From the Heart of America June 1, 2005
by Paul Dexter
by Paul Dexter
Celebrity magazines fill the impulse-buy racks at just about every grocery, warehouse, and convenience store in the world. Advertising, with a celebrity attachment to it, has been proven to sell products better. Even our comparatively pokey industry magazines use this tactic by putting the well-known star on the front cover. Everyone’s fascination with the celebrity has fueled shows like The Insider and Access Hollywood for years. Yet am I alone in finding this approach unexciting?
What excites me more—in this industry, anyway—are the unsung heroes, in Somewhere, USA, who work their asses off, passionately creating something or taking the initiative to fulfill a basic need caused by supply and demand. Each of them has something unique to offer. We all have something to learn from other people’s experiences (OPE)—but what if they don’t write books or, aren’t featured on celebrity news? How can those be experiences shared? Ask questions!
It’s not easy, though. I’ve been writing a monthly column for five years, so I naturally ask a lot of questions. I have a reason to pry. But, most of the time, we are insular, because, in the course of contending with the day-to-day turmoil of work and celebrating our little victories, we sometimes forget to ask others about their lives. But that’s were the real treasures are found.
A case in point: I’ve recently been traveling with REO Speedwagon. We’re doing sporadic weekend shows, not a real tour where the lighting and sound is carried with the rest of the band gear. It’s a different situation for me, but I like it. It’s challenging and keeps my hands dirty. The last thing that I want is to be a spoiled, self-important, arrogant celebrity LD—this is definitely a people business and if you don’t work hard at it, you’ll peak and remain insular. You are only as good as your last gig—and making friends along the way keeps the phone ringing.
So it works like this: I advance the gig, find out what is available, and submit a plot. This has happened in Arizona, Las Vegas, Florida, Minnesota (you get the picture) and, most recently, in Oklahoma. Here’s what I found: The level of pride out there—the determination to accommodate with full service—is refreshing. Production people generally love their work. Only once there was an incident where incompetence nearly jeopardized the show. But, overall, the equipment has been in good condition and the technology has been recent to new. This is good because, in this kind of situation, the vendor’s mindset has to continually adjust to suit the event. It’s one thing to assemble a system for a tour and tweak it over time and another thing to change a system every time a new show breezes through town.
I thought it would be interesting to share a perspective from a vendor who serves Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas: Toucan Lighting (www.toucanlighting.com), owned by Robin Alvis. This is a totally grassroots lighting company story from the heart of America that, most likely, won’t get recognition or magazine exposure, regardless of how successful it is, because it’s not in the mainstream. It may not be filled with glory, but, at Toucan, OPE prevails. We can all learn from Robin’s story and I wouldn’t have found out if I didn’t ask.
First, a little background: Robin and his two brothers, Dale and Rick, were Air Force brats. Born in New York, they ended up spending their formative years living in England and Germany until Robin was 14, when his family finally settled in Oklahoma. Rick became a photographer and often took Robin to concerts where he met “lots of rock stars,” from 38 Special to Mötley Crüe.
Meanwhile, in 1984-5, Robin played in his own rock band. Wanting to increase the group’s production values, he built a box with PAR 56s and controlled it with a foot switch. He was soon more fascinated with lighting than pursuing a musician’s career. Fast-forward to today: He owns hundreds of PARs and over 200 moving lights: VL-2000 Series units, High End Studio Beams and Colors, Avolites consoles, Wholehogs, and Thomas trussing—all operating in three states.
I asked Robin a few questions.
PD: You’re business is doing well. What’s your educational background?
Robin: Formally? Only high school. But growing up, we vacationed all over Europe, which is an education in itself and it sure makes you appreciate America more. The rest was done on a learn-as-we-go basis.
PD: Any mentors?
Robin: My Dad. He said, work every day, pay all your bills on time, and owe no one. But Dad loaned me money to buy lights and supported my venture. He’s all paid back now.
PD: Are there others around you who are loyal to Toucan?
Robin: Yes, Misty Myers who I partnered with in 1992. After 13 years, she is the only person who has been able to stick it out. Even though we met here, we found out that our backgrounds were similar. She’s an Air Force brat, too, and graduated from school in England. Then there’s Terry Birdsley. His wife ran a
labor company and he worked as a stagehand. He was such a great worker that I hired him. That was seven years ago.
PD: You’ve probably seen a lot of LDs that pass through. Can you describe what that’s like?
Robin: We sometimes do four to five shows a week and must have seen 1,000 LDs come through here since ’90. I would say that about 70% of the acts don’t have lighting guys;15%-20% of them have lighting guys, but they don’t have an interest in doing lighting and are there just to hang out with the band. There’s one in particular, and surprisingly with quite a high-profile group, who said, “You throw some looks in the board and I’ll be back before the show.” I said, “Man, this is a big moving light rig!” His reply was, “Robin, there’s a golf course right next door.” Then, one promoter asked us to put up $500 worth of lights. Turned out that it was a sold-out show with 1,400 people. Nobody even talked to me about the lights. That happens a lot! Only about 30% of the acts that come through with LDs actually have an interest in lighting and a passion about what they do.
PD: How do you keep up on technology?
Robin: I personally go to every show I can that comes through here, to see what’s being used. There’s a 50-50 chance that it’s either going to be great or awful. But I’ve found that too many moving lights and strobing all the time isn’t creative. It’s like being in a haunted house with lots of colors.
On the basis of this report, it is a good thing that America’s production support system is strong. The ratio of touring lighting designers to touring bands demonstrates that lighting still remains a low show priority, unless it’s a tour that carries production. It’s companies like Toucan that are out there, propping up the inordinate percentage of touring shows that can’t afford production or a lighting designer and adding value for audiences everywhere that are going to see a show. Who’s the celebrity now? You won’t know unless you ask.
Back on the Road Again, April 5, 2005
by Paul Dexter
Okay…so the headline isn’t new! I borrowed the title from an REO Speedwagon song, but it reflects reality.
I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with life on the road. I started touring in 1973—and took a tremendous journey that no one could have predicted, riding the popularity wave of rock concerts in the days of the pre-corporate mentality. Ask anyone from that touring era— we could do just about anything we wanted in our little traveling world, while the rest of humanity conducted business in its usual rat race way. Not to be disparaging, but that was, and is, the way of life for the majority of working people—working to pay the mortgage, vacation for two weeks (if you’re lucky), and back to work. You may like it, but recent statistics show that most don’t.
I actually loved my on-the-road-job. I did so from the very beginning. It was liberating; it lent me a certain identity and an enviable lifestyle, more than any 9-5 job ever could. However, the grass being greener on the other side, after 20 years of road life, I decided to diversify, change course, marry, and move to North Yorkshire, England. One chapter ended and another began.
There isn’t much call for lighting designers in North Yorkshire and, for me, the move there was nearly a career killer. I thought that I could live anywhere and still carry on designing shows. I found out the hard way, that it wasn’t to be, and, in retrospect, I know why. So I tried to build a new career, because the prospect of getting on a bus with ten other guys after a long day, covering up with a polyester blanket in a hard bunk, and falling asleep while counting the road bumps was not my idea of a bright future. There had to be more and, whatever it was, I wanted to do it in one place! Other people did it; why couldn’t I?
Armed with the ingenuity accrued from years of travel and knowledge of international culture, off I went into the real world. At first, living in England was great. A cozy little cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, a new marriage, a little fireplace in the bedroom, and tea at four: Ahhh, how idyllic! I was traveling to
London to light videos and still getting touring work, albeit a little less frequently.
To add to the mix, there was another challenge to my previous lifestyle: Two babies came on the scene within 18 months. Nothing can put the brakes on building a new career and changing lifestyle faster than fresh, crying, poop-anytime-they-want babies.
Soon, a once-revered, LA-based, traveling lighting designer for Elton John and other world-class touring acts was now in a remote English village living in a small circa-1732 cottage with severe cold, constant drizzle and rain, foreign culture, a new family, and no work in sight. Furthermore, seemingly overnight, my
once-adoring wife’s perspective on me deteriorated, until I seemed little more than something stuck to the bottom of her Wellington boots after a walk across sheep farmland.
After ten years, enough was enough; I moved back to Los Angeles (alone, and I’ll
spare you the details). However, I had gained valuable commercial knowledge and business skills in England while assembling ambitious entrepreneurial projects (that’s another story!) and was now qualified to take a desk job in
addition to location design work. Good—no travel, but still a way to make money!
This was a crossover victory…for a while. Again, I learned a great deal about office environments and working from the perspective of production equipment vendors. But, readers, in this instance, I must admit that I felt like a cubicle slave—bound and tied to a location day in and day out. Given my lack of
job satisfaction and declining self-worth, it just wasn’t for me and I knew that it could be better—because I’ve had better.
So I, Paul Q. Dexter, am back on the road again, starting with a short stint as set designer and tour manager with the group Manhattan Transfer and now with REO Speedwagon as lighting designer/director. It feels like a new lease on life, giving me a vastly improved viewpoint. Without the luxury of the same console or rig for every show, enduring long drives damn hard work, I am, like many of you, achieving a creative result, working with like-minded people all over the country in a concert music environment that promotes a free and non-corporate
lifestyle. Can I get a “hell, yeah”?
This too will, most likely, change in time. Having gone full circle, after undergoing many changes and trying different business avenues, I am firmly convinced that if you truly follow your heart, you are somehow naturally destined to end up either on the stagecraft or business sides of our industry. Even though you may not be able to totally follow your desired path owing to family responsibilities or other personal reason, try to follow it the best you can. You’ll be much happier.
