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Designer's Notebook: Television, a Love Letter

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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.

 

Television: A Love Letter

As I have been writing about my experiences designing in multiple fields—Theatre, Film, Live Shows, Themed Attractions, Music Tours—I’ve slid into a comfort zone with an ‘origin narrative’ of how my artistic inspiration seemed to flow from my roots in Central Africa, and then my anecdotal narrative would flow from there. But the easy flow of my previous blog posts screeched to a halt when I started to reflect on my work in television, and found an old resume that listed over three-hundred and fifty TV shows I had designed, spanning the gamut of Variety and Award shows, like the Oscars and Emmys, to weekly series like Peewee’s Playhouse, MTV and everything in between. Somehow along the way I have been honored to receive four Emmys.

Peewee’s Playhouse (Left) & Emmy Awards (Right)

No wonder I was floundering to recount my TV experience in a way that would have any relevance. At the rate I was going, it would be a mega-sized post with “and then I designed” between every few lines.

I started designing for Television in the mid-70s and continued through the 90s when my attention turned to Theme Parks and attractions. As I contemplated the résumé, I realized that I had spent a great part of my life designing for the ‘small screen.’

The next thought that struck me was what wonderful people I had worked with and all the fantastic friends I had made—dreamers, pragmatists, visionaries and ambitious risk-takers—all working incredibly hard, with not enough money and hardly enough time to get the shows done.

So here are a few highlights that embody the TV work ethic of team spirit and a close-knit family of creatives working toward one goal.

INSTANT TURNAROUND

A few days after 9/11, I was on a road trip in central California when I got a call from Joel Gallen, the owner of Tenth Planet, a bright, new production company. He asked if I would volunteer to design Tribute to Heroes, the 9/11 benefit concert he was directing and producing. Joel is an amazing communicator and had rounded up a willing team of volunteers to put a network special together in only four days—the fastest turn around that I have ever been part of. No time for plans or lighting plots; the show was to be shot in New York and Los Angeles and in order to accommodate the challenging schedule everything was done over the phone!

Joel’s plan was to hire an art director on each coast and the design challenge would be to make it look like one show as there was not time or money to book stars at the last minute. He had contacted my friend and design hero, LeRoy Bennett, in New York who he patched into our conversation and right about when I was driving through Bakersfield we came up with the concept of candles. By Monday we were loading in the matching sets in LA and New York and by Wednesday the show was being taped with stars like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, George Clooney and Celine Dion. One of the most stressful jobs in the entertainment field is directing a live, multi-camera show, where instant decisions of which shots to take will determine the viewer experience of the entire performance going smoothly. Miraculously, it all worked out.

Tribute to Heroes

CREW LOVE

Years before the 9/11 tribute, I had earned my TV stripes by staying awake for three nights and two days, doing a set change for Bobby Vinton’s Rock and Rollers produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. I worked through three shifts of union stage hands and really got to know and be respected by a lot of them. That friendship and respect lasted throughout my TV career and those stage hands saved my butt on many shows by putting in that extra bit of care and attention to details.

The Rock and Rollers set started as a 50s roller skating rink which was set up in a day and a night and taped the following day. That night it was taken out and we loaded in an indoor carnival park, complete with working rides. I gave myself a pat on the back for endurance and went to bed for a day!

Recently, I spoke with Greg Brunton, the lighting designer, about this experience. Greg was the first lighting designer I worked with who was my age and I loved working with him because I felt like a co-creator instead of a rookie trying to please the old guard. When I asked Greg if he remembered this show, he remembered it well: from the lighting point of view, the carnival park was set up in the wrong direction so all of his lights were pointing the wrong way and this was before moving lights! (He said that from then on, he always goes to the set during the load in day.) But in spite of all of that, no one waited for the set or lighting department.

The ‘heat’ of the short schedule was felt by every department and the show was another great example of the kind of dedication and long hours TV crews endure without even a second thought.

A LIGHTING ‘FIRST’

Speaking of Greg Brunton, he and I shared a ‘technical first.’ In the early 90s, I found myself designing the main stage for the second season of In Living Color, a sketch comedy series, and Greg was the Lighting designer.

I had been working with a wonderful group of young guys who were doing lights for clubs. Lowell Fowler was one of the innovators of High End Systems, their Texas-based lighting company, and we became friendly. Lowell and his partners were inventive and very proactive and I fell in love with their little moving club lights, having come from the world of Scoops and Lekos that were TV’s common fare. Whenever I mentioned Lowell’s moving club lights, lighting designers would say that the throw was too short, so when I designed the Living Color home base set, with the Watts towers as inspiration, I eliminated long lighting throws and suggested that Greg take a look at Lowell’s lights. Greg never hesitated and installed them in the home base set, so we credit ourselves with being the first to introduce moving lights to TV’s lighting DNA and certainly for being at the forefront of the fabulous rise or High End Systems, which went on to pioneer many lighting innovations.

