared on the central screen, with supporting images flanking it on the four side screens. PowerPoint was used to create the onscreen imagery.
“We built the backgrounds in Photoshop, and PowerPoint was used as a creation tool,” Suffin explains. “That gave us the ability not only to project, but to animate the imagery. For each film, we had not only a unique background design and color template, but also a custom font that helped to reflect the style of the film.”
To run the PowerPoint presentation, the touring team used seven Sony Vaio laptop computers, one of which was a backup computer for the all-important center screen.
“We made a strategic decision to only back up the center screen, because it wasn't cost effective to back up all five of them,” Suffin notes. An additional Sony laptop was used to run a Dataton show control system — the program that cued all six of the computers feeding data to the projectors displaying PowerPoint material.
At the front of the stage stood two lecterns, for use by local presenters. In each city, local presenters spoke in their own language, with the aid of two presidential teleprompters that were rented locally and run by a local operator.
The onscreen presentations were also in the local language, which meant that Route 66 had to cut-and-paste the appropriate slides into PowerPoint, sometimes at the last moment. When an American executive was also part of the presentation, as occurred in Tokyo, the team hired a local interpreter and rented an interpretation system. In a small soundproof booth, the interpreter spoke into a microphone and the audio signal was sent to an infrared system so that the audience, wearing wireless headsets, could hear the native language.
“This was one thing we expected to be a challenge that went quite smoothly,” Suffin says about dealing with presentation materials in so many languages. “The people in the local offices really appreciated the fact that they could send us the information in various languages, and it all ended up in the right place.”
To further streamline the production, Route 66 converted the videotapes to PAL at Dubscape, Santa Monica before they left the U.S., so they had as much of the media completed as possible. When last-minute changes occurred — and they did periodically — Route 66 made changes back in Los Angeles and shipped new PAL tapes to local Sony offices for the touring crew to pick up.
Some additions to the crate were colorful banners that Columbia TriStar had originally created for another event.
“We thought it was a great way to dress up the cocktail area,” says Suffin. “It was easy to ship and easy to hang them, and they looked great.”
Accompanying the tour through all seven cities was a three-person crew — an executive producer/PowerPoint operator, a technical director, and a Dataton programmer.
With their attention on the sleek, streamlined touring package, Route 66 avoided many of the disasters that can crop up when shipping huge crates around the world.
“We had a lot of backup plans if something got lost or broken,” says Suffin. “Nothing major was broken, though, and we never missed a shipment.”
Still, there was a mishap in Sao Paulo, where a truck arrived at the site with all the crate's contents sitting out on the flatbed, rather than inside the familiar crate.
“That made us nervous,” recalls Suffin. “We weren't sure the total inventory had arrived. And we kept asking, ‘where's the crate?’” When a translator finally arrived, Suffin's team got a shocking answer: “We burned it!”
It turned out that a beetle infestation in Japan, the last country they'd visited, required authorities to destroy the crate.
“Here we are, in the last stop of the tour,” says Suffin, “and Sony needs the set back for future presentations. We had to have another crate built. That's a great example of some of the amusing challenges you face when you're trying to do something in so many cities.”
Debra Kaufman is a writer/consultant who has been covering the entertainment industry for 14 years. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.