I’m also convinced that a person can’t be an academic or engineer one day and decide to change paths and be artistically creative the next. Creativity in art is an innate ability and so is creativity in business. In both situations, however, you need to hone your skills; in addition, it’s vital to work the two perspectives simultaneously—you’ll operate much better and achieve a superior end result by applying a broad understanding of both the artistic view and business view. Remember: no matter what choices you make, no experience goes to waste.
We all make choices in our lifetime and you can either waste precious time and lament over them or learn and move on, converting your mistakes as new knowledge. It’s as simple as that—it’s just that the learning process is more complicated for some of us than others. (Some people could screw up a winning
lottery ticket!) It’s human nature to build and destroy and getting back on the road again is the root of our industry’s development and one reliable way to start again and build. The road bumps are still there though.
Reinvention Feb 22, 2005
By Paul Dexter
I live in Hollywood, a town that exists in a perpetual-reinvention mode. The famous line, “You’re only as good as your last movie,” is the central truth, providing everyone in the film industry with a damn good reason to reinvent. In the film business, it’s a cruel fact: Either you stay cutting-edge or your callous competition will come through the side door–while you’re peering through the safe vantage point of the inside front window–looking for trouble-free opportunities.
Reinvention is the modern-day law of survival. How many out-of-work actors are there, all trying to live on their past laurels (“But darling, don’t you know who I am?”) and, chances are, failing horribly. This self-important attitude may have carried weight in the pioneering days of the movie industry, but these days, we’re all on short fuses when it comes to pretentious humans (OMG! – more than a few come to mind).
Let’s cut to the chase; it’s not that different in our industry—people stay in business by staying cutting-edge. Sometimes they make fools of themselves in the process, however, by trying a little too hard. For example: In your experience (and if you have no experience, follow along and get some) how many clients, after hearing your proposal, have replied with this industry’s most-asked question: “What can you give me that no one else has done?” followed by, “We don’t have much money.” Great–I love a challenge.
Here’s when the BS really starts to flow. The latest catchword to hit our industry is “convergence.” (When did convergence replace “synergy”?) Just the word itself and the way that it rolls off the tongue is enough to make prospective clients salivate with excitement. After getting a brief sales pitch, he says, “Are you saying that all this stuff can be integrated into one design? That’s fantastic!”
Sure it is! But it’s getting to the point where I think that the industry thinks that the BS is credible. Like those actors I mentioned, we’re beginning to believe our own publicity. (“But darling, don’t you know who I am?”) It’s not about the design, it’s about the convergence. Our magazines are full of news referring to the biggest productions, conventions, and such that boast the use of all the new gear…converging.
Just for the record, the only reason that convergence is unique is because (fairly) recent technology developments enable all of the new and improved production media to be controlled by a single source. But wait a minute…
Let’s rewind: The pyro-encrusted chrome PAR cans and analog consoles are quickly headed for the surplus anachronism category. Call me an old guy if you want, but I have a distinct memory of attending an imaginative Jethro Tull concert in 1971 that practiced authentic “convergence,” with film projection, set, lighting, scripted audio, and stage effects. Back then, the lighting designer was the single source, screaming down the headset at 10 other people to make it all happen. There are many other examples of convergence in live productions that I could mention.
So, what’s the big deal about convergence and why is it being touted as new silver bullet? First, let’s make a distinction between what’s really new and what’s a reinvention. Our industry reinvents itself by continually updating and then selling modern technology–it has to, as a matter of survival. We are, after all, a business and the innovative new “convergence” is, all too often, simply a fresh marketing term for what is a natural technological progression. It’s no different from other evolving technologies–vinyl winds up as a CD, a Sony Walkman morphs into an Apple iPod; a cumbersome 80s cell phone is cast aside for a Blackberry.
Here’s some of what’s new and available right now in our industry: stage design, preparation, and organizational software, the expanding use and control of digital imagery and intelligent lighting in one unit, the LED as a light source and, overall, gear that is safer and more efficient. In our case, however, instead of casting aside the old equipment, doesn’t “new and improved” technology simply add to the theatre-crafts instrument repertoire?
What concerns me is the idea that we might be losing sight of the centuries-long tradition of creating magic in theatre, instead replacing it with a new approach that that boils down to how much stuff can I cram into the design because I need to use all the latest gadgetry? Regardless of all the new technology at our disposal, sometimes that dusty PAR can and a little 12-way analog console just might be the right tool for the job—you’ll never know.
Even while our industry publications go wild for sold-out, big-budget tours and new architectural lighting designs that ooze technology, there are plenty of less-glamorous entertainment assignments that feed the industry’s overall well-being—projects where your basic conventional design style is exactly what’s needed–with a large budget or not. “What can you give me that hasn’t been done before?” may be an invitation to roll out the latest jargon, like “converge it,” when dealing with a difficult client, but good design is the real answer to the problem.
Practicality isn’t exciting though. I want ten LED screens, 200 moving fixtures, and 20 trucks–what a thrill! That’s the celebrity-driven world we’re in and it serves to either intimidate you, because you’re not making boatloads of cash from high-profile projects or, conversely, it motivates you to learn more about what’s going on and reinvent yourself to adapt to rapidly changing times. Even if you just finished a mega-hit show, you’re only as good as your last gig and you can’t hold on to the identity that it brought you for very long. The trick is keeping up without selling out—know what’s new but remember what’s good about the tried-and-true.
It’s more obvious than ever that, in business, everything changes all the time—any comfortable position is likely to be challenged, sooner rather than later. The single, fixed-identity career may have worked for previous generations, but it’s a liability in our technology-driven world. So reinvent yourself, but don’t forget who you are. Don’t fall in love with too-trendy ideas. And by the way, don’t get stuck on the marketing term “convergence” for too long, either–as it’s going to go out as fast as “synergy”.
Regardless of all the new technology at our disposal, sometimes that dusty PAR can and a little 12-way analog console just might be the right tool for the job—you’ll never know until you try it.
In your experience how many clients, after hearing your proposal, have replied with this industry’s most-asked question: “What can you give me that no one else has done?” followed by, “We don’t have much money”?
A Pervasive and Common Mistake Jan 22, 2005
By: Paul Dexter
Being of a certain (ahem, mature) age, I’m naturally concerned about things that were of little worry in the past. I’m not alone, or I shouldn’t be; statistics reveal an intensifying problem that demands our early attention.
Age brings its own set of new circumstances and relative concerns. When you’re two, it’s a toy you must have. For a teenager, it’s pimples and romance problems, then which-college-do-I-attend followed by career-path problems, finding a job, marriage troubles, and so on–it doesn’t end!
The issue for me these days is dealing with the years that I underestimated the importance of continual investing. We all need to do it, to prepare for our retirement years, a rainy day, or the fact that we are one divorce, serious accident, or natural disaster away from a miserable, uninvited life change. It’s not all gloom; good fortune can come your way, too. But, more often than not, circumstances beyond your control can cause major changes.
One action that you can take at any age is to create a routine investment program for yourself. In fact, the earlier a person recognizes this, the easier it becomes; once you have such a program in place, you can relax about money–a luxury that most of us don’t have. For example, if you started 10% annual return account at age 15 and put $3,000 a year into it until you were 19, and then didn’t touch it until age 65, you would accumulate $1,615,363.40. At 15, though, you can’t imagine that you’ll ever get to be 65. Moreover, it’s hard enough for a 15-year-old to scrape together enough change for a Big Mac and a tube of Clearasil. Yes, the concept of a compound interest account goes right over the heads of most youth and the public education system seriously doesn’t provide financial education for kids, or adults for that matter.
This is an entertainment-technology magazine, and its editorial content, concerning productions, technological innovations and notable people is certainly pertinent to its readers—but so is financial health. This subject has as much relevance to our business as any new product guide. It affords us some peace of mind as we delve into our unpredictable life journeys.
In my humble opinion, there isn’t enough emphasis on the importance of saving for the future, and clearly there is substantial evidence that validates the need for us to talk about this issue more and, at least, to begin to consider some alternatives that are available.
Just as the anti-smoking campaigns grew out of the wave of government and private lawsuits claiming the tobacco industry for decades concealed the full extent of the health dangers related to smoking, there’s a chance that someday we’ll see ads warning about the dangers of debt and the importance of saving. Phillip Morris pays for the anti-smoking campaigns; in the future, perhaps credit-card issuers and mortgage lenders will be expected to pay for media spots to educate people on the harmful effects of debt and how it can be a barrier to a person’s ability to save and build wealth.
It’s not such a crazy idea. There is such an epidemic of debt and bankruptcy (record levels of more than 1.61 million filed in 2004) that non-profit (The American Savings Education Council, or ASCE) and government programs (the Financial Literacy and Education Commission) were created to develop a national strategy for financial education.
The three most important issues identified were: 1.) educating Americans about the dangers of debt, 2.) integrating personal finance into all stages of public education, and 3.) raising the level of financial knowledge among adults.
“We live in a culture of debt in the United States that is promoted on many levels by the federal government, its sponsored organizations, and private companies,” says Dallas Salisbury, CEO of the Benefit Research Institute in Washington DC and chairman of the ASCE policy board. “It is imperative, that instead, we start encouraging a culture of saving.”
These concerns are particularly important to the people who make up this industry, which is more casual and less structured than most. With the feast-and-famine nature of our business for many freelancers, how the hell can you possibly put money away? Even with eligible employees, more than 30% don’t participate in 401K plans. Is this a no-win situation?