Home base set for Living Color

MY TV MENTORS

I started my TV career after a television set designer, James Trittipo, bought some of my paintings from an exhibit and hired me as his assistant for a Broadway production of On the Town. After that job was over he recommended me to Rene Lagler, a brilliant young designer, who was the art director for Glen Campbell’s Good Time Hour, a music and comedy variety show that was being taped at CBS at the same time as the Sonny and Cher and the Carol Burnett show.

Jeremy, Rene & Bob Checchi (Left) & Gift from Rene: My fist drawing for Glen Campbell’s show (Right)

I was a theater designer and knew nothing about television—I didn’t even have a portfolio, just a folder full of Doc Martins water colors, but miraculously Rene saw something in my work and hired me. (He kept my first sketches and recently he gave the drawing to me that he had kept beautifully framed for thirty years.)

Popes and presidents have walked on Rene’s perfect stage geometry—clean, simple designs with Swiss precision and minute attention to detail. Renee taught me to draft and literally mentored me for a year, giving me the greatest gift of my career, the benefit of his knowledge and of his mentor, Jay Krause. I had some wonderful experiences as Rene’s Art Director for the 57th Academy Awards and the ’84 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and have always taken great pride in having been mentored by him. If ever there was  an ambassador of design it’s Rene Lagler!

DESIGNING FOR CAMERA

Speaking of stage geometry, I was taught a huge design lesson by a cameraman. It was my second award show and at that time the standard award stage had two podiums, one on stage right and the other on stage left. I was battling getting good shots of the presentation podiums once the center cameras turned on them. The wide shot looked beautiful but the follow spot was kicking light off the podiums and considering that the wide shot lasts a few second at the beginning of each segment and the bulk of the time on camera was spent at the podium, I was heading for a fall.

I wish I could remember the name of that wonderful cameramen who turned to me and said, “You’re a theater designer aren’t you?” I said that I was, rather surprised that he had picked up on my background. “This is Television,” he said. “Design for what the camera sees, not the audience. The design layout should be a bicycle wheel where the two center cameras have a center line on the stage no matter where they point.” The penny dropped loudly and the problem I had been having with podiums and award shows went away forever!

MTV

Having worked in MTV as it was evolving in the 80s and early 90s, it is easy to forget that back in the day we were not inundated with hundreds of cable choices; there was no such thing as a 24-hour music channel that quickly became a global phenomenon, creating icons like Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Before MTV, I had been designing for network TV in the conventional way at the time: two cameras at a center podium, a jib on one side and sometimes a hand-held Steadicam for reverses on stage or on rare occasions a track would be laid at the back of the house. As a result, all the award shows looked alike, no matter who was on stage. My aspiration at the time was to ‘look different’, but I had given up trying to create a different look and concentrated on designing a set that told the story and represented the brand of the show.

Working with Joel Gallen in MTV was a breath of rule-breaking and anarchic fresh air. He was putting cameras in positions all over the house—backstage and in the rafters. The result was that the show looked entirely different.

This was a big breakthrough for me. I realized that scenery has a much smaller effect in changing the look of the show than finding new camera angles. Added to my list of must do’s for television design is working closely with the directors in terms of their camera shots and as I design, I’m always on the lookout for new camera positions and opportunities to tell a story in a fresh way.

MTV had an enormous impact on TV design. All the MTV producers were young and willing to take risks. I loved the freedom from the rules of network TV. Very often I would experiment with new materials and Ideas on MTV shows and then introduce them to the more conservative network conventions.

MTV Video Music Awards, ‘93 (Left) & Tower Detail from the main set (Right)

I designed the first arena MTV Awards Show set in The Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and figured out how to cope with the quantity of band performances by creating two stages.

I was also onto a new host idea for presenters. The conventional wisdom was that directors didn’t like seeing anything moving behind the presenter’s heads and I was bored! I fashioned a homemade kaleidoscope with a couple of TV monitors and mirrors that played any grabbed images on a VCR during the show. It wasn’t completely successful, but it inspired a trend of video backings behind the hosts.

My kaleidoscope invention came to a smashing end at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. During Kurt Cobain’s performance of Rape Me, his bassist threw his bass high into the air, but misjudged catching it and it landed on his head. He fell backwards, careening into the kaleidoscope.

For MTV’s Rock N’ Jock, a TV series featuring actors, musicians and professional athletes performing together, I collaborated with Andre Miripolsky, a Los Angeles pop artists and muralist. We designed a vinyl stick-on that went directly over the center basketball court in Pauley Pavilion, something that would never happen in network TV.

Rock N’ Jock vinyl stick-on

The use of TV monitors to display scenic effects on stage started with me and a few other MTV designers. Previously, I had only seen video technology used on large corporate displays, mainly to present products and information.

For the first MTV Movie Awards, produced by Joel Gallen, I deconstructed the corporate video wall structure and covered the stage with monitors.

MTV Movie Awards

As I remembered my fascination with monitors on screen I went back and looked at some of the early sets I did with the growing quantity of screens that evolved into giant screens onstage .

America’s Funniest Home Videos was the first set where I used monitors and it sparked my awareness.of using them as a useful scenic element.

America’s Funniest Home Videos!

