Accounting for Media in the Production Schedule—Part 2
This blog series offers a multi-disciplinary approach to achieve the best practices for collaboration in the creative and production process of incorporating digital media into live performance.
Depending on the type of design, the look may come together more in the theatre, than in finished assets delivered before tech. So, as the master scheduler, you need to know your production. Is the media design mainly about creating pre-recorded movies? If it is, firsts, seconds, and finals are more reasonable to require. However, please note it is extremely rare that a pre-recorded movie is not tweaked somehow during tech. I can’t remember the last time I made a movie and it was in the final form without any changes after the finals due date before tech. If the media design mainly involves live compositing of elements, then seeing firsts, seconds, and finals are not going to happen. Why? In this instance, media is more like lighting. Everything will be composited together in the theatre on the actual set in conjunction with all the other elements.
So, unless you are a big Broadway show, a touring production, are paying insanely well, or have a crazy long schedule, you won’t see the final until you are in the theatre. Maybe it’s just the word finals. It means, well, final, complete, and no more changes. But this is never the case. So, let’s redefine finals. Let’s think about finals as the assets you need to program the show for playback. Let’s agree that these are going to change. Let’s agree that the director might see a “final” of three parts of a sequence, but won’t see the final version until they are all composited together in the theatre.
Below are some common elements most media designs share, to help you break down the schedule and determine how much time things take once you get into the theatre. Note these time frames are estimates and vary a great deal, because everything is dependent on what you are trying to achieve and the complexity of the design. It is vital to discuss these items with your designer and come up with a time estimate based on the actual design. It might be a good idea to then allocate an additional 10 to 20 percent of additional time per item.
So, let’s redefine finals. Let’s think about finals as the assets you need to program the show for playback. Let’s agree that these are going to change.
We are talking about more then projectors and a computer for playback. We are talking about the potential of multiple computers, multiple projectors, LED walls, sensors, media servers and routing computing networks for all the gear to be able to communicate. This is time when video signals are run, networks are configured, projectors are focused, etc. The more complex the system, the more time needed to set up. So, you have to know your show and the system.
- Time: Ten to thirty-six hours of work light/semi-dark time for system set-up, depending on complexity and the number of crew. At least one hour of dark time for projector focus.
Are there multiple projectors that are stacked to double the brightness of an image? Are there multiple projectors that are blended together to create one larger image? Is the set curved? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then there will be additional dark time needed. This can’t happen until scenic has installed the projection surface(s), so make sure to plan accordingly.
- Time: Two to ten hours of dark time, maybe more, depending on complexity and the media server.
- Personnel: Designer and/or Associate/Assistant designer and/or a programmer.
- Additional Gear Needed: Wireless headphones – so the person at the media server can talk to whoever is near the projection surface easily without yelling. This also allows others to work in the space.
Is content going to be mapped onto a particular surface of the set? If so, we need to create masks and/or map surfaces.
- Time: Two to twenty hours of dark time, depending on complexity of the set and the media server.
Once all the above work is done, we can now program the media server to create cues. Some of this work can be done before we enter the theatre, but the majority of it, depending on the show, the server and the complexity, happens in the theatre.
- Time: Eight to thirty plus hours of dark time (can be shared with lighting/sound time) before Cue-to-Cue, depending on complexity and the media server. Remember, the less time you give a designer to write cues before cue-to-cue and tech, the more waiting around everyone will be doing.
This is often the most overlooked area of media design by the PM department. Why? Other departments have established workflow and personnel. Most theatres have a staff Master Electrician, Technical Director, Props Master, Seamstresses, etc. However, most theatres do not have a dedicated Media Technician. When a LD designs a show, the theatre usually provides an ME, a board programmer/operator and electricians to hang and focus. If they don’t, the designer needs to know up front if they are hanging and programming their own show. The Media Designer needs to know as well.
For most shows other than Broadway, touring, and large budget productions, the Media Designer is often also installing the system and programming the show, and teaching a board operator how to run the show. All of this is in addition to creating and designing content and often there isn’t a budget for an Associate or Assistant Designer. As a Production Manager, you need to make the needs of your production explicit to the designer because it radically affects your schedule if there is a department of one or five. If the designer is installing the system and programming the show, that means they aren’t designing. So, their time to design becomes compressed.
May the scheduling gods be on your side.
Up Next: Media Design and the Director