Category Archives: News

The Democratic National Convention

Live Design – The Democratic National Convention, at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC, took place from September 4–6 hosting their candidate, President Barack Obama. After their well-received 2008 convention the Democrat’s again tapped Executive Producer Ricky Kirshner of RK Productions. “I think from a producing point of view it always starts with the design,” explains Kirshner. “At the end of the day, most people are watching to see the speeches and they care about the content of those speeches. We’re there to support that and present it in an engaging manner. We tried to keep it just that simple.”

In a departure from convention designs of the past, Production Designer Bruce Rodgers of Tribe, Inc. and the production team chose to put the podium stage in the end goal area of the arena rather than the traditional the centerline location. “The Charlotte arena architecturally really worked for the end stage arrangement,” says Rodgers. “It just looked right and felt better. It got the delegates a lot closer so there was a great energy in the space.”

Of his design approach Rodgers says, “I wanted to keep it stylish and modern; something beautiful but simple. I decided go with form following function. I knew functionally it was important to have a wide shot that look great and was impactful. We needed a beautiful tight close-up shot; the classic head to toe shot with the President standing behind the lectern; and I wanted a strong reverse shot. I placed the lectern very far downstage, which gave great reverse angles from the cameras on top of the backing wall. That angle was a chance to see the speakers in a way that felt really honest. You saw their view out over the delegates; you connected with them; it was more personal.”

Rodgers ‘simple’ set was actually technically quite complex as he designed the set to have a curving vertical feel. “I wanted the stage to be open but also have a strength and a hopefulness which I feel the height gave it,” he describes. “I felt a cylindrical shape would be powerful but knew we couldn’t do all curved LED screens, so the header walls at the top of the set and the main backing wall at the bottom were curved creating the illusion that the whole set was curved, even though the center I-Mag screen and the two tall side verticals were flat screens. Also the main stage walls were convex but the horizon walls that reach 80′ in either direction from the stage were concave so you had these opposing curvatures. It looked very dynamic both on camera and in the arena from varying angles because of the play of depth it created.”

The set walls were 90% video screens with a mix of resolutions. The 12’Hx42’W backing wall behind the lectern used Barco NX4 4mm LED tiles. The hero wall I-Mag screen and the two side I-Mag screens were VER BR7 7mm LED tiles; while WinVision 9.375mm LED product was used for the vertical sides, the SR & SL walls, and the long horizon walls. “Part of the curving illusion is created due to all these resolution changes,” notes Rodgers. “Your eye focuses the most on the super hi res and falls off to the lower res tiles.” PRG built the entire set and the custom frames, including the constant curving backing wall frame that required the LED tiles to be deconstructed to be mounted. VER provided the LED and video packages. The video playback control, featuring Green Hippo Hippotizers, came from Mobius Productions. Kish Rigging handled the entire rigging package.

Lighting Designers Bob Dickinson and Bob Barnhart of Full Flood, Inc. spent a lot of time working with the video team on balancing the lighting and the video. “Today’s screens have a capability that far surpasses the needs of an event like this,” comments Dickinson. “Once we get the screens level set we balanced out the rest of the show. In terms of light levels we want to deliver between 60-70fc on the delegate floor as well as on the speaker. Depending what is happening in the arena at a given moment we will manipulate that. It really is done in a very live manner, I sit with Ricky Kirshner and with Glenn Weiss, the Director and based on what they want done we are able to be very reactive to it.”

The TWC Arena, being a modern structure, was built to maximize sitelines at the shortest distance to the arena floor. This creates the lighting challenge of having to deal with very steep mounting positions. “We want to light the floor 360 degrees so that the delegates are well lit and the press can photograph people anywhere on the arena floor,” says Dickinson. “The problem is that you can’t light people from a 60 angle overhead so we have to choose our truss positions carefully and still be mindful of the sightline from every seat. We light the delegates from four directions allowing pretty much bulletproof coverage.”

For keylighting Dickinson uses followspots. “They are our primary tool for keying,” he says. “They are so important that we have backup keys that we use in the case of a failure of a followspot and we use redundant power sources. A followspot is essentially the only tool that can make that throw and can contain—very, very tightly—the spill of the light the way I want.” Of the overall design itself Dickinson says, “If people were looking at the lighting something was wrong. There was some lighting for music guests but nothing to big. It was a very straightforward design.”

