Month: August 2017

Ellen Boener Q & A

Jeremy Railton speaks to Ellen Boener.

JEREMY: Ellen I am so happy to have someone as highly qualified as you working at EDC to herd the cats and keep us all in line. As you are a director I hope you will not get bored managing the office. What were your motives for accepting the job?

ELLEN: I could never be bored while I’m learning about the industry I love. And as far as cats go, you’re the happiest ones I ever had the pleasure to herd. I cannot wait to learn about the inner workings of EDC. Understanding the business end of entertainment is crucial to being a successful artist. This company is working on a scale I never dreamed I would be. I mean the scale of production and spectacle as well as international scope. As someone who grew up around the world, global thinking is a part of who I am but I have struggled to make it a part of my life as a director. Theme Park and Concert Design are totally new territory for me. Working for EDC exposes me to whole new facets of live performance and design. I’m just excited to be apart of this company and contribute however I can.

JEREMY: Where were you born?

ELLEN: I was born in the U.S. Naval Hospital of Yokosuka, Japan. My father served in the military for over 20 years. My sister, mother, and I traveled around the world with him. I have yet to return to Japan and it is my dearest ambition to go back one day as an adult. The fun thing about being born across the dateline from the United States is that I get a year older the day before my legal birthday.

JEREMY: Did you get support from your parents when you said you wanted to go into the creative arts as a profession?

ELLEN: My parents have been incredibly supportive. And it’s lucky they are, not just for my sake; my older sister, Kathy, also works in the entertainment industry. She is a stage and production manager working in NYC. My parents raised two fiercely independent and resilient young women. Kathy and I like to joke that they regret it now since we have run off to the opposite ends of the United States. My mother always told me to do what I loved and the money would follow. Wishful thinking for the mother of an artist. The critical lesson she and my father also passed on was to work hard and work well, whatever the field. They have their concerns about the stability of an arts career but rather than discourage me, they taught me to work harder and roll with the punches. They gave me the tools to succeed how I wanted rather than forcing me to succeed in their way.

JEREMY: What was your education? How has it helped you and has it proved useful to move your career forward? The reason I asked because I studied Fine Art and became a scenic designer.

ELLEN: I graduated from Florida State University with majors in Theatre, Creative Writing, and International Affairs. The thing about arts education is that no amount of training outweighs practical experience. Putting together a production and creating something for yourself is how you hone your skills, even while in school. Florida State was a great environment for me because I was forced to balance academics with practice. There was a vibrant community of independent “bootstrap” theatre that trained me think outside the box even when the box was all I had to work with. I plan to return to graduate school for directing but that is a few years off.

JEREMY: I noticed many directing credits on your CV can you tell us how you got your first directing job?

ELLEN: As a young director, my age can be a huge barrier. Many theatre directors can’t make directing their primary career until their thirties, if ever. Knowing this, I chose to take matters into my own hands. Rather than waiting for someone to hire me, I hired myself. Along side another young director, Liam Collier, I pulled together what few resources we had (including my car, our belongings, and our personal savings) and wrote, produced, performed, marketed, and directed our first professional production. It was an immersive, interactive theatre piece written for three audience members. Car Play, as the name implies, took place entirely in and around my 2004 Chevy Impala. The audience was literally strapped in for the ride as we drove and performed on the streets of Berkeley and Oakland. We sold out our run and added additional performances. We even made a few extra bucks by the closing night. Here’s our blurb in the SF Chronicle!

JEREMY: In a moment of sheer ambition and limitless dreams what sort of a credit would make you so happy? Also describe the fantasy project?

ELLEN: I would love to write a story that brought the world together. I can’t be more specific because I have no clue what kind of story could do that. I would love to share a moment with the world and for that moment we see something new in each other, across language, across culture. Maybe a book? Maybe film? Maybe a sculpture? I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.

JEREMY: Are you strategizing your career or are you letting the path unfold?

ELLEN: I like to say that my only five-year goal is to be financially stable enough to adopt a dog so I wouldn’t say I have a strict game plan. That’s not to say that I don’t have goals. I am driven to a fault. I am determined to become a working director and a pillar of the entertainment community. However, I also acknowledge that that the only factor of my life I have total control over is myself. My strategy is to apply myself as best I can to any opportunity that avails itself. Even if it is just one step towards my goal I am still moving in the right direction. There are many paths to success and I prefer to explore them practically.