 

More monitors…

 

Home Video Special

And more monitors…

   The World Movie Awards, Monte Carlo

 

MTV Movie Awards

I even started using multiple monitors for live bands.

What started with little monitors has now evolved in to full screen digital scenery!

LIGHTING RULES (AGAIN!)

During my entire career, I have always tried to collaborate with Lighting Designers, having learned early on that without good lighting, scenery is pointless. One of the first freelance jobs I did was Puttin’ on the Hits, a music/variety competition show featuring amateurs lip-synching to popular songs. The senior lighting designer was the legendary Bill Klages, the only lighting designer ever to be inducted into the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame. When a junior set designer meets a senior lighting designer, it is a sound tradition for the junior set designer to steps out of the way; however, I thought I was being pretty clever and designed a runway for the lip-synchers in the shape of a cross and at the end of each was a colorful postmodern archway—it was the early 80s. The set was installed and I was very pleased with the hot, trendy look until Bill walked onto the set and said “I will never get my lights passed those set pieces. Remove them.” His word was law. I removed them and designed risers for Puttin’ on the Hits!

Mood lighting for TV sets came late and these sets for The Essence Awards are the perfect example of how important lighting had become.

The Essence Awards

The set below shows how lighting, by the use of color and gobo patterns, can transform even the most basic scenic elements.

How’d They do That? (Home base set)

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE

Whilst designing for TV, I’ve had a number of ‘aha’ moments. For a show called Shangri-La Plaza, a made for TV musical comedy, I designed the set over a newly built corner mini-mall. Purposely kitschy and colorful, the set glared out on the corner of Vineland and Burbank Boulevard, complete with rotating donuts for the donut shop.

Shangri-La Plaza

On the first morning we were going to shoot, we found two police cars waiting for the donut shop to open! People were drawn to the colorful store facades and while the show was being shot, the mini-mall was completely booked with new rentals. After we struck the set, I found a newspaper interview with the disgruntled tenants who wanted the theming back.

Photo of Shangri-La set from an article in Los Angeles Times

It rang a bell and made me appreciate the value of theming retail environments, and I began to think about how I could migrate theatrical design into real estate and retail. Soon after that, Terry Dougal designed the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace and I got to design an animatronic fountain to anchor one end of the Forum.  After that, Jim Nelson hired me to design and theme The Panasonic Pavilion on Universal’s CityWalk, a new shopping and dining promenade in Hollywood, so I owe a lot to TV, including offering me a gateway into the ‘real world.’

Fountain at the Forum Shops, Caesars Palace

 

Panasonic Pavilion at City Walk

DESIGNING – FAST AND SLOW

Because of the tight schedules needed to make inflexible air dates, when I designed for TV, I learned to make quick, intuitive, do or die, decisions, but I could not help casting my eye to feature films with their lengthy schedules. The luxury of spending a day thinking about the choice of a color seemed like paradise: slower more deliberate choices versus fast and emotional decisions.

I thought I would have that opportunity when I signed on to be Production Designer on The Two Jakes, a sequel to China Town, staring Jack Nicholson.

Jake’s office set from The Two Jakes

I was wrong! The producer would yell at our team to “Stop designing all that scenery… all I need is two walls and smoke!” That didn’t work when Jack Nicholson, the actor/director, and Vilmos Zsigmond, the cinematographer, walked onto the stage and set up the shots in completely the opposite direction from the two walls and making a good point about not limiting the angles available to the camera. I got my full set, including a ceiling!

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE… ETC.

Television has come a long way in the thirty years that I have been designing–multiple HD cameras, moving lights, big screens and digital scenery–but the pressure and speed are still the order of the day: instant set branding style, instant color choices, fast renderings, overnight drafting, and the challenge of designing a show that can be built and loaded in to the existing venue on schedule makes Television set design one of the most difficult design disciplines.

AND THEN I DESIGNED…

Here is a smattering of my TV designs over the years:

Don’t forget your Toothbrush, a British Import

 

The Billboard Awards

 

The Movie Awards

 

Performance of “Black and White” at 10th MTV Music Awards (My favorite photo on the right!)

 

Elizabeth Taylor’s 60th Birthday TV Special at The Pantages Theatre

 

Radio Music Awards

 

This is Your Life

 

D. C. Follies

 

The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour

 

Dame Edna’s Hollywood

 

Ms. America Pageant

 

Ms. Universe Pageant

In this particular moment there are so many incredibly talented television set designers that it is a joy to be able to stand back and see how this art form has evolved!


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!


Designer's Notebook: Costumes

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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.

 

 

 

COSTUMES

FROM ZIMBABWE TO HOLLYWOOD

On my parents’ farm in Rhodesia, before it was Zimbabwe, there was a trading store, the only one for a twenty mile radius, so we tried to supply all the needs of the local community. On the verandah of the store there were two tailors who made clothes on their pedal-powered Singer sewing machines.

This was Stallion Sibanda and his sewing machine. He was also the farm’s ‘gun man’ whose responsibility it was to shoot Kudu to provide meat for the workers. The other tailor was Godwil.