Kirshner was very proud of the whole team, commenting, “This starts with a small group of us designing it but none of it could happen without hundreds of people—stagehands, technicians, vendors—they were integral to the success. Everyone deserve a lot of credit; they all worked really, really hard to make it happen.”

Meet inaugural-party guru: Big productions are in New Yorker’s blood

ny-daily-imageNew York Daily News – Ricky Kirshner, the Manhattanite in charge of producing much of Barack Obama’s three-day inaugural shindig, had a burning question for the soon-to-be First Couple on Wednesday.
When they hit the dance floor Tuesday night at the televised Neighborhood Ball (one of 10 the Obamas will be attending), what song do they want playing?
“Are you waltzing? Are you slow-dancing? Do you guys have a special dance that you do?” Kirshner, 48, wondered aloud of the fist-bumping duo.
Welcome to Kirshner’s world, where even the most minute detail of Obama’s historic inaugural is a question to be pondered and resolved. But rest assured – Kirshner will get his answers.
Producing live, big-time events is what Kirshner does best, with a résumé that includes several Super Bowl halftime shows, Tony Awards and the past five Democratic conventions.
That Kirshner has been tapped to make Obama’s inaugural as smooth as the man himself only underscores what should be obvious: Although the inaugural is in Washington, it takes a New Yorker to pull together what is really a three-day public party.
A Yankees fan to the core who grew up in New Jersey but hasn’t left New York since his first job as a gofer for ABC, Kirshner admitted Wednesday to a certain amount of stress, but no nightmares.
“I’ve had no nightmares because I haven’t slept in a month,” he told the Daily News. “Seriously, I actually wrote a memo to my staff about the 100 things I was thinking about while not sleeping.”
Kirshner, with directing partner Glenn Weiss, is responsible for the “Kids’ Inaugural,” a live concert airing on Disney Channel Monday at 8 p.m. that will feature such ‘tween sensations as the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.
After that, he’ll turn his attention to the first-ever “Neighborhood Ball,” a postinaugural bash Tuesday intended to include capital residents in the festivities.
Top-shelf performers headlining that gig, to be aired live by ABC at 8 p.m., include Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Faith Hill, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder.
“The good news is that getting talent wasn’t the hard part,” Kirshner said.
In fact, getting the best performance out of big-time acts runs in Kirshner’s blood – his dad is Don Kirshner, the legendary rock producer and promoter.
But for all the flash of the inauguration, the younger Kirshner says he’ll measure his success not by how much notice he gets, but by how little.
“I always like to say that if you see me on TV,” Kirshner said, “there is something seriously wrong.”

All the theatrics, and a ‘killer speech,’ too

Las Vegas Sun - It was a dramatic story with compelling characters who read great dialogue and snapped out their lines on gorgeous sets.

That’s Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University scholar of the history of television, describing last week’s Democratic National Convention.

And Thompson isn’t joking. In the modern era, political conventions must be judged on whether they make for good television, and by most accounts, the Democrats set a new standard last week, using imagery, music and words to great effect.

“Any old vaudevillian would applaud the production,” Thompson said.

First, the scripted story line: The Democrats’ long campaign, as well as the inscrutable personalities of Bill and Hillary Clinton, created dramatic tension, as the pundits wondered whether they would give full-throated endorsements to Sen. Barack Obama….

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Producer ready for Denver’s Super Bowl of politics

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Producer Ricky Kirshner knows how to put on a big show. After handling the Super Bowl, a NATO summit and four national political conventions, he was ready for the Democratic gathering in Denver.
Then he learned that the convention starting Monday would move from the 20,000-seat Pepsi Center to 76,000-seat Invesco Field for Barack Obama’s acceptance speech on the final night, Thursday.
Kirshner’s reaction?
“After taking oxygen for about an hour …” he said, letting the punch line hang in the air before continuing. “I said to my partner, one thing we’re lucky about is that we’ve done so many stadium shows.”
This time around, it’s both timing and size that count.
There’s the issue of shifting the convention from one venue to another in one evening, and having to work around football games scheduled at Invesco within a couple days of the convention’s opening and closing.
The plan was to bring equipment into the stadium this weekend and then “caravan over” from the Pepsi Center after events wrap there Wednesday night, Kirshner said. “We’ll rehearse a little and then show up Thursday and hope to do it.”
Afterward, he has 48 hours to clear out for next Sunday’s game between the University of Colorado and Colorado State.
Kirshner considers it worth the stress.
“I have my team with me, I know what we’re getting into. It’s not easy, but at the end of the day it’s going to be one of the most historic things ever, and how can you not want to be a part of it?” Kirshner said Friday from Denver.
The event at the Pepsi Center isn’t small scale, by any measure.
About 400 people, including stagehands and technical crews, are at work as RK Productions oversees the design, installation and operation of set, light and audio systems. The company also is responsible for entertainment; even signs and banners are part of Kirshner’s portfolio.
But it’s the video displays that tend to make the biggest splash.
“Every time you do one of these, you try to do something technologically advanced that people haven’t seen before,” Kirshner said.
That was a wall of 56 video cubes at the 1992 Democratic convention. This time around, Kirshner said, the set offers some 8,000 square feet of video panels with the flexibility to provide a changing background for each speaker.
At heart, a political convention is “a big corporate meeting,” he said, which his company also routinely produces.
And no matter how dramatic the gathering or Obama’s stadium speech turns out to be from a political standpoint, as a production it won’t have the punch of, say, a Beijing Olympics ceremony.
“Their budget was a lot more than ours and they had a lot more free labor,” Kirshner said.