JEREMY: Share with us any of your favorite jobs please. Tell us what made you like it so much. When I am often asked this question my answer is that they are all my favorites while I am giving my all, its only after I review the job after completion I always see ways that I could have done better!!

ELLEN: I am proud of all of my projects individually and for different reasons. My desire to create comes from authentic curiosity. I look at each project as an experiment where I can test new theories and learn something about the directing process. Car Play was an exercise in working within my means and jumping into professional directing. It was exciting to be in front of the audience again and in the wilderness of professional theatre. I love working in intimate settings where you can really feel the electricity between the actors and the audience, like on my productions of The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco or my original show, An Evening With, that I built in my one-bedroom apartment for 13 audience members. I was also extremely proud of an immersive production that I built alongside 11 actors and overtook an entire building, called THE911. That was the first piece of its scale to be performed at Florida State University and the response was tremendous. We had people breaking into the performance because we sold out so quickly. Regardless of how audiences react to my shows, it’s really the technicians and actors that make me feel good about a production. Hearing an actor or stage manager say they can’t wait to work with me again is the greatest compliment I have ever received.

JEREMY: Is there anything that you would like your new family at EDC to know about you?

ELLEN: At this moment I have only been in Los Angeles for 25 days. I got my first email from the EDC on my seventh day in the city. By the end of next week I was in the office. EDC became my home before I had a chance to feel homesick. I will never stop being grateful for this incredible opportunity. I want to learn as much as I can about design and production while I am here. Any chance to shadow design or creative work would be make my day.

JEREMY: Welcome to EDC you are pioneering a position that we have not offered before so we will need all of your writing, organization and directing skills to keep us all on time and in line!!

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Teena Sauvola Q & A

Jeremy Railton speaks to Teena Sauvola.

JEREMY: Hi Teena! You have been working here for a couple of weeks and apart from your incredible work, your positive energy is a huge asset in our offices, so thank you.

TEENA: No, thank you! It means the world to me that you’ve given me an opportunity.

JEREMY: When did you first hear about EDC?

TEENA: When I was finishing up my Disney Internship in Orlando and moving out to LA my bosses Mark Hervat and Guy Petty were recommended some companies that I could look in to. One of them mentioned EDC and I started doing some research.

JEREMY: What made you attracted to our company?

TEENA: Right from the start, I was drawn to the fact that you were a smaller team. I think it usually leads to better collaboration when you can become close with your creative teammates. EDC ‘s wide variety of projects was also a key factor in reaching out to this company. I come from a theatre background, but I’m yearning to investigate all types of storytelling, so that was a must for me.

JEREMY: I see you have two degrees in design would you tell us about that process?

TEENA: I started off at Viterbo University in LaCrosse WI as an actor, mostly because I had no idea design and technology had professions I could pursue! I quickly became hooked on the design and production side of theatre. After undergrad, I was a scenic charge painter for a while, mixed in with other smaller jobs. I waited roughly 5 years to go back to graduate school after that. I was dying to get back in the academic saddle again. After attending URTA’s, I had a great conversation with University of Texas at Austin and signed up to tackle the next three years of intense study with them. Graduate school is not for everyone, but I absolutely needed it. It was, truly, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

JEREMY: Did you have a favorite professor and why?

TEENA: This is by far the hardest question you’ve asked! Professors, teachers, and mentors are the reason I am here today. While at UT Austin, Richard Isackes changed my entire prospective on design theory. Bill Bloodgood was my tough love professor, who I could always count on to give me an honest opinion. Susan Mickey gave the best feedback. I TA’d under Karen Maness and watched her write (along with Richard) The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop while simultaneously teaching classes, painting all of UT’s shows, and dealing with a whole slew of personal surprises. It was inspiring to watch. Not to mention, many professors from my undergrad who helped me in the beginning. Shout out to my Viterbo Professors! Collectively they are the reason I am where I am.

JEREMY: You have been out freelancing on some impressive jobs can you talk a little about your expectations while you were at college and how you found the experience on the outside? Do you think that the colleges gave you adequate preparation for life on the outside?