No, it’s not. As the bills that come in, you probably pay everyone else and whatever is left over you can keep, right? Wrong. If you want lasting financial change, you have to decide right now to pay yourself first; each payment should be at least 10% of that paycheck and it should be paid into a compounded interest account. Better yet, make it an automatic payment. That way, you don’t have to follow a budget or be disciplined. If you decide not to pay yourself first, here are your other options: Win it, marry it, inherit it, sue for it, or budget for it. What’s the likelihood of that?
In order to prioritize saving, using this method, all you need to do is arrange an automated system of investment, an act that should take up an hour or so of your time. If you do it, it will help you maintain a decent lifestyle until you quit your job or you can’t do it anymore. It’s okay to say you bought that new bit of advanced visualizer software, or a palm pilot, but at the end of the day, you have to pay yourself—and you have to that first. Start by setting up an automated system; start with smaller amounts and increase it as you get used to it. To find a fee-only financial planner to help you with this concept: National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, 800-366-2732, www.napfa.org/index2.htm
The ads that we see in all media promote debt by companies that profit from the culture of debt. Getting credit cards is easy and the ads make it seem glamorous! Those companies have an agenda and are telling consumers that it’s not only okay, but also smart, to go into debt–not so.
Don’t wait until it’s a crisis. Take the above information on board and with this New Year, seriously start with a smart saving strategy. It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It’s important at any age, in any business–-even our illustrious, but insular, young industry.
Sources for this article:
“There’s No Such Thing as Safe Debt,” by Humberto Cruz, LA’s Daily News
“To Protect Your Nest Egg,” by Lori Lucas. published by CFA Hewitt and Associates
The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful, One-step Plan to Live and Finish Rich, by
David Bach, New York Times Best Selling Author, published by Broadway Books
(Paul Dexter runs Masterworks Lighting Design.
Celebrity Access Interview – Paul Dexter Dec 17, 2004
Industry Profile: Paul Dexter
— By Jane Cohen and Bob Grossweiner
Besides his lighting design projects, lighting designer Paul Dexter is busy with two new ventures: the launch of two new companies — Masterworks Lighting Design and Road Cases, an industrious project that was established to chronicle the tales of all those touring road warriors.
Paul began his lighting career in 1970 in Los Angeles at the young age 16, transforming 42 Hawaiian pineapple cans into lights and operating them with crude double pole switches. At 18, he was asked to tour with Elvis Presley, but did not take the job. Regrets? It is doubtful. The very same person, Marilyn Rennegal, he turned down introduced him to lighting designer James Moody, (who at the time was) part owner of Sundance Lighting. So began the start of Paul’s touring career.
A colorful history of worldwide concert touring ensued as a lighting designer with artists such as Rick James, Motley Crüe, DIO, Ozzy Osbourne, Elton John, and performing in the opposite end of the live stage spectrum – the Bolshoi Ballet at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Paul married and moved to North Yorkshire, England from 1986-96. Observing the area as a cultural desert, he decided to take action, conducted feasibility studies and developed a media center concept, working closely with Coopers and Lybrand and the Teesside Development Corporation, one of Margaret Thatcher’s flagship projects. Paul’s project, Keys North, was an ambitious groundbreaking property and media venture that he created, which included a sound stage, recording studios, theatre, radio station and retail shops. Paul held 12 acres of land for four years, while seeking investors. The FM radio license was awarded, however as the ’91 recession hit, his project soon ended.
Returning to Los Angeles in 1996, Paul worked with other industry related companies such as Presentation Services Limited, A-1 Audio/Lighting and Entertainment Lighting Services, during which he studied graduate level lighting theory via Penn State’s Internet course.
He actively keeps up with new technology. He was lighting consultant/director for the movie “Rock Star” and designed lighting with Hiro Yamagata for the amazing and lauded $3M art installation, using holographic materials, lasers and light in Malibu, Calif. and New York City, in 2000-2001.
During the past five years, Paul has been an industry author for several publications and most recently with articles published monthly in Lighting & Sound America. In April 2004, he founded Road Cases — a company established to document and produce a series, on film, of touring days as described from the collective memories of those that lived it; the concept has attracted interest from major cable TV. In October (of ’04) Paul set up Masterworks, a lighting design service company.
What product has had the biggest influence in lighting design?
Without a doubt, moving lights have changed the way that a designer considers every design, with emphasis on entertainment. First, they don’t have to have nearly as many fixtures because of multi-function capability. Second, nobody has to go up on a ladder or climb a truss anymore to spend hours focusing. It’s a great (relatively) new tool but often misused as a primary source. I still like to have a balance of conventional fixtures, whenever possible — too many moving lights often looks too geometrical and clinical.
What makes a good lighting designer?
Passion. A sense of design is innate. If you’re an academic, you’re not going to wake up one day and say you’re a designer. There are a lot of good designers out there, but there are a lot of self-proclaimed designers, too. You still don’t need to have a qualification to “say” you’re a designer.
Where is intelligent lighting headed?
I really don’t know. I could have never predicted the way that it is now!
How difficult is it to keep up with all the changing technology?
If you’re in the business, it isn’t difficult at all. You just keep adding the new technology to the repertoire, just as you would build a selection of tools for your garage wall. Technology seems as though it’s progressing fast, but it’s like looking in the mirror at yourself everyday: you’re aware of changes, but you’re not shocked to see yourself after one night’s sleep.
What advances do you foresee in lighting technology five years from now?
I couldn’t predict that, but LED seems to be on an unstoppable path. Pundits predict that by 2025, LED will be the primary source of light. That means we’ll see more LED replacing bulbs. The brighter they can make them, the more bulbs they’ll replace.
How difficult is it to compromise a design with a budget restriction?
A production without budget constraints isn’t a luxury that I’ve enjoyed that much. It’s a challenge to make a limited budget transform into the desired visual outcome to everyone’s expectations. All you can do in that instance is forget about effects, point the light in the direction of the action and try to create a little background to add some dimension. Timing is also paramount. I have made audiences awe, simply by moving a black drape to reveal a lit backdrop at exactly the time in the music when it was meant to be. It’s still big value for money if you can do that.
What lighting trends do you see in large-scale productions as well as small-scale productions?
In large scale, always add more stuff to fill the picture up! It’s like an insurance policy. It protects you from having a void when you run out of ideas. Projection and imagery are already a huge lighting integration tool – that’s a definite trend, because methods have drastically improved and it’s what the TV generation wants to see. Explaining the small-scale trend is easy! Besides theatrics, a small amount of lighting effect and calculated timing sometimes has more purpose and wow factor than overwhelming new technological effects. Too many effects desensitize the audience anyway. The trends for small scale can’t do much more than basics, owing to the imposing financial equation, but using experience and knowledge, you can still accomplish a lot.
What have been some of your favorite tours, lighting-wise?
Of stuff that I did, DIO definitely – lots of theatrics there. Motley Crüe was just balls out big lights rock fun and, of course, Elton John. He’s at the top of my list as far as live performers — lighting and set-wise; I got a lot of artistic leeway. It was an extremely exciting time. Of other tours I liked were early Genesis when Alan Owen started experimenting with Vari*Lites, Allen Branton with David Bowie and then, there was early Jethro Tull, who, in the early 70’s was already integrating projected imagery. There are so many!
How did the idea of Road Cases come up?
I wrote an article in 2000 called, “Is There Life After Rock ‘n’ Roll Touring?” Allow me to give you some background, first. It has been a fascinating journey for me and others that helped pioneer the production side of touring. You didn’t need credentials apart from the love of the game, but it became a career path and I knew it would end someday. The problem with that is that it didn’t end until some 20 years later. After that, finding a new direction was far more difficult than I ever imagined. That’s because the road wasn’t a job so much as a lifestyle, and it can’t be duplicated in day-to-day business life. There are many out there facing the same problem and it’s a new problem.
Anyway, my friend, Larry McNeny, who was tour manager for Ozzy in ’81 when I was touring with him too, has kept in contact. One day he called me and said he had an idea about creating a series for cable TV but using the backstage perspective of this unrepeatable era that we lived. He said, “What do you think of the name Road Cases?” The penny immediately dropped for me owing to my feelings about this already, my research and interest in the subject, so we got to work.
It’s still early in the game, but how has industry support been?
Support has been great, and we’ve got sponsors, which is a milestone, but could use more! It was important to create industry backing from the outset. The last thing I wanted for this project was for it to be perceived as some ego-fueled dream. Many have seen the sense in the idea and rose to the cause. Do you know we’ve had nearly 6,000 hits on the website since April ’04? The industry publications have also been outstanding supporters too, by publishing press releases about it and offering space to promote it. Awareness is key. This project will succeed only if we can inform the broad spectrum of people worldwide who toured. There are thousands out there that have toured, and each person has at least one or two stories. Some of them are really funny, too. We have only scratched the surface.
What prompted you to start Masterworks?
Oh my God! I wish I had an exciting answer, like a multi-millionaire investor gave me money to start it or was able to announce that it was a bolt-of-lightning stroke of genius, but in short, my last employer (ELS) pushed me out. Employment for the comfort of a weekly check was an equation that was never going to add up for me, particularly in an office environment that expects consistent income in a volatile business. The move was a wake-up call for me to get back to what I really have had the most success with during my life and what I enjoy most doing, and that is lighting design, with all its pros and cons.
What do you hope to accomplish with Masterworks?
To combine all of the aspects of my experience, both commercially and creatively, and have some fun doing it too. Having said that, clients will depend on me to discriminate with expensive decisions, and that I take very seriously. Through my experience, I understand how commerce and politics can dovetail into the creative and imaginative part of our industry and usually, that’s two people – you know – a great artist isn’t typically a good businessman and vice versa or, the baseball pitcher isn’t normally the one that hits the home runs.