The Man Behind the Obama Show

forbes-imageForbes – While the nation hones in on the words of Barack Obama at next week’s Democratic National Convention, Ricky Kirshner will be focused on the lights. And the video screens. And the musical acts.
As an executive producer of next week’s heavily hyped political circus in Denver, Kirshner is in charge of energizing the Democratic Party and putting on a press-worthy production.
“It’ll be a success in my mind if all everyone is talking about after Thursday night is how great the speech was,” Kirshner says by phone from the Colorado convention site. “Because that would mean that everything else went OK.”
The DNC is a political tradition that dates back to 1832, when Democrat Martin Van Buren secured his position as running mate to incumbent president Andrew Jackson. Nearly two centuries later, the summertime spectacle is packed with political speeches, musical performances and celebrity cameos from Hollywood stars like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck.
The Denver host committee estimates the party’s four-day affair will likely cost about $60 million, which, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, is some $10 million more than the 2004 DNC.
All of this as the television ratings sag: Only 15.5 million viewers on average tuned in to the DNC in 2004, down 24% from 1992–the highest viewership since 1984–according to Nielsen Media Research. By comparison, 27 million viewers tune in to watch Fox’s American Idol on a weekly basis.
Though the only audience Kirshner says he’s concerned with is inside the convention hall–he’s quick to point out he’s employed by the DNC, rather than a broadcast network–he’s optimistic about this year’s television ratings given all of the interest that the primary race garnered. Some 15,000 media personnel are expected to attend the convention.
A production of this size and stature is nothing new for the 48-year-old son of music legend Don Kirshner. As the Emmy-winning founder of New York-based event production firm RK Productions, he’s produced everything from the Tony Awards to the Super Bowl.
This upcoming display will mark his fourth consecutive turn as a producer of the DNC, an event Kirshner first got a taste for back in 1976. A family friend had been in charge of security at the time and offered him, then just 16-years-old, a job as a page.
“I still have my blue page jacket with all of the pins and buttons on it,” he says. “My wife tried to throw it out but I hid in the back of the closet.”
Now, 32 years later, Kirshner has a staff of 400 to 500 people, including stagehands and production crew, to make sure the four-day, two-location event comes off. The New York-based producer has been working on the production for over a year, living in Denver since July 9.
Kirshner has been joined throughout the process by co-executive producer Mark Squier, a veteran political consultant who worked on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. Thus far, he’s been pleased with the partnership and the kind of balance it provides. Kirshner says Squier offers the political knowledge he lacks, leaving him to focus on the entertainment side of the event.
“Sometime they’ll be talking about a politician, and I honestly have no idea who they are,” he admits. “All of the politicos in the room look at me like I’m crazy, but, you know, I know production, and that’s all that matters.”
With less than a week left, Kirshner is busy making sure everything from the stage design, to the audio, to the lighting is in place. Unlike the seven-minute load time he was permitted during the Super Bowl halftime show, he and Squier will have had three weeks to get the Pepsi Center ready. (Thursday’s acceptance speech at nearby 75,000-seat Invesco Field will be more last minute, since there is a Broncos game the weekend before.)
While Kirshner won’t yet divulge the musical acts or other convention highlights, he says the event is bound to be a splash. And if it isn’t, you’ll know.
“If you see me on TV,” he warns, “something went wrong.”