 

They were also the district news-gatherers and for a six-year-old, this was the place to find out about births, deaths, and animal sightings—the Facebook of the 50s. Just to divert for a moment to appreciate our isolation at the time, world news came from a radio (called a wireless) and the local tribespeople would come in and sit on the ground in front of the radio to listen to the BBC broadcast services, punctuated with all of the whistles and beeps that usually come from a ham radio.  Whenever the announcer signed on or off, the tribes people would clap their hands and murmur polite ‘hellos’ and ‘good byes’ in Ndebele, the local language.

 

This is an approximation of our store, including the Raleigh Bike metal poster that showed the advantage of owning a bike because you could outdistance a Lion!

If I was not running around in the bush with my Ndebele friends, I was hanging around the trading store. Knowledge comes from strange places! It is here that I learned about costumes. There was a Lozwe tribe living across the river that had a legacy of brushes with Arab slave traders in the 1800s. The women would file their teeth to points to be less desirable to the slave traders. When they were first contacted by missionaries who seemed to take their side, the Lozwe women adapted their costumes to echo the missionary style of the late 1800s.   Their dresses were made from pleated blue print cotton fabric, called German Print, and the skirts had a bustle in the back made of twenty-three yards of material.

I remember being fascinated by the way the fabric swayed as the women carried baskets or cans of grain on their heads. Looking back, it was that vision that triggered my inner costume designer—that and watching the tailors carefully pleat yards and yards of material with blue soap. We were cash-poor farmers so both my sister and my Mum made their own clothes. Quite often they would ask me to draw up their ideas for dresses. Here is a dress that they designed for my sisters sweet sixteen party. She would be allowed to wear lipstick and high heels. I was nine when I painted this. My sister was given some fabric paint and soon every collar, every skirt, and every napkin and handkerchief was magically transformed by a painted theme, usually animals or flowers, and when I went to boarding school, I continued to develop my craft by making costumes for the school plays.

My sister and mother described this dress to me and I drew it as it was described. It was my first real costume sketch, although I enjoyed copying illustrations. I did this at age 8—I guess the costume writing was already on the wall!

My first school play, “The signing of the Magna Carta. “ I painted the insignias on the Lords’ costumes. My costume design career had begun!

Later at University of Cape Town, my childhood sweetheart, Winnie Ayliffe, a farmer’s daughter who had a very similar childhood to mine, came from Zimbabwe and started a very successful modeling career. Through Winnie, I was exposed to modeling and because we had very little money, we resorted to fashioning our clothes. I took thrift store suits from the 40s and cut them down and adapted my Grandfather’s Boar War jacket. Winnie made her dresses that in the case of the white one I painted and we made the fan out of gathered bush Ostrich feathers!

Our adventures in fashion got us noticed and set me off on a cycle of fashion trends for the rest of my life.

1963 cut-down jeans and some less than successful modeling outfits!

Following fashion trends whilst always trying to be ahead of the curve gave me the confidence to say ‘yes’ whenever an opportunity to design costumes was offered. I even had my hair dyed in rainbow colors using flax dye, inspired by a painting I had done. My trendy haircutter, Denny, at Sweeney Todd’s on Beecham Place in London, got the dye from his father who was in the flax business. He dyed Zandra Rhodes hair purple as it still is to this day!

In 1969, when Gordon Davidson, the Artistic Director of the Center Theater Group at the Mark Taper Forum and the director, Lamont Johnson, brought me to Los Angeles to design sets and props for Christopher Isherwood’s adaptation of a George Bernard Shaw novella, The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God, somehow I talked them into letting me do the costumes.

It all went well because I had met and become friendly with Al Nickels and Lilly Fonda at Western Costume, the venerable Hollywood costume warehouse that had been in business since the days of silent movies. Al ran the women’s department and Lilly was the head cutter and fitter. In ’69, I was a long-haired London fashionista, and later I found out that they thought I was cool because when I signed a contract in front of them, I had to take off all of the rings on my fingers to be able to hold a pen.

Al and Lilly took me under their wings and became my ‘costume Mum and Dad.’  Al’s friend from school was Patty Ziegfeld, daughter of the great Broadway impresario, so I had a fast education about the Ziegfeld Follies, hanging on every word of Patty’s costume stories. Lilly guided me through fabric choices and showed me what it meant to cut on the bias and how to make costumes move (flash back to the Lozwe women.)

ADVENTURES OF THE BLACK GIRL IN HER SEARCH FOR GOD

I designed sets and costumes for two more plays at the Mark Taper. Aubrey Beardsley the Neophyte had a very small costume budget, so I came up with a solution by copying Beardsley’s illustrations onto cut-out cardboard costumes that the actors had to hold in front of them.

I was also asked to design the costumes for Isherwood’s A Meeting by the River, the story of how he and his life partner, the portrait artist, Don Bachardy, met. This assignment made me realize that costume design didn’t attract me unless I could be extravagant in some way.