I’m more of an artist than a businessman and recognized that early on. I worked hard to learn business – and paid dearly for it too – so that I could perform better, but it didn’t come naturally. Now, I can honestly say that I identify with both sides, owing to lots of painful practice. It’s added value, and I’m ready to pass the comforts, which that combination may bring to my prospective clients. I’m totally confident with achieving a good business transaction with the exchange of bringing light to either practical illumination jobs or art forms.
Any new projects on the horizon?
Considering that Masterworks is a start-up, the prospects are bright. I’ve a client with a period 1930’s house in Hollywood that is decorated wholly Venetian-style. I’ve designed some practical solutions with unobtrusive new technology fixtures that compliment the décor – the install is just about ready to commence. In the meantime, I traveled to Monterrey, Mexico with DIO for a metal festival, and I may go to Russia for the fourth time in the spring with them.
There’s a permanent install in the works, too. I’m designing a theatrical stage system for a new-build 3,500-seat arena style venue in Southern California, which is hi-tech and should be finished by mid-2005. With the new regeneration schemes in downtown Los Angeles, I’m also working on closing a contract to design a stage system for a new theater, which will start in 2005 and finish in 2006 and there’s an exhibit booth for NAMM show in Anaheim. Lately, I’m actively working the plan to bring awareness to Masterworks and Road Cases. Outside of that, it’s anyone’s guess what may come up for either one of my projects, but the foundations are solid, so I’m pretty optimistic about it.
First concert attended
I’m straining to answer this one, but I think that it was Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention in 1970 with the Doobie Brothers as the opening act in San Diego. Flo and Eddie from the “Turtles” were in the band at that time.
How do you stay fit on the road?
When you’re a working lighting designer, you’re the first in and the last out. You get plenty of exercise. When I didn’t do load-ins and strikes anymore, I used to run, or take long walks, when I could, and sightsee, which is much harder in some places than others. It’s particularly good in Europe.
First concert worked
Rock concerts when I was 16 back in 1970 for an all-original band from Claremont, Calif. called “Central.” It’s funny, before I built my first lighting system, I helped set up the gear back then and take pictures. My nickname was “fotofrog”. In those days, “Van Halen” opened for “Central” a couple times in local recreation halls. I looked at that band and thought, “Those guys will never make it!” After that my first “professional” concert was in Fresno with “War” and “Climax Blues Band” in 1973 working as the third man on the lighting crew.
First industry job
Sundance Lighting. Marilyn Rennegal (a formally trained theatrical lighting designer with a Masters in Theater from UCLA and part-owner of Sundance) and I met when I was 18 years old at a battle of the bands contest featuring “Rare Earth” as the headliner at Riverside Raceway in California. She asked me if I wanted to tour with Elvis [Presley]. I didn’t take it, but she introduced me to Jim Moody, also with a UCLA Masters and part owner of Sundance. I can remember how we cobbled lighting systems together in front of Jim’s house and measured cable distances around the pool. That association was the beginning of my touring career.
There are so many that I can’t think of a favorite, but I’ll say that one would have been a live concert broadcast on Sky television, with 30 million viewers all over Europe, in Verona, Italy with Elton John. It was in the 2,000-year-old Coliseum, the same venue where the Christians were fed to the lions. I lit the stage but also the decrepit architecture. Working with Elton and watching him perform each night was a thrill, but this night was surreal. It rained all day, was really nice and clear for the concert and then rained all during the load-out.
Every time a tour ended. There’s an indescribable loss that you feel along with identity crisis. You’re living a liberal lifestyle, jetting all over the world; you’re given itineraries, money, luxury hotels, chicks for free and job satisfaction. It’s all associated with controversy and a memorable escapism experience that’s shared with thousands of people. It’s a natural high that I truly miss.
In 1986, I toured with DIO in support of the album “Sacred Heart.” The stage set was a 23-foot fire-breathing, hydraulic-driven Dragon, two eight-foot tall Knights that tracked and shot lasers from their eyes, a working drawbridge and a multi-media crystal ball. Coordinating all the scripted theatrics, which I wrote with Ronnie, with split second timing was certainly concentration and focus on par with an orchestra conductor.
The other greatest career challenge was weaning myself off the road and finding a new direction. That has led to many left turns.
Best business decision
I’m a risk taker so I can think of more bad decisions! With that said, bad choices have been my learning base. One of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein is: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” That always makes me feel better when I make (another) mistake! If there was a good business decision, it would be sticking to my convictions and choosing my own career path instead of allowing others to influence me. I knew what I wanted from a very early age, but you know, I was getting the usual advice – go to college, go into the coast guard, stick with a good solid traditional job. Bullshit. Nothing is certain in the job market anymore so I’m glad that I chose my career. I’ve a lot more transferable skills to offer because of it.
Best advice you received
Keep it simple, stupid. I just wish that I could follow it! Life is complicated sometimes!
Best advice to offer
Believe in yourself! There is this strategy that many use: if you can’t keep up with the Joneses, keep the Joneses down. It’s called winning through intimidation, and it absolutely wrecks creative people. Creative people are generally not very good at business. If you’re creative, get some business experience: read books, watch others and learn about business strategy and the commercial market. People in the business world could give a hoot about artists and design, but design is the only thing that will differentiate one show from another or one product from another. Basically, we all have access to the same tools. Somebody has to transform a creative or innovative idea into reality. Who’s going to do that? A bully accountant? No. Talent does that. By getting business experience, it levels the playing field and they can’t intimidate you out of your creative mind.
Most memorable industry experience
I have two. I remember that I was asked by Frank Zappa’s road manager to take Frank’s guitar to him in the dressing room after a show when I was 16. It was very exciting because he was extremely charismatic. The other is when Rick James was yelling at me in the dressing room for not bringing up the lights up when he said too. That scared the crap out of me. The mitigating factor was, as I was watching him rant and call me names, I couldn’t take him seriously because he was wearing these ridiculous pink curlers in his braided hair extensions. Anytime after that, when someone thought they would get to me by yelling, or acting irrationally, I imagine them with pink curlers. It works every time.
What friends would be surprised to learn about you
You’re really are digging deep, aren’t you? That I work hard, and risk, so that by contrast, I can be lazy. It’s not a very balanced motivation though.
Industry pet peeve
There isn’t enough room here for that question to be answered! I’ll try to narrow it down. I can’t bear shows with lighting guys who think that they have to use all the effects by the third song. Shows need to be structured so that you save stuff. I’ve been to some concerts, and it’s so bad that my favorite part is the black out. Stop moving the damn lights all the time! It loses impact if you don’t use contrasts, and it also desensitizes the audience for that time when there’s a cool effect — it goes right past them. It’s like premature show ejaculation. Save some for the climax!
The other is that our industry media doesn’t pay enough attention to what’s going on with people. Life and what people are thinking about are glossed over and hushed. We talk about it, but what you’ll read is only about people in a professional sense; who is working on what show or company personnel changes and you’ll see the typical shot of the sound guy backstage wearing the laminate. But what’s really going on socially with people that should shape the way our industry could pursue real answers? For example, after 36 years of touring productions, freelancers haven’t got any long-term protection by way of group health insurance, 401K or even advice to save is a huge issue owing to the feast and famine nature of the business. And yet, every production in the world requires a professional team to make entertainment work, but they want people to work for rates that are disproportionate to today’s expenses. I know some real pioneers of this industry that are left in a bad way. They gave and gave and all of the sudden the ride stopped. Mind you a lot of it was bad money management. Putting $100 worth of coke up your nose used to be more important than a savings account. I’m trying to organize an association right now through my project Road Cases (www.roadcases.org) that has set goals to try to help the old road guys and the new touring professionals establish life as a freelancer.
And one more thing: I detest the way that corporations have ruined our village industry. They are imposing rules and time schedules that are used to sell products. The greedy bastards have wrecked the concert touring industry in so many ways because we’ve molded everything to accommodate the bottom line. Rrrrahhh!
I’m a minimalist, so my desk has only the latest basics needed to operate, communicate and create. I am proud of past achievements, so I hung up gold/platinum records from the bands that I’ve worked with and my favorite show pictures on the walls.
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…
…doing something else equally as entrepreneurial. I can’t imagine it any other way and I can’t bear working for other people. Every time I did I learned something, but I always regretted the compromising situation that it left me in. Whatever it would be, I would have to do it on my own or create the environment.
Ronnie James Dio. He is one of the most caring individuals that I have ever met and has helped me understand and harness raw attitude and creativity. Theatrics and live presentation are extremely important to him. He was able to articulate to me ideas and I could translate them into effect and drama. It is a development process that Ronnie is proactive with from beginning to end. Most artists don’t take the care or time to communicate theater with the designers. Professionally and personally, he would make time for me in good times and bad. Ronnie is an example of what a great man should be!
Paul can be reached at: 818-709-4314.
Finding Success in the Free Agent Nation Dec 10, 2004
By Paul Dexter
You don’t need to be a celebrity with riches and fame to be special. Of course it helps, because with fame and riches, the media is closely trailing you, so with good or bad news to report, it’s a perpetual free marketing machine. If you’re exposed that much, you must be special and more cash and fame follows. What a circle of dilemma!
Reality shows have exposed many out that aren’t special, but they made it on TV and get the spotlight anyway – Anna Nicole-Smith comes to mind and enough already! Ken Jennings, the $2.5M winner after 75 appearances on Jeopardy was probably the most unlikely nerd to ever get on TV, but in the end so deserved – after all, he made game show history and a ton of cash.
