NBC Universal (NBCU) redefined TV’s traditional upfront event this year with its “NBCU Experience” at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, where Scharff Weisberg supported lead lighting designer Robert Cangemi with multiple lighting and lighting-control packages.
Upfronts are annual events where media companies present their fall programming lineups to advertisers. Earlier this year NBCU announced its fall schedule and held one-on-one client meetings, but it waited until May 12th for its spotlight event: a multimedia, interactive environment where attendees could explore NBCU’s content across platforms and brands.
Cangemi Design, LLC was engaged by Jack Morton Worldwide, which designed the five-hour event. Cangemi was tasked with lighting two stories of the NBC retail store, the main Rockefeller Plaza tent, numerous live and internal broadcasts throughout the main tent and store, an 85-foot step-and-repeat red carpet, and the keynote address stage over the famed Rockefeller Center ice-skating rink.
“Weather was our enemy during the event and the two primary setup days,” recalls Cangemi. “Heavy rains and high winds threatened the gear and taxed our crew and the tents. Scharff Weisberg provided first-rate service throughout. Senior project manager John Healy and vice president of sales Chris McMeen were there with us every step of the way.”
Almost 2,000 upfront guests began the NBCU Experience in the flagship NBC retail store, which was dressed with custom graphics and scenic pieces. “The existing architectural lighting system was used as much as possible to keep from crowding valuable real estate with extra lighting gear,” reports Cangemi. “We added low-profile LED Colorblasts and Coemar LED PARs along with exhibit-style stem lights. Store power was limited so the LEDs went a long way with little power consumption. A grandMA to control both the architectural lighting system and the additional fixtures was also supplied.”
Guests exited the store via a long SaddleSpan tent running the width of Rockefeller Plaza, serving as a focal point for some NBCU content. Maria Bartiromo's “Closing Bell” on CNBC and Chris Matthews’s “Hardball” on MSNBC were broadcast live from the stage where Source Four lekos provided most of the key lighting while ARRI 2K soft lights and chimeras on ARRI 2K fresnels rounded out the soft base. LEDs skimmed signature NBC peacock feathers peppering a clear plexiglass back wall. “On TV, the event was seen through the wall’s clear openings, and it provided a nice, slightly out-of-focus background of all the activity,” notes Cangemi.
“Broadcast color temperatures were varied throughout,” he continues. “We leaned towards tungsten for livelier skin tones wherever possible, despite the heavy, overcast skies. Outdoor light contamination is always a concern in a venue like this, but because most broadcasts were set back into the tent it was not an issue. Broadcasts that were closer to the tent openings were lit slightly cooler.”
Vari*Lite VL2500 washes and spots provided the bulk of the moving-light inventory. “In addition to offering precision optics, the Vari*Lites have a sleek and relatively small profile,” Cangemi notes. Scharff Weisberg also provided the lighting designer with several new Martin TW1 tungsten washes to audition. “They really packed a punch,” he reports. “The tungsten source really gives you healthy colors on the warm end of the spectrum -- a welcome change from the ubiquitous arc source. The TW1s’ zoom range was nice, and we were able to paint some of the broadcast backgrounds in saturated broad strokes.” All broadcast lighting and automation in the SaddleSpan tent were controlled by an additional grand MA.
The guests’ ultimate wrap-up destination was the rink tent, a massive clear structure erected over the Rockefeller Center ice rink. In this venue Conan O’Brien and NBC Universal president Jeff Zucker delivered keynote addresses from a small stage lit by 2K fresnels and MR16 uplights from Scharff Weisberg. Celebrity guests entered the rink tent via an 85-foot step-and-repeat, which Cangemi illuminated with HMI Pars heavily diffused and warmed slightly with quarter CTO.
“That Scharff Weisberg’s gear was in all in perfect working order goes without saying,” observes Cangemi. “But even more impressive was the company’s ability to keep up with the delivery demands. Each location had its own specific, down-to-the-minute drop-off time slot and location, along with an empty-case pick up, empty drop off and final strike pick up. Total that all up and you’re talking over a dozen scheduled trips without a single hitch.”
Cangemi also points out that “the size of the project, the demands of the physical location, and the overlapping presentations and broadcasts called for a large and trusted production crew. Everyone came together at peak performance to help pull off the event.”
Cangemi’s lighting production staff included associate lighting designers Greg Guarnaccia, Scott Clyve and Jennifer Kules; head gaffer Mike Grimes; and gaffers Ronnie Skopac, Steve Leif and Greg Cangemi. Phil Alfieri served as head electrician for the NBC store with Sal Restuccia and Daniel Marcus was the programmer in the main tent. NBC’s Anthony DeRosa consulted with Cangemi on the Broadcast areas.