Through Al and Lilly, I met the most successful costume designers of the day, including Dorothy Jeakins and Theadora Van Runkle who taught me the importance of sketching accurately, whether it was the mood of the costume or the structure. I also had several evening with Al, Lilly and their friend, Edith Head who had become the most prominent Hollywood costume designer of the 50s through brilliant sketches (famously done by sketch artists.)

Sketches by Dorothy Jeakins and Theodora Van Runkle

A BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: MAE WEST AND CECIL BEATON

Mae West had a starring role in Myra Breckinridge, based on Gore Vidal’s satirical novel. It was being filmed at Paramount, next door to Western Costumes and Al and Lilly invited me to meet her when she came for a fitting.  What followed was my first and most important lesson as to how vital a costume is to creating a character.

The Western lobby was emptied for Ms. West’s arrival and a small group of us stood in a greeting line. A white limo pulled up to the front and a large muscle man jumped out and held the door open for the legendary star.  A tiny little old lady, in a khaki rain coat and a short-brimmed fabric hat pulled over her eyes, waddled out. She passed us by with her head down, sort of gesturing. I was so disappointed!  Lilly went into the dressing room and ten minutes later brought us into the fitting room. There was Mae West in a huge hat, tall and elegant in a floor-length gown. She held her hand out to me and said “Oh, young man, where have you been all my life.” She had gone from a little old lady to movie icon in the flash of a costume change. Incidentally, her height came from standing on a box beneath her dress!

Civic Light Opera was putting on a production of My Fair Lady with costumes by Cecil Beaton, who had done the costumes for the original Broadway production and won an Academy Award for the film. Beaton didn’t want to come to LA, so it was suggested that I become his assistant and so I flew to London to meet him.

I felt like a farm boy in his incredible Kensington apartment as he looked me over, literally, and said, “I suppose you will do; they all seem to like you.” He handed me a bunch of sketches and said. “Use these.  I don’t like Lisa’s ball gown. Make another design, would you?” Gulp..! He followed with the best advice ever for costume design.  “Just because a design looks good on paper it does not mean it will look good on the body. Design to the body not to the paper!” The meeting took an hour and I was winging back to LA.  I was suddenly Cecil Beaton’s assistant.  It all went off well and I even designed Lisa’s Ball gown under the close supervision of Lilly Fonda!

ON THE JOB TRAINING

I was introduced to Miles White, a famous costume designer who had done the costume design for the original Broadway productions of Oklahoma and Carousel. He was doing the costumes for a Los Angeles Civic Light Opera production of 1491, with music/lyrics by Meredith (The Music Man) Wilson, and he needed an assistant.   At the end of his career, his drinking was getting in the way so one of my jobs was to get as much information from him about his extremely loose costume sketches before “martini time” which began at 11 AM! Soon after, he became slightly incoherent but always sweet and so I had to quickly learn how to organize and administer costumes for a production. Supported by the most famous costume house in the world at that time, I pulled it off and was then given another amazing opportunity.

When I was brought to the US, I was given an indefinite work visa with open entry and was not aware how lucky I was as I wandered the world, living in Rome and London. I mixed with a fashionable set and brushed shoulders with designers like Zandra Rhodes, Tommy Nutter and Michael Fish who were my fashion influences at the time. Between jobs, I painted and even had a show at a gallery in Los Angeles where I wore a gift from Tommy Nutter, a suit he originally designed for John Lennon.

Back in Los Angeles, I worked for David Josephs and Warren Enter, the managers of Angel, a glam rock band that came on the heels of Kiss. It was an exciting time; I had the opportunity to design the full package: sets for the tour, the album cover and of course their costumes and it was here that I learned the great advantage of collaborating with musicians who inevitably have very strong opinions about their own look. By collaborating with them, we were able to explore amazingly esoteric looks that they felt they owned.

I even had a trip to Africa to visit my parents who had sold the farm and who now owned a private game park adjacent to the Khami Ruins, the former site of a fourteenth century civilization. I was helping my parents by designing my first master plan for an eco-tourist center when I received a call from my friend, Kenny Solms. He was producing Three Girls, an NBC musical series starring Mimi Kennedy, Ellen Foley, and Debbie Allen. Kenny invited me to design the sets and costumes but he needed me to start immediately! I stopped feeding the ostriches and making roads and in two days I found myself back in Los Angeles, on my knees with pins in my mouth, taking the measurements of the three gorgeous girls. Fortunately they thought I had been flown in from London and didn’t know that I had been wandering around in the African bush two days before!

As a sad side note, that was the last time I saw my parents. A year later they were ambushed and killed by terrorist. I’ve always felt blessed that I had been able to spend the last year of their lives with them.

Three Girls: Ellen Foley, Mimi Kennedy, and Debbie Allen– sets and costumes.

There is one piece of work as a costume designer that I am really proud of. I had been working with Sid and Marty Krofft doing sets, costumes, and puppets on a tiny budget (clever hands at home and a hot glue gun) for shows like Far Out Space Nuts and The Lost Saucer. I would have a budget of a hundred dollars a week for the aliens!