TEENA: My expectations about the real world after school were not that different from what I experienced. Most people and companies just want you to show up on time, do your work, and be pleasant to work around. That seemed easy enough. Did college prepare me? It made me more confident, a better artist and collaborator and, ultimately, a better storyteller. So yes, in that since, I feel prepared. However, no school is going to give you every tool you need, especially with fast changing technology. I definitely took some online courses to round out the rest of those skills.

JEREMY: We have a lot of Next Gen readers who are still in school and just starting out. Since your struggles and experiences are still fresh do you have anything to say to them?

TEENA: I know it sounds cheesy, but if you can dream it, you can do it, but hard work is the other factor in that equation. There were many nights of blood, sweat, and tears. Yes, literally blood. Exacto knives tend to be extra sharp at 3am! Also- apply, apply, apply! I’ve known people who wanted to work for Disney and I discovered they never turned in an application. They often think they are not good enough. Newsflash—we’ve all thought we were not good enough at some point! How do you expect to get your dream job if you never even let them know you’re interested? One of my favorite sayings is by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Let someone else tell you you’re not ready and then get back to work.

JEREMY: What would be your dream credit if you looked into a limitless future?

TEENA: I would say a Production Designer on a feature film with lots of world building and visual development or a Creative Director for a new land in a theme park.

JEREMY: What was your early inspiration for deciding to go into the design arts. Was it a play, a movie, or…?

TEENA: I would design my own LEGO houses and set up entire village scenes for my toys. I once convinced all of the neighborhood kids to draw life size ground plans of our dream houses in sidewalk chalk on our street. I was also inspired by a behind-the-scenes featurette for Jurassic Park that showcased Stan Winston Studios making dinosaur animatronics and I was in awe the first time I rode Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World. All of these moments were clues, but it took me a long time to realize that’s what I wanted to do- tell stories through environments.

JEREMY: Is your family artistic and did you receive encouragement to launch into this strange career that we have chosen? I still cannot explain what I do to some family members. Have you found that to be true?

TEENA: My mother has this insane knack for crazy quilting and my grandmother does a lot of painting, but other than that, not really. I didn’t always have encouragement from everyone. There were some tears early on, but I knew its what I wanted to do. I’ve always sort of felt like I was the black sheep who ran away with the circus. It’s better now. I agree though, I can explain my career until I’m blue in the face, but I can see they still have no clue. Hahaha! They smile and nod and think of me when they go to Disney World and that’s all I can ask.

JEREMY: What would you like you new family at EDC to know about you?

TEENA: Brainstorming/ concept meetings are my favorite part of what we do. I’ve been complimented on my ability to lead conversations to discover the best ideas. I’m often not afraid to say the bad idea in order to get to the good idea. Whether that be for a new project or reorganizing a shelf in the office, I’m your girl.

JEREMY: Welcome to EDC!

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Designer's Notebook: Tale of Two Screens

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jrEDC’s Founder and Chairman, Jeremy Railton, pulls back the curtain to give readers a rare glimpse into his creative mind in this personal blog, DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK.

DESIGNER’S NOTEBOOK shares Jeremy’s creative evolution through a series of intimate anecdotes, ‘scar-tissue’ tips, and the practical wisdom acquired from over 40+ years of entertainment design.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Screens

THE FREMONT STREET EXPERIENCE AND THE SKY SCREEN IN BEJING

From architectural projection mapping to AR (augmented realty) and VR (virtual reality), my work has always depended on the ability to embrace innovative technologies and find creative ways to integrate them into my design DNA.

In 1993 I was right in the middle of doing a lot of designing for MTV which had revolutionized the music industry, creating stars like Madonna and Cindy Lauper. One of those jobs was to design the first MTV movie awards for producer Joel Gallen. The budgets were low and I was always searching for ways to bring life to the stage.

It was before the big LED screens—the digital age was just developing momentum—so I started using TV monitors and TV screens balanced around the stage, even though the content was video feedback and stills.

This was my design inspiration and creative landscape when I met and became friendly with the visionary architect, Jon Jerde, a leaders of the urban renewal movement and creator of the ‘placemaking’ concept. Jon was one of the first urban planners to successfully rehab failed down town areas that had been abandoned for suburban living in the late 70s.