There are more ways available for the average person to get noticed or find the right time and be in the right place now, than ever before. Longer living, larger population and global economy are among the various factors. We have the Internet and you can market product worldwide from the back bedroom of your house or, there’s software that enables you to create storylines by filling in the blanks within a good and evil formula, then make a reasonably high quality movie on your laptop. Today the workforce of America is changing to accommodate a new mentality of; there are no guarantees, contrary to traditional perception within the last generation, or so, ago.
This has unleashed a new age of the “free agent” nation, whereby average people are opening their own businesses and marketing themselves as “someone special” – it’s all about me! Here are some facts from Dan Pink’s book, “Free Agent Nation”, (April 2001). It’s a bit time sensitive, but the trend has been established and substantiates the claim and naturally, one can expect that the percentages have since increased.
· Fewer that 1 in 10 Americans now work for a Fortune 500 company
· The number one private employer in the U.S., by body count, is no longer GM or AT&T. It’s Manpower, Inc., the temporary work agency.
· Between 16 and 25 million of us are freelancers or independent contractors. There are now 3 million temps – including temp lawyers, temp engineers, temp project managers, and even temp CEO’s.
· Microbusinesses, defined as companies that employ four or fewer people, are home to another 12-27 million of us.
*The bottom line is that we’re on our own. Stable employment at large corporations is gone and lifetime employment is over. It is not theory, it’s happening now!
One of the advantages of our industry is that people are moving in, around and through it all the time. It’s almost a given in the entertainment industry and for that reason we are ahead of the curve and poised for the evident freelance movement. We change careers, but usually within the industry that we know and love – lights, audio, staging, projection and all of the ancillary jobs that it creates. There is plenty of new opportunity in our media village, but you have to be observant, have a little bit of luck too and your niche will likely be discovered.
A case in point is a man that I’ve known for about 5 years, Manny Parodi. I want to deem Manny, right from the start, “someone special”. It’s doubtful that he’s going to bump Jessica Simpson off of the cover People Magazine, but we all know that as soon as that spectacular cleavage goes, she will too. I’m referring to someone special with substance, not necessarily rich or famous. Consequently, he’s one of the best-kept secrets in LA, and known only within a small circle of his growing list of clients and friends.
Manny is the founder/owner/president of a company in Los Angeles called Production Storage Group (www.productionstoragegroup.com). If you didn’t ask him questions, he wouldn’t offer to talk about himself. Modesty in this instance is an endearing trait. But I’m glad that I did, because he has a fascinating background and a following inspirational success story, which vindicates the “it’s about me” state of the workforce trend.
Manny’s business was borne out of sheer determination to give up road life and find his role in the “free agent nation”. It seemed to me though, that while talking with him, working at anything but his own company isn’t an option. His mindset is consciously geared for developing a functioning circumstance on his own, with no consideration for seeking traditional lifetime employment opportunity.
Personal history is important to understand where that mindset came from. Born a U.S. citizen in April of ’64, Manny is descendant of prestigious Cuban Heritage. His grandfather was a senator in the “Machado” Government, during a significant transitional period of U.S./Cuba relations, circa 1925-1933, through the stock market crash and eventual government turmoil. He accumulated immense wealth during his lifetime. Upon his death, Manny’s father, inherited the wealth and a host of properties. At one point he bought the entire U.S. WWII war surplus left in Guantanamo and sold it to sugar cane and tobacco growers and ranchers. After Castro nationalized U.S. Banks, businesses and commercial property to retaliate U.S. economic embargos, the family’s land was confiscated. Manny’s father fled from Cuba in 1960 to Miami with a mere $90.00 and subsequently, worked hard to fulfill the American dream.
As you can imagine, entrepreneurial sense is innate with Manny and he was raised with a strong work ethic. He attended Cal State Northridge, and then worked in Real Estate and marketing until 1988, when a tumor was discovered in his face. Surgery saved him, but he felt he cheated life and wanted a radical change. So, he quit his job and began working with Mike Hirsh of LA Stage Call. To make a long story short, he learned all aspects of production, forged relationships and a touring career ensued with the likes of Duran Duran, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Cole and Michael Jackson. By 1997, Manny began looking for exit routes to get off the road. Lonely hotel rooms began to take their toll.
In January 2000, Christine Aguilera’s management called to reserve Manny as Stage Manager for a tour starting in July. In February, the management called to ask if he could find storage. Incredibly, there weren’t that many options to store big set pieces. The proverbial penny dropped. He did one more tour, saved all the money and with his other savings, he leased an 80,000 square foot building and started his own storage facility, with one employee – Manny Parodi.
Production Storage Group solved a simple need to store touring sets and cases, full of stuff that artists, such as Cher, Incubus, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Beyonce, Alanis Morrisette…want to keep, but aren’t using. There’s more. Disappointed with hiring trucking services to satisfy his customers, one was created. Shaun O’Brien and four drivers, with a Ryder Truck relationship, efficiently run it. By minimal overhead and one employee, in 2004, Manny doubled his business and has begun the search for another LA warehouse.
With the upward trend of carving-your-own-niche-society, there are certainly more people out there that have unique stories to tell that aren’t famously recognizable. It’s just that most of the time; we are so entrenched with our own busy lives that we are missing a social phenomenon, so I’m glad that I could bring this story to you, about somebody special, that you won’t see in a tabloid, while waiting in line at the supermarket.
*From “Re-Imagine – Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age” – Tom Peters
Paul Dexter, Masterworks Lighting Design
Paul Dexter Opens Masterworks Lighting Design Oct 28, 2004 — Posted by dexter on Friday, April 28 2006
Paul Dexter has recently opened Masterworks Lighting Design. The lighting industry author has written commentary for the last five years, concerning truths about the state of rental pricing and corporate mentality infiltrating the lighting industry, to over zealous lighting directors and the bad boy antics of the recently deceased Rick James.
“I began lighting when I was sixteen and made 42 Hawaiian pineapple cans into lights and operated them with double poles switches and a couple variacs,” Dexter says. “After that I did my touring stint, which was great, but felt that I had to get off the road.” Dexter has a colorful history of worldwide concert touring with the likes of Motley Crue, DIO, and Elton John.
He spent years in England developing commercial business skills with ambitious media projects, studied lighting theory using a graduate level Penn State Internet course, worked for other industry related companies, and was lighting director for the movie Rock Star. Most recently he founded Road Cases, a company established to document, on film, touring days from the collective memories of those that lived it.
The purpose of Masterworks will be to provide a unique solutions lighting design service for theatrical style productions, live music and stage, film and television, corporate exhibits, and special events.
RICK JAMES Oct 22, 2004
By Paul Dexter
Rick James passed away on August the 6th, 2004. He was 56 years old. It is a relatively young age these days to die of “natural causes”, but I knew Rick and of his lifestyle. I can tell you, first-hand, that he crammed three lifetimes into those 56 years.
Between the latter part of 1978 and 1981, I was Rick’s LD. It is rare to work with an artist and witness a meteoric rise in concert attendances as during Rick James’ ascend to fame. I started off in a small club in San Jose and ended up playing major cities with multiple dates in 12,000+ arenas, during his “Super Freak” heyday.
The man had more attitude than a prizefighter. He was raised poor in a Buffalo (New York) ghetto. I was there when the mayor gave Rick the keys to the city and then named the street where he grew up, “Rick James Street”. Mainly because, he clawed his way out of the ghetto into worldwide fame with his own brand of music and it put Buffalo on the map. The only thing before Rick that we had known Buffalo for was chicken wings.
The First Show
On that first show in San Jose, he screamed at me and it was an incident that left an indelible mark on my young memory. From that time on, anyone – another infantile recording star or irascible producer – that would shout at me in a wild or disrespectful way, I learned how to never allow it to affect me negatively again.
Before the first show, Rick’s management said had his own ideas about lights and he wanted to discuss them with me. They gave me his phone number, which I called several times, but couldn’t reach him. I reported the unsuccessful attempts back to management. They instructed that I go to the house (in Hollywood Hills) on such and such a day and time and Rick would be there. Naively, I believed them in those days and I drove to see him, which was an hour from my house. When I got there, nobody was home.
Instead, I studied his recordings and developed my own scripts. However, when I entered the dressing room in San Jose and met him for the first time, all he saw was pure white boy. All I saw was Rick’s long braids, tight glitter outfit and with his platform shoes on – he towered over me. He said, “Look, all I want from you is – when I count to four, put all the lights on!” It scared the crap out of me. Feebly I said, “Okay”, and walked out to the lighting console.
So, the house lights go out. I could see the band getting into position and I waited with my finger on the “all on” button. The band started the first song, but I was still waiting for the count to four, as explicitly directed – in the dark. It didn’t take long to figure out that I had better creep the faders up and get on with it.
Next night in the dressing room…I walked in, looked around and Rick comes right up to me and yells, “Mutha F…’r where were you! I told you when I count to four, I want all the lights on!” I was petrified! He wanted to fire whitey. Finding my opportunity to speak up during a break in the ranting, I said, “You didn’t count to four.” This stopped him for a moment and he started up again with his defense until other band members actually came to my defense and said, “Rick, you didn’t count to four.”
This was certainly vindicating relief, that I wasn’t crazy and that he actually didn’t say it. It made me feel a whole lot better. What was even better than that, was through all of the shouting; Rick was wearing ridiculous pink curlers in his braids – priceless! Shouting from anyone will never be taken seriously again and whenever you come across a person that treats you that way, imagine them with pink curlers. It works every time.
Trouble with the Law
I’ll never know why or how he did this, but he took one promoters’ advance money for a tour and ended up using with another promoter, but didn’t pay the first promoter back. Consequently, there were sheriff’s cars appearing in most major cities, trying to take Rick James into custody. He always was able to elude them. For some reason, the stage is sacred ground. Rick knew it and he played that card to avoid capture on a number of occasions.