Far Out Space Nuts and The Lost Saucer were the lowest budget I ever had for costumes so each week was a triumph when I actually had clothes for the aliens to wear.

With my friend, Patti Malone, a cast member in all the Krofft’s shows.

I designed the sets and costumes for The Krofft Superstar Hour, a Saturday morning children’s show featuring the Bay City Rollers, a Scottish boy band clone of the Beatles. It was always a challenge to find a new look each week. One of my strategies was to go to Grosch, the oldest backdrop and scenic company in Hollywood and rummage in their attic. One week I discovered a Salvador Dali backdrop that he had done for a dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound and used it for a Rollers background!

When Sid and Marty signed on to produce the Donny and Marie Variety Show pilot, I was the set and Costume Designer.

Donny and Marie needed a new look. Donny was 18 and Marie was 16 and their costumes were like Elvis’s Polyester jump suits with studs, which had been great in the day but in 1975 it was time for a change. I rolled up my sleeves, jumped in with them, and discovered the most talented, hardworking, sweetest teenagers I had ever met. We had fun coming up with crazy “young and hip clothes.”

Looking back, I have mixed feelings of pride, although it was the mid-seventies when fashion was at sea! The show was picked up and I did an entire season of costume design. Whenever I think back to this time, I remember a season with no sleep. We taped on Fridays and usually got the next week’s show script. I can still remember my costume list:

  • Donny and Marie, Ice skating costumes, opening song costumes
  • A ballad each
  • Sketch comedy outfits
  • The Osmonds in Concert
  • The finale red white and blue number
  • 6 guest stars from Bob Hope to Farah Fawcett for sketch costumes
  • Ice skaters finale

I would sketch all of Friday and over the weekend. On Monday morning I would deliver the designs to the shop on the lot that I was supervising. No wonder I was tired. The sheer volume and speed of design forced me to run through my entire repertoire of ideas. I even pulled out fabric painting from my childhood and noticed how birds and flowers were still featured.

I lasted a year and then a tiny incident made me realize I didn’t have the temperament to be a real costume designer: I was on my knees again, with pins in my mouth in the middle of a fitting with the gorgeous ice skaters when an extra came up and in the middle of everything pointed to a shirt button that was slightly askew and asked me to fix it. I froze and my brain buzzed. I was barely able to smile and say I would get to it, but it was at that moment that I decided to keep to sets. Sets don’t rely on body type and they never asked for things!

That was just about the end of my costume career. I did some set and costume design for the wonderful KC and the Sunshine Band and sets and costumes for Zoobilee Zoo, a children’s TV show that featured performers dressed as animals. As an African animal lover, my first take was that the animals should look ‘real.’ The producers were very conscientious about test marketing every decision with a typical kid audience, so I designed a spectrum of test costumes—from ‘realistic’ to what I thought was ‘gaudy, bright and ugly.’ The kids loved the ‘gaudy, bright, and ugly!’ I also came up with a prosthetic device for the actors faces and won my fist Emmy for Costume Design because they had never seen this look before. Now I see those exact same prosthetics in every Halloween costume shop.

The Latin Quarter, a show created and directed by Kenny Ortega was a production at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas and I designed the sets and costumes. Remembering the skirts of the Lozwe women and how they swayed, with this show I realized that Latin dance, more than ice skating and ballet, really relied on the clothes to enhance the mood, the sexiness, and life of the dance. Whether Salsa, Cha-cha, Tango, Samba, Rumba or Merengue, each dance requires its own costume to be cut in a certain way, a challenge I embraced and loved.

Although I had a relatively short career as a costume designer, I met some amazing people and my greatest pleasure was collaborating to make clothes that made performers happy! Costume awareness also helped me be a better production designer.

So this is the story of how an African farm boy got to design costumes in Hollywood: Always say ‘yes’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Jeremy - Return to Zimbabwe

Return to Zimbabwe 

I recently spent 8 days in the Victoria Falls at the invitation of David Glynn, an entrepreneur who has successfully created the Safari Lodge at the Victoria Falls and the Ngoma Lodge in Botswana– the most beautiful comfortable luxury in the remote bush and I highly recommend a visit.

His new dream, about to become a reality, is to create “SANTONGA” a Zambezi/Victoria Falls 80-acre Themed Experience.

I was one of 17 amazing people, all Zimbabwe born, all with different expertise and skills, who sat and came to an agreement as to what this experience will consist of.

 

Project site survey with armed guard to protect us against Elephants and Buffalo

Santonga is an authentic, powerfully entertaining, enriching, and soulful adventure that positively impacts its visitors, communities, and the natural environment of KAZA.

Kaza is the junction of five countries: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola who have agreed to a conservation plan.

Hospitality Zimbabwe style with David and Julie Glynn

Stay tuned– more to come soon!

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Amber Caras Q & A

Jeremy Railton chats with Production Assistant Amber Caras.

JEREMY: Amber, how did you hear about EDC ?

AMBER: I heard about EDC because Tim Swiss (who was Alex Calle’s former professor at CalArts and my former professor at Saddleback College) told me that you guys were looking for people in the management vein of work. I then looked up everything I could about the EDC on the internet and saw all of the amazing work that you’ve done and I knew I had to jump on this opportunity.