Fremont Street, at one time the main drag of Las Vegas, had suffered this same fate, as the “Strip” moved to Las Vegas Blvd, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul, representing a consortium of Fremont Street casinos and the City of Las Vegas, had engaged Jon to work his rehab magic.

Jerde’s vision was to turn the four city blocks into a 1400-foot pedestrian walkway covered by a barrel vault, 90-feet high and 125-feet wide. His intension was to create a floating Sky Parade to be suspended from the canopy and he hired me to come up with a cool innovative concept in what was at that time the brightest and flashiest street in the world.

I went through a series of ideas, all following along the typical parade concepts and none of which I liked. My dilemma was that I would have to turn off the lights of the most colorful street in the world in order to push a light parade which I suspected would never be as bright and colorful, especially in those days. None of my ideas made any sense. My last ditch attempt was to design a giant Mylar inflatable that would occupy the underside of the vault, reflecting all of the lights.

ABANDONED LIGHT PARADE CONCEPTS

After more than a few weeks of worrying about building something that had to remain interesting for all time in “Glitter Gulch” as it was known, I had the thought: “it should be a TV screen; then we can run shows.” The penny dropped that I should build a theater and not a show. It was a scary idea but I presented it to Jon and David Rogers, his principal architect. They looked interested but concerned. Jon floated the idea past Steve Wynn who was skeptical but I persisted, trying to persuade them to give the project a green light.

One day Jerde called and said Steve Wynn was coming to town and we could present our concept in a last ditch attempt to convince him. Coincidentally, my friend Mark Fisher, the brilliant English designer happened to be in town, conceiving the Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge Tour. Knowing that Jerde and Wynn were huge Stones fans, I invited Mark to come and meet them at my presentation and if he liked my concept, help me convince them to approve the project.

Mark and I went to the meeting and I introduced him to Wynn and Jerde before I did my arm-waving, pleading presentation. When I finished, everyone turned to Mark, the greatest rock and roll designer of the era. Looking more like a very grand science professor, he blinked and in his typical dry British manner said, “You would be absolutely mad if you don’t do it!” Their response was immediate. “Yes… well… of course we are going to do it.” And that was it!

We met with Yesco, an electric sign company, who said they could do it with an RGB system composed of 2.1 million incandescent bulbs. I assembled a group of friends, hired a ‘garage band’ of animators and proceeded to develop the first shows. We divided the length of the overhead barrel vault into six basic screens that would link together, using computer software, so that it appeared to be one screen. Our ‘digital revolution’ studio had six 15-inch screens, each with its own computer that would output AFI files. When we got to Las Vegas, the files took twelve hours to down load.

All the interested parties—Steve Wynn, his friends and family, the Fremont Street casino owners and the Mayor of Las Vegas—were anxious to see our progress, which was nerve wracking because no one had ever done anything like it and quite often there were big surprises as we stitched the six screens together.

I have one painful memory from that time, more out of empathy for Steve than anything else. One of the six big screen images was a huge eagle flying along the length of Fremont Street on a bright blue sky background. The eagle made its path down the canopy without a glitch and everyone looked to Steve who turned to me and said “Goddam Jeremy you said the background was going to be blue and it’s black!” Steve had a degenerative eye disease and I realized that it had progressed to the point that he couldn’t distinguish colors, but I didn’t think it was my place to point it out. I looked at his friends and family for help but no one would catch my eye. I gulped and said, “I’m so sorry, Steve, it must be a computer glitch.” In spite of the humiliation at being shouted at in front of everyone, I just felt his frustration and the tragedy that here was a man who had a vision for the city and was fulfilling it, but was going blind in the process so that he could never really see the wonderful world that he had inspired.

Initial Fremont Street Storyboards

When the Fremont Street Experience opened, it was an overnight sensation, reversing the economic decline of Fremont Street and it has been a resounding success ever since with attendance numbers in the millions. (In 2004, the RGB system was removed and replaced with the 12.5 million LEDs that we have today.)

Assuming that my worries about the next job were over and clients would be rushing to give me big screen and media jobs, I waited for the phone to ring. Crickets..! Evidently the ticket price was too high, I told myself. When the Fremont Street Experience won the Themed Entertainment Association’s award for Best Attraction, I waited for the phone to ring… More crickets!