One of the things he would do was to light a big fat pre-rolled joint as part of the show. He didn’t care who was there and he never got taken to jail for illegal use, no matter where we were, probably because it had to do with the sacred unwritten, you-can’t-go-onstage-with-the-artist rule.
In Dallas, during a sold out show, sheriff cars, lined up at the loading dock doors. Several officers came in to make themselves visible and stood on the side of the stage, but not backstage. Rick couldn’t help but notice and as per normal, fired up the joint and blew it in their direction. Nothing happened! However, at the end of the show, it was clearly their intention to arrest Rick to finally answer for taking the promoter’s money.
The show ended and Sheriffs told the crew that the equipment was impounded. This prevented load out for about 45 minutes until they figured out that the equipment was all leased and none of it belonged to Rick. In the meantime, they were searching the dressing rooms, backstage and buses and but Rick was nowhere to be found. In the end, they gave up and went home.
As it happened, Rick had been tipped off earlier about the impending capture plan. A small black duvetyne quick-change booth had been set-up on stage behind the Stone City Band backdrop. After the last song, there was longer than usual delay. Being in the front of house position, I had no idea what was happening, but Rick was changing into an Afro wig, denim overalls, Converse sneakers and wrap around sunglasses.
In the meantime, California, Rick’s valet, walked onstage wearing one of Rick’s white floor length bejeweled capes. Keeping his head down and back toward the audience, California stood there with his arms stretched out for at least 90 seconds. The crowd was screaming, as it was high drama waiting for one more encore song.
While all this was going on, Rick casually walked down the stage steps, right past the police and into a waiting cab. He didn’t return until after load out, to catch the tour bus taking us to the next town.
I don’t think Rick was intentionally bad; it’s just that his mind worked that way from his deprived upbringing and surviving in the ghetto. For the most part his bark was louder that his bite. He was extremely talented and brilliant writer and performer, but he just did bad things and broke all the rules. The freebasing didn’t help his good side either, but it was unfortunately a favorite pastime, which ultimately destroyed the inside of his body, leading to hepatitis, diabetes and heart trouble. May he rest in peace. His life here was, without a doubt, turbulent – the high price to pay for leaving us with immortal music a memorable ride.
Where are the Heroes? Oct 20, 2004
By Paul Dexter
Most brochure web pages will boast about a person or company’s past successes and give a list of so-called prestigious clients that they have been associated with. For some reason, that standard resume palaver continues to be regarded in this new millennium as a politically correct way of, what-you-are-supposed-to-do in order to attract the likes of an influential client — event producer, production manager, recording artist or CEO of large corporation.
The fact is, that the very people that we’ve just boasted having worked with was a drug addict, albeit extremely talented, like Rick James, may he rest in peace or Ozzy Osbourne, with a bad drinking history and his kids are in and out of rehabilitation centers, but are, nonetheless, revered by youth as stars. How nice. It used to be that a client list was impressive. My point is that now… so what? They may have been great artists, but as people, they were a mess.
At the end of the day, will a prominent client list really have any bearing on what Masterworks can do for you? No. Will it sway you one-way or the other? Unlikely. There are no heroes anymore, thanks to our efficient media prying into the lives of every celebrity and wannabe celebrity — it’s over exposure. Frankly, the long client list may be interesting from a historical standpoint, but it’s totally irrelevant. It is all about Pride of Show.
So, to rest on these past laurels today is dull. To peddle that angle would mean that we are dull. On the contrary, Masterworks has a credible history, it’s creative, resourceful and conscientiously now. What more is there to know?
Masterworks is out to appeal to industry producers/people who want service — professional solutions lighting services with no nonsense about it and at a fair market price – period. CLIENT : “Can you create an amazing look with lighting? MASTERWORKS: “Yes and here’s how…” CLIENT: “Good — you’re hired and I don’t care if you lit the Queen’s Birthday Party at Buckingham Palace.”
While proud of past achievements, Paul Dexter, founder of Masterworks Lighting Design” and “RoadCases” (www.roadcases.org), is an entrepreneur, lighting designer and industry commentator with articles published monthly for the last five years.
Past achievements are undoubtedly an indelible record of valuable experience, but the question is: is the talent from a great designer being applied right now for me? That is the main emphasis for Masterworks. The association with heroes doesn’t matter. The design rests on qualified merit and ability to transform lighting into unique solutions for a resulting, amazing outcome, with value and integrity!
Paul Dexter Announces New Lighting Design Venture Oct 2004
Paul Dexter has opened a brand-new business, Masterworks Lighting Design. The original and sometimes controversial lighting industry author has written commentary for the last five years, on such topics as the state of rental pricing, the corporate mentality infiltrating the lighting industry, overzealous lighting directors, and the bad-boy antics of the recently deceased Rick James. He is currently featured montly in Lighting&Sound America.
Dexter said, “I began lighting when I was 16 and made 42 Hawaiian pineapple cans into lights and operated them with double poles, switches, and a couple variacs. After that, I did my touring stint, which was great, but felt that I had to get off the road.” Dexter has a colorful history of worldwide concert touring with the likes of Motley Crue, DIO and Elton John.
He spent years in England developing commercial business skills with ambitious media projects, studied lighting theory using a graduate-level Penn State Internet course, worked for other industry-related companies, and was lighting director for the movie Rock Star. Most recently, he founded Road Cases–a company established to document, on film, touring days from the collective memories of those that lived it.
“I’ve taken so many left turns in my life that I just completed a circle!” Dexter says. “This business enterprise was conceived from what I enjoy doing and glean most from, lighting design. The name Masterworks was derived from all the influential elements that I’ve assembled which add value.” The purpose of Masterworks will be to provide a unique solutions lighting-design service for theatrical-style productions, live music, film and television, corporate exhibits and special events.
According to Dexter, you either have a creative flair or you don’t. “If you are an academic, you don’t wake up one day and say that you’ll be a designer–it is in you or it’s not. I had to find out the hard way that design ability is only one part of equation. The other parts are market-awareness, combined with people skills, a solid grasp of the business world, and enough responsiveness to continue to learn. This venture is starting with a credible history right out of the gate; it’s creative and conscientiously now.” There is a new Masterworks website too; the link is listed below.
Where’s Lighting Going? October 18, 2004
The basis of this month’s LD-AT-LARGE offering is to try and determine the direction that big production lighting design and its associated technology may be headed. There are plenty of variables that have entered into the fray since production value joined pop and rock touring circa 1968. Rules have changed. People have certainly changed. Technology has positively changed. So, combine our industry’s history, whether you had formal or on-site training, include any mentoring influences you may have had and mix it up with the affect of present day world affairs. It’s one convoluted chronicle and so is the following story, which attempts to bring all these factors into perspective.
At ten years old, I used to listen to radio and vividly remember questioning how another guitar riff would be thought of that was as good as, different or better than Eric Burdon and the Animals (House of the Rising Sun), Tommy James and the Shondells (Crystal Blue Persuasion) and Nancy Sinatra (These Boots Were Made for Walkin’)? These days, “oldies radio” has a button position programmed in my car, as backup. Considering some of the new dookie that’s out there now, clever as it may be and as hard as I try to appreciate it, the oldies backup button still gets pushed now and then.
Let’s be clear. Depending on moods, I’m thankful for and like to listen to all types of music. However, I am adverse to guys with stereos that cost more than their car, that impose minor earthquakes at stop signs with senseless bass and angry rap. To each his own, but do we have to be a part of it too? Would you mind if I bring my dog over to crap on your front porch? It’s the same deal. Stop imposing on me.
I just got pulled over by an inflexible policeman. It was purely speculation and part of the “probable cause” agenda. Granted, my car is black with black interior, reads “LITE*UP” on the license plate and looks like it could belong to a mob boss or drug dealer but seriously, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I entered the 10 Freeway in downtown LA on my way to visit some friends at Sony Studios in Culver City. They work for Tom Petty who was rehearsing his band and production there. As soon as I drove up the on ramp, the law officer decided to pull me over.
Respectfully, I confronted the policeman on the curbside to take the retribution that he was that he about to dish. “What is it, sir?” I asked, confused. At this point, I detected that he was just as confused to see my homely ass, as I don’t look anything like a drug dealer or gangster.
“You are in violation of code blah, blah and blah — your window is tinted in front of the back brake light and your windows are too dark,” he said, sternly. “Drivers license, registration and proof of insurance.” I handed him the requested documents. “I am going to write you a citation, wait here.” For f*** sake! That’s it?
Comparing this nuisance with news of another Palestinian suicide bomber, getting pulled over for too much tint didn’t really rank up there beyond annoying. So I patiently waited in my car for the consequential ticket during which time, I couldn’t help but think that in that less-than-desirable part of LA, there’s probably a robbery in progress. The officer was willing to let that go to write me up for dark windows? In this instance, you have to question his motive.
My motive was to get to the rehearsal before it ended. Passage into any secure compound was prickly before 9-11. Today there is, understandably, more vigilance than ever to enter into a working film and TV studio. After the security guards’ obligatory Q & A session at the drive up gate, I was instructed to obtain a walk-on pass from another security checkpoint. Of course, this was not straightforward. More information was required and a person that can’t type then types each answer into a computer. With studio pass displayed by hanging around my neck with a chain, I finally arrived and opened the heavy door of the rehearsal studio, only in time to hear the last few bars of “American Girl” and then the work lights came on. DOH! Missed it! All thanks to an overzealous patrolman and that bastard, Osama bin Laden!