JEREMY: When were you hired?

AMBER: May 18th 2015 was my first day. Although I first applied in January of that year. I maintained constant email contact and had several interviews in the time between but it was worth it because here I am!

JEREMY: And what did you do?

AMBER: When I was first hired I was tasked with maintaining the offices general needs. Making sure all basic needs of an office were always in stock as well as a nice array of snacks and goodies. I was also in charge of tracking and documenting employee hours on the Motiongate projects. After that project wrapped I asked to still come in once a week to maintain office needs and remain a part of EDC and in the company of wonderful people.

JEREMY: You come in to EDC on a part time basis to keep the office wheels keep turning and it seems like every time you come in you have a new theater piece you are working on! Would you share the names of the pieces you have been working on since you left EDC full time?

AMBER: Ha! It seems like that to me too! My most recent show that I was working on was really special. I was the Production Stage Manager of Species Native to California, a new work by Dorothy Fortenberry produced by IAMA Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre. They are an incredible group of people that I look forward to working with again in the future. I Stage Manage at other small theatres (Marat/Sade at Long Beach Playhouse, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Curtis Theatre with Southgate Productions) I’ve Assistant Stage Managed some shows at South Coast Repertory since then (Vietgone, Pinocchio, District Merchants, The Seigel). I also have worked on the Deck Crew of A Christmas Carol the last 4 years for SCR. Recently I also learned how to operate automated Scenery (Flora and Uylsses). For the last 7 years I have worked as a Carpenter on KTLA5’s Live broadcast of The Tournament of Roses Parade. The thing that I have really gotten into lately is Props. I have done a lot of Prop Mastering since I left full time (Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors, You Can’t Take it With You, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and I have really been enjoying being able to combine my love of organizing things and crafting things together. In fact, I am Prop Mastering 3 new shows for the OC-Centric New Play Festival Later this Summer. Currently I am Stage Managing Shrek The Musical at Saddleback College.

JEREMY: Wow you are really making a living in Los Angeles in theater!! How are you managing to do it?

AMBER: Never saying no to a job unless I have a better one confirmed. Working as hard as I can all the time. Being in the job 100% no matter how small of a show it may be. I try to be someone people enjoy being around. Networking (I’m always looking for new opportunities). I also use all of my skills to obtain jobs (like carpentry, scenic artistry, model making, properties, or general management) which makes it easier to find work that fits in my schedule. Stage Management jobs are at least a month or two long while a carpentry or crew position might be a day or two and I can easily overlap them. Properties is the most flexible because most of my work can be done on my time. EDC is incredibly generous in that I am allowed to make my own schedule of when I come into the office which allows me to take all kinds of gigs and still come to EDC.

JEREMY: What was your training?

AMBER: I started in Theatre in Middle School and got into the technical aspects of it in high school. It wasn’t until I was a student at Saddleback did I really start to learn the crafts I enjoyed and excelled in (carpentry, props, paint). I Stage Managed my first show at Saddleback (Bat Boy: The Musical) and really enjoyed it. I transferred to Cal State Long Beach after I got my AA and continued to study theatre. At Long Beach I focused on Scenic Design and Stage Management. I graduated a year and a half later and then went on to complete the Stage Management Internship at SCR.

JEREMY: When you graduated did you feel equipped to be able to jump right into your chosen profession?

AMBER: Well I was working as a Carpenter and Crew member at multiple locations before I graduated. With Stage Management I did really feel ready to go into the world with what I had learned from Sarah Borger at CSULB. But 5 years out of college I know that there is something to learn from every one you work with and improving your skills is always a good idea.

JEREMY: For those of us who have doubts about making a living in local theater in LA as someone who is doing it can you give any advice to those who might want to do the same?

AMBER: Know that working for your love of the art and working for your paycheck are very difficult to find in the same job, and there is no shame in making money the way you can to fuel your passions. Know that one person’s opinion should never break you, stay true to who you are, nothing is worth losing yourself over. If you care about your work and work hard, people will notice.

JEREMY: What excites you most about theater?

AMBER: I love watching the creation of a world in the rehearsal room. I love putting all the pieces together in tech to complete it. I love watching each different audience become an inhabitant of the world we created and react to the performance. I love how each show is different so even though this is my like 200th show, it’s still all completely new.

JEREMY: Do you have any desires to be anything other than a stage manager– in my opinion one of the most difficult jobs on a production? Left and right brain hemispheres have to work at optimum levels at the same time. Creative and practical sparking equally. Can you give us a bullet point list of what your typical production? Don’t forget the props and costumes!

AMBER: I really like Stage Managing, but I think I could be very happy running my own prop shop somewhere.

On a typical show as a Stage Manager I am responsible for being the center of communication for the entire production team from Pre-production (before we even have a cast) all the way through Strike (when we take it all down).