A SKY SCREEN FOR BEIJING

Ten years later, the phone finally rang! It was a Singapore agent referred to me by the Fremont Street organization. He represented a Chinese real estate developer looking for an upgrade of the Fremont Street screen that would be the biggest screen in Asia.

The Sky Screen, as it was called, was to be the main attraction of The Place, a new mixed-use retail center in Beijing’s central business district. It would be suspended six stories high (80-feet) above an 820-foot plaza between two new high end retail centers and two 23-story office towers. The schedule called for a grand opening in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

The client had very little money, the agent said, and asked me to give him a good deal, which I did because I was thrilled to make something new and exciting. I designed an LED screen that curved down the street with different viewing opportunities and finally shot up the side of a building to become a Beijing icon in the air.

When I submitted the designs, the client seemed happy. I was paid and waited for the phone to ring, excited to begin the next phase. It never rang! I tried to contact the client by way of a registered letter and it was returned, so I gave up and moved on.

A year later the phone finally rang. It was the developer of The Place. “Jeremy please come to Beijing. We need help!” I was so excited that I jumped on the next plane, thrilled to see the progress of the giant screen that twisted and turned through the retail zone. I hurried to the site when I landed and was horrified to see the underside of the biggest dining room table in the world. The developer dismissed my horror with a shrug; “Budget cuts,” he explained.

As part of my original concept package, I had done story boards for five different shows and they now wanted me to direct and supervise production of the media.

At our first meeting, with twelve executives chain smoking, around their giant conference table, they asked me for all sorts of CGI’s and full illustrations. I explained that with the low fee they had paid me that would not be possible. Incredulous, the Chairman looked at me and said, “For three hundred thousand dollars you can’t do a few renderings?” “I think you mean forty thousand,” I replied. Very quickly we discovered that the agent had taken his fee and most of mine. Their response was “Ha-ha… you’re a bad business man!” and promptly fired the agent. When I left for the airport, they felt so sorry for ‘the bad business man’ that they stuffed my pockets with thirty thousand dollars in cash. (The cash cheered me up and I realized that doing business in Asia is like a game of Mahjong.

THE BLESSING

For the premier show, The Blessing, I developed a series of story boards and a script that began with the flight of red and yellow dragons, representing fortune and power, and progressed though images of Olympic hopefuls, Chinese hip hop, Kung Fu, fireworks, and the largest image ever created of The Great Wall. People on the street below also experience the four seasons, from gently falling peach blossoms of spring to lightning strikes and thunderstorms of winter.

Because of the huge scale of the Sky Screen, I realized that the action had to be treated like an arena or stadium show. The challenge was to drive the narrative with music and images moving at real-time speed in a show that was no more than ten minutes in length. It was exciting developing the media with five different Chinese companies, from small independents to CCTV, the giant broadcasting corporation.

 

The Red Dragon Flies Down The Sky Screen
Original Sky Screen Story Boards

Before I arrived, the problem with the media had been that the companies did not understand the visual ‘grammar’ for an overhead viewing experience and had approached the project as if they were designing for a proscenium movie screen. From creating the shows for Fremont Street, I had discovered that the conventions of film and TV editing don’t work when the spectator is looking up. A dissolve transition, for example, doesn’t make visual sense on the big overhead screen; all entrances and exits had to be on and off from the edges of the screen to emulate large scale live events.

The companies were slow to get it but eventually they understood and embraced the technique.

My two favorite original shows were an underwater scene with full scale whales (still) and a CCTV show where it appeared that the roof was made of glass and people on top were painting logos.

The best news was that the Sky Screen had all of the bells and whistles that I had originally designed: Like Fremont Street, the giant screen was composed of separate displays that could operate individually to broadcast live or televised events in the correct format.

I also built in the possibility of interactivity by including digital hook-ups on the columns so that guests had the ability to upload personal messages and photos of themselves or their friends, make engagement and wedding announcements and even compete in eSports (video game) competitions on the world’s largest video screen.

Digital Hook-Ups on Columns and Digital Technician in Control Room Post Guest Messages to Sky Screen

It is satisfying to see how far things have come since Steve Wynn first yelled at me, but It is disappointing to see that people are still building giant tables and have not pushed the screens into more fluid and imaginative shapes!