I view lighting structure today and can’t help but to compare them to earlier systems. Has it improved? You bet it has! More tools have been added. The challenge we face now is calculating through experience and knowing what’s available to enable you to choose the right tool for the job. LD Jim Lenahan has been with the Tom Petty camp for 28 years. Apart from using lekos as key light, he has chosen predominantly intelligent lighting and 2 High End Catalysts. “I used to use a standard 450 PAR cans for my touring systems. Anymore, the thought of a system like that doesn’t make sense for Tom’s show.”
Recently, I visited the David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar Tour. They use a David Davidian design and Bandit Lites rig. It represents a big 80’s look, but where 600 PAR cans are tastefully integrated with new technology – Martin MAC 2000, a whole lotta Atomic 3K Strobes, 3K Syncrolites and color changers. For me, this is best of both worlds where old meets new. A 1K PAR can or an ACL look can fill up a stage if used right. It’s all about complimenting the performers, their music, show pace and timing- not how much, how fast, or how complicated and busy the air graphics can appear. (See for yourself and go to www.banditlites.com for pictures).
Let’s face it; it’s not possible to achieve rich layers and depth with only intelligent fixtures. Besides, many intelligent lighting rig designs look too geometric and clinical. What is the motive for this? Is it more practical, time or cost effective? Is it is less work because you don’t have to get up onto the truss and focus? Is it lack of theatrical historical lighting knowledge or a mentoring influence that precludes integration of conventional fixtures? Should the above factors influence and compromise our designs?
Our industry is exploding with new ideas. How can we make it quicker, more efficient and easier? With sky-is-the-limit capability, there is also the contrasting authoritative OSHA, sometimes-austere union regulations and a corporate meet-the-bottom-line mentality that is breeding a compliant new generation of designers. The approach to lighting has definitely been molded to account for changes that have absolutely nothing to do with the art of performance.
Is it less work for a policeman if probable cause is at his disposal? With so many impertinent variables being imposed on us, it is up to you to sort out what is important and cast the rest aside in order to focus on improving your situation or creating the best possible show. Are you using all the tools and thoroughly researching every aspect of the performance that you are about to design for? Look, intelligent lighting technology advancements are a welcome tool, but should they replace what a conventional fixture offers?
Only you can answer, but from my perception, I think it’s time we push the back up button and listen to some oldies from time to time.
Lighting Dimensions – October 2003
You’re pretty faced-paced yourself. How do you keep up?
Mostly by using a little common sense. I exercise, eat right and read the newspaper. Everyday there is a different quotation on page two like this one, “Nothing great will ever be achieved without great men and great men are great only if they are determined to do so.” – Charles de Gaulle 1890-1970.
The key is to continually employ your best effort, persevere and apply knowledge.
I observe to discover substantial contributors and act to improve the quality of life, not merely pacify it.
Please give examples of recent changes that are more profound than a new piece of gear…things that really affect the way we think and work?
That’s a challenging question. How much space have we got?
There have been considerable changes, natural, good and bad, which have affected the way we conduct our business.
I started touring in 1973 when rock’n’roll was a raw attitude. The allure of enigmatic rock stars has substantially decreased as the attraction that once fueled live concert popularity. Now the music industry is struggling and talent is contrived and packaged into a pretty gift-wrapped box.
For example, Mary Kate and Ashley were on the September (’03) front cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. It may sell magazines, but it has nothing to do with music. The fact is pop music has run out heroes.
Madonna and Britany Spears were kissing on National TV. What is that? Rock Stars have been replaced with sex and superficial image that have unfortunately, as a by-product, leaked into kid’s trashy fashion trends.
Creative direction has shifted from what it used to be. It is intensely influenced by budgets because big corporations intervene power over the recording artists, quelling their creative control, which has a direct ripple effect on the way production vendors operate.
Clearly, corporate motive is money, greed and the bottom line and it pervades our system like a nasty disease. Their objective has caused industry damage, proven with significant decline in live concert attendances and album sales (a 31% decline in CD sales over the last three years).
It’s anybody’s guess whether story or song is going to be a hit or not. As more accountants become the CEO’s of companies, the safe route of what-worked-in-the-past formula, to ensure mass appeal, will be favored as opposed to qualifying an original new artist/writer and taking an educated risk for their reward. Ironically, outsiders to the craft largely control the entertainment that we see and hear.
Furthermore, a corporate meet-the-bottom-line mentality is breeding a compliant new generation of designers. The approach to lighting has definitely been molded to account for changes that have absolutely nothing to do with the art of performance.
Corporate money, breakthrough technology, 9-11 and a new generation’s perception have presented an entirely new set of rules and altered methods to approaching inherent and modern problems.
What are major changes coming down the pike? How can people in the industry be prepared for what’s coming?
In order to prepare for what is coming it’s necessary to identify with how we got into the present. There are plenty of variables that have entered into the fray since production value joined pop and rock touring circa 1970. It’s one convoluted chronicle.
The lighting business used to operate in its own isolated and entrepreneurial world. It was a small and unknown business. Steady development and growth ensued, accompanied by consequential profit and the corporate vultures began to pay attention.
Since 1995-1996, corporate intervention in our business quickly brought competition to its knees and dramatically reshaped our marketplace. A quantity, cheaper-by-the-dozen approach took over and the price wars began for command of any cash flow in a dwindling concert touring market.
PRG, Gearhouse, Matthews, and Westsun, were buying smaller companies, competing for the live production market and simultaneously attempting to service the hungry-for-new-technology productions with 1970’s prices. Egos overshadowed common sense and as many are aware, three of the four aforementioned companies had a relatively short tenure.
Fortunately, entertainment lighting has had lucrative markets open in other areas like exhibits, special events and themed environments. Every rental house in the world has essentially the same lighting gear to make a system — it’s just that some have more of it. You have to know what new tricks are out there in order to compete and provide the one thing that differentiates you from another LD or vendor — a high-level service (personal, commercial and technical).
You asked what the major changes are? Be aware of politics, world economy and commerce. It’s hard. Many of us started in lighting because it was a liberating lifestyle. All we have now is ramped up pressure to compete in a congested and fragile business. Just keep feeding your head with news as it happens, business information and react with common sense. There is still opportunity out there.
Even with world changes and your reactions, it doesn’t matter what your industry role is. The foundation of knowledge and practicing ethical principles will never change.
Who is on your keeping up panel at LDI and what are you going to discuss?
Here’s the deal. “Keep Up” is all about outside commercial and political influences that affect what we do inside the lighting business. It has infiltrated our business and there is no escape and we can’t hide. I know just enough about this to be dangerous. We only have time to scrape the surface of this subject, but the crux of the matter is it will be cohesive and thought provoking.
“Keep Up” is also about the technology revolution and soldiering on with new developments and information.
Moving lights and computerized consoles weren’t part of lighting until 1983 when Vari-lite released the VL-1. We have a generation of technicians and designers that have never known a world that didn’t include automated lighting. On the other hand, there is some resistance from the old guys to actually learn a new CAD program or integrate an automated trick that will save them hanging 14 lekos with 14 different gobo patterns — Keep Up!
Jim Moody will be on the panel. He’s written a new book, “The Business of Theatrical Design”, and with his illustrious history, he is a master on the subject of “Keep Up”. The software writer responsible for Flying Pig Systems Whole Hog, Richard Mead will be joining us. Richard is a great orator, is articulate and can explain new technology in a way that even I can understand it. The co-chair for ESTA’s Certification Board, Tim Hansen, will join us to discuss the new idea of obtaining credentials.
Qualifying documents for various stage craft accomplishments is one more change I didn’t see coming. The only papers I’ve received for my years of practice are for a divorce and few bent photographs.
Pollstar – Pride of Show Oct. 16, 2004
Read the article.
The Most Incredible Talent Pool in the World Nov 10, 2004
by Paul Dexter
It’s a mystery to me that as many jobs, worldwide, which are connected to the business of touring production, that there is not a unifying body to join that says “Touring Professionals”. The question is, do we need one?
Without conducting specific polling research, backstage or touring personnel has to be one of the largest and most independently trained-and-ready, but without representation, talent groups in the world!
There are thousands of freelancers that are intrinsic to make entertainment, exhibit or event productions run as efficiently as it does. Every production, large or small, counts on the assembly of a professional team and yet, after 36 years (presuming we start circa 1968) there is not one association that formally binds us together.
Instead, we’ve kept ourselves together with the love of the game, through reporting and comment from publications like this one, annual conventions, the worldwide homogeny of equipment, personal networking and organizations ESTA and USITT. Overall though, production people are a global community without a specific home.
Whether you are in lighting, sound or a make-up artist from London, Nashville or LA, there are commonalities and immediate rapport among us. How rare is it to find that same camaraderie and passion for their ‘working’ lifestyle with other occupations that aren’t connected with a professional association of some kind? Think hard, I couldn’t come up with any, either.
The point is – Would backstage and touring personnel be better off with an association or would it be best to leave things the way they are because you think that they’re working? If a Touring Professional Association were an option, how would it be structured?
Allow me to digress with some background. If you understand the history of how the touring workforce started, you’ll know that anyone could have entered with no credentials and a nomadic, innately creative or eccentric personality. However, as touring and event production became progressively more sophisticated, in addition to fending for survival in an increasingly prevalent corporate environment, it has attracted an entirely new class of professional. Today, developing your business savvy and marketing yourself is, by and large, more important than ever before.
It’s apparent that new technology is what’s driving the market right now. It has created a need for specialized, resourceful and imaginative people for technologically intense productions, which consequently involves greater expense for the client. But, has freelance pay scale adequately increased to compensate for experience or the extensive library of the latest information from new technologies that you have to be familiar with? And then, how about design application of the new stuff? Does that pay cover, and is it steady enough, for the relentless flood of life’s escalating expenses from investing in tools, software and housing to health insurance?
It may be for some, but for most, it doesn’t. I have deduced that statement from my own personal experience, speaking frequently with freelancers and taking an on-line survey, specifically asking questions, directed to the state of enlistee’s financial well being. Road Cases.org received nearly 200 responses. Many, after years of service to the industry, are nowhere near prepared for a healthy retirement.
Working in entertainment or event production has a trade off and you now have two choices: One – living a freelance lifestyle that has the attractive autonomy factor, but with extreme feast and famine periods and two: financial stability, health and insurance benefits that a company position may acquiesce, but generally with less pay and high expectation for the boss’s money.
So, let’s say that the company position loses and autonomy wins the trade off choice. That means you’re negotiating on your own and this preference thrusts you to account for all of life’s expenses and future saving plans with the money that you earn. There aren’t very many out there that can charge enough to account for the feast and famine nature of the business and prepare a nest egg. In addition, production negotiators are savvy and know the competition for the freelance lifestyle: Chances are high that they will take advantage. I recently heard of a case where a talented young lighting programmer was replaced at the eleventh hour for a day rate that was $50.00 lower than his. So, the reality is that company stability versus freelance independence is, in either case, a predicament. As Norm from the long lasting TV sitcom “Cheers” wisely said, “It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and I’m wearing milk bone boxer shorts!”
So… do you think a happy medium to working freelance is achievable? While setting standardized day rates are not in anyone’s control unless “Touring Professionals” becomes a union (this is a highly unlikely outcome), setting a financial structure to help you set money aside and mitigate health insurance costs with a group rate is. What’s needed is a method to best achieve the working freelancer to cover the immediate living expense, save for the future and buy health insurance.
Sound impossible? Maybe, but at least it’s a reasonable start and after 36 years, we’re obviously not in new business anymore. It’s also apparent that those who pioneered touring didn’t have inclination or understand what the future of this business held for them. Buying a bag of pot and an eight ball was more important. As Richard Cole, tour manger for Led Zeppelin (from 1968-1983) so eloquently put it, “Telling us to save back then, would have been like telling Lewis and Clark that they should have invested in real estate.”
The structure of production freelance business is in some kind of time warp and there doesn’t appear to be any steps taken, other that networking outlets, to organize a “same-page” strategy. This lack of action is music to the corporate executive and show producer’s ears! They are gleefully getting completely knowledgeable people to organize and operate expensive technology for the price it was for analog gear and PAR cans.
Action must be taken to account for life’s myriad changes, imposed upon the production freelancer or small company entrepreneur that has found a niche in the new age entertainment technology market, and a home for the touring pioneer that experienced an unrepeatable period of production history; many of whom are still working today.
So, is an association needed to help bring together the world’s greatest talent pool? Yes, and it’s high time. While the concept is in its nascent stages, headway has been made to at least convincing deduce that there’s a need for it. However, its creation will be a milestone endeavor. The level of industry seriousness is crucial to determine acceptance, feasibility and it’s ultimate success. To this end, the worldwide Internet has made it possible to form an outlet specifically for that purpose. In April ’04 a survey started and continues now. Please log on to www.roadcases.org for more information and to register your interest. It will still be a dog eat dog world. All the association is attempting to do is change our boxer shorts and wear something that’s less edible.
2004 in Review: Gripes, Admires, and Concerns Dec 2004
By Paul Dexter
It’s the end of the year…again. While I’m happy about last year’s achievements—exhale old air out and breathe in the new—I look forward to 2005. But, with an opportunity to start new, I’d like some changes!
What follows is a list of my end-of-the-year thoughts. It could be the beginning of rating system for our industry, similar with the annual Mr. Blackwell’s Best-Dressed or Worst-Dressed list, except that, with Smoke & Mirrors, the list consists of gripes, admires, and concerns, most of which are closely linked to one another, as I examine, and re-examine the trends and topics of 2004. I don’t know if those other attention-grabbing lists in the media do anything other than embarrass people on an international level, but, whatever—I need good, innocuous gripe to at least pretend that I have a say about influencing change.
Let’s begin with a gripe:
Gripe 1. For starters, readers, I am hearing more and more from many colleagues who are inundated with free industry magazine subscriptions, and no time to actually look at magazines! There must be at least seven lighting magazines and an equal number of audio and staging books. If you’ve read this far, you’re doing well with balancing your time and picking this outstanding publication and principled column. A fine choice indeed!
But as it happens, walk into any industry office and you’ll see a plethora of periodicals, all of them paid for by manufacturer and service-vendor ads. This system obviously works, but the downside may be a stack of unopened magazines lying on desktops and office floors all over the country. If you have time to read them, then either you’re not that busy or you manage your time better than most. After all, reading could be considered a top priority to stay ahead of market trends. In any case, what do we do about this problem? Or is the answer simply, who cares? After all, they’re free.
Gripe 2. We don’t have time to read magazines because, we are working harder to earn less than we used to. Partially to blame is the fact that costs are up on everything from houses (and all their expense), cars (and their fuel) to computers (and their expensive software, DSL, etc.). Generally speaking, we need more money to manage the necessities of life, and there are too many “necessities” these days. They’re complicating our lives, but at the same time, great to have! DOH!
Gripe 3. Ironic as it seems, while the industry gets more and more new and fantastic technology, I’m a little baffled by the obsession with all. Why? Much of my bemused attitude comes from the recent visit to LDI-ETS show in October. My head was spinning!
Admire 1. The show was fine—it was well organized and did precisely what it was supposed to do, which is to provide a global network for our burgeoning industry and connect end-users with product and services. After17 years, it does that extremely well. But that’s not my concern.
Concern 1. In fact, I’m ambivalent. All this progress coming our way has effectively produced streamlined, expensive technology to supply a cottage industry, servicing increasing expectations for bigger, better, and more! I can only speculate that that market capital limits are going to max out as old gear is replaced with new before investment returns (ROI) on the old are reached—or will they?
Admire 2. But, first of all let me be clear. Regardless of everything I’ve just written, this is an enjoyable business to be in—and hooray for competition and innovation!
Gripe 6. However, there are only so many clients out there (touring concert artists, stage shows, corporate exhibits, themed environments, etc.) who require the services of audio/visual service companies, vendors and manufacturers. The question is: Will the demand support the supply?
Let’s see. The shelf life for a pop artist these days is about three years; in most cases, a fast rise to fame is followed by a faster descent. That market may still be okay, but consider the number of touring shows out there now, as opposed to what used to be out there–and these prima donnas are canceling after the tour hits the road! Statistics confirm that there is a decline in the amount of acts and in attendance. Bye, Bye Britney.
Gripe 7. In my view, the reason for the decline of concert touring is that corporations choose pop talent, a method that is destroying the future of the business. We want to nurture new acts with a longer life potential, in order to spread the wealth and industry health.
For example, today, the top 5% of acts in the concert account for around 85% of the overall revenue. In 1982 it was 62%. There’s more—the top 1% generates over 50% of the overall market share—staggering!** People are also paying more to see these artists, which means they are less likely to pay to see other touring acts, if at all.
You can easily deduce that lion’s share of revenue goes to a smaller number of concert groups and their corporate affiliates, the record companies—there are really only about four majors left. And then there is Clear Channel, which owns most of the country’s radio stations and venues. And with less competition at the top, a smaller number of production service companies are used. And, for production service companies, there is only so much declining market for them to give expensive technology away to. That would be Gripe 7-A: Vendors are not getting enough ROI for pricey rentals.
Gripe 8. Not to digress, and I’m just a humble pawn in the scheme of things, but if my vote were to be cast, it would be Yes on Proposition G: Give music back to the artists! I’d like to cast my vote for the return of the talent scout who can choose talent over somebody with supermodel looks who can lip-sync. When is this trend going to end? And another thing…right now, insipid rap crap seems to be popular among youth culture and I hate it. I’ve tried my best to listen to it, but I hate it. Eeeuuu!
Concern 2: Back to business: So where are all l,500–I counted them from a directory–of the country’s lighting and staging companies going to sell their rental services and promote new equipment sales? Are they to fight for the corporate scraps? Maybe, but…
Admire 2: One door closes and another opens. Country Music has a loyal following and so does pop music. Corporate exhibits, from cars and video games to music, have made a significant monetary contribution to the industry and more and more of them are incorporating projection and LED screen imagery. Themed entertainment based projects are popping up a lot more, particularly with the influx of gambling cash, borne out of new Indian Casino developments, showrooms in Las Vegas, and multi-city expansion of single concept shows, such as Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group. Even retail and architecture are showing a lot more entertainment flash.
Admire 3: The manufacturers drive the market and are in a completely different universe from the service/vendor sector. They have all done a good job of marketing and homogenizing world use of gear —Martin Professional comes to mind here. At least manufacturers have set pricing for their product, unlike the malleable rental market.
Admire 4: Production industry vendors and freelancers are like modern day Minutemen —a paradigm for preparedness in the event of opportunity.
Gripes are because I like this business and want it to be better. My influence will, most likely, begin and end here. But, if the likes of Clear Channel, or Sony-BMG, call for my opinion, I’ll be sure to let you know how this column changed the world.
**Data from Pollstar 2002 CIC Keynote speaker, Alan B. Kruegar, Ph.D., Princeton University
Paul Dexter,Masterworks Lighting Design, Northridge, CA.