  • In order to communicate well in a timely manner, I will send out a daily report to everyone on the tech side of the production (costume designer, lighting designer, scenic designer, director, Technical Director, Master Electrician, Production Manager, properties master, etc.) This report has notes organized by department so it is very easy for people to find the notes for them. This way there is a log of notes and changes throughout the process too.
  • I also work with the director to make the rehearsal schedule (which sometimes can be quite the puzzle to try our best not to waste anyone’s time) and that gets sent out to the entire cast every night.
  • I also maintain a contact sheet (with all contact info for the production), a rehearsal Calendar, a Prop List (an up to date list of all prop items needed for the show with all notes that have been given about the prop listed as well),
  • a Costume Tracking Chart (A Chart that shows what costume each actor is wearing in each scene. The one I use I also use as an Entrance and Exit tracker. That way I know where each actor enters, what they are wearing, and where they exit for each scene.),
  • A Pre Show Checklist (This is a list of everything used in the show with every detail about how it needs to be for the show. Before each show I or my assistant will use this sheet to insure that we are completely ready to start the show), and
  • a Run Sheet (This is a sheet that has every action on the deck in order. It states actor’s entrances and exits, notes props and costumes. It also is used as backstage paperwork for the run crew. Each crew member is given a copy and they use it to know what they need to do for the show in order.) As the production moves into Tech I am the one who is in charge of writing down where all light, sound, and deck cues happen in the script and then “calling” (telling the board ops when to GO!) the show.

The Stage Manager is in charge of the show after opening night and makes sure that everything stays in order and that the performances stay true to the director’s intentions. In smaller theaters I am typically responsible for more as I am either the only crew member or one of 2-3. It’s a lot of work but I really enjoy a well formatted excel sheet with 100% accuracy.

JEREMY: Really a deep congratulation from me to you Amber.

AMBER: Thank you very much. It means so much coming from you.

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Designer's Notebook: On the Road Again

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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.

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Designing for Concerts and Music Tours

 

EVOLUTION OF THE TOURING SHOW: FROM 1975 TO 2016

Since designing Bamboozled, the first Cat Stevens music tour in 1975, I have observed and participated in a 4-decade transformation of the touring industry. Spurred by advances in lighting projection and LED technology, I’ve watched the touring show evolve from a band performance into a multi-media spectacle, and while the whole industry has spawned huge sound-, truss-, trucking-, and air transportation companies, two of the innovating forces that are close to me in that transformation are Michael Tait and the late Mark Fisher.

 

THE MASTER BUILDERS

Michael Tait, an Australian who moved to London in the 60s, started his career as a van driver and roadie for YES. With a background in electrical engineering, he went on to become YES’ lighting engineer, built the first moving lights and invented the rotating stage, the Genie towers, the Swing-wing Truss and the first pin-matrix lighting board.  It’s not a stretch to say that Michael has left a lasting imprint on modern live event design.

In the 70s, Michael established Tait Towers in Lititz, Pennsylvania and for years it was the studio from which he worked, applying his inventive brain to solving problems that the touring industry was battling at that time—how to make efficient risers that fit together perfectly and how to make set carts that fit perfectly into trucks–seemingly basic and obvious things now, but he thought these issues through and was the first to provided solutions.

Tate Towers still sets the gold standard of touring set construction, but when I first heard of them, people would roll their eyes and say “Too expensive!“ and “If it’s Tait, it’s late.” But as James ‘Winky’ Fairorth, Tait Towers current CEO says, “Yes but our sets hold up on the road for hundreds of performances, so none of that matters because in the long run you save money.“ And it’s true! Fixing broken scenery on the road is not an easy task.

My own ‘failure stories’ disappeared and my success rate changed dramatically when I started to work with Michael Tait.  He brought all the lessons he had learned over fifteen years on the road to designing sets that could be easily and quickly assembled.

 

Mark Fisher

I can’t talk about the history of the touring show without a ‘hats off’ to Mark Fisher. I was introduced to Mark in the late seventies and we worked together on a concept that was way ahead of its time—a fully interactive 3D Space Exploration Theater. Mark was an architect by training, but with a different kind of a brain and he became my design hero. With his dry wit and matter-of-fact tone, he was more like an Oxford professor with his ubiquitous pipe than someone who would turn concerts into huge Rock ‘n Roll spectacles.

Mark designed every Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and U2 tour for the past two decades, was the senior designer of the Beijing Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies and helped create Pink Floyd’s groundbreaking tour, The Wall, as well as U2’s 360 Tour in ’09. He made me fearless, and after I met him, all of my sets got bigger and bolder.

My favorite story that Mark told me was that he sewed the first Pink Floyd pig inflatable on his Grand Mother’s foot treadle sewing machine. It was a great sadness for our business when he left us in 2006 for bigger projects in the sky, leaving behind an unparalleled body of work!

 

UNSUNG HEROES OF THE TOURING INDUSTRY

The touring business is above all a collaborative process of all departments. Everything has to work “in concert.” Sets are nothing without the lights and most of all the sound has to be perfect.  Every department is jostles the best position on the stage to make a comfortable ‘branded home’ for the artist so that every night, no matter what the weather or the location, the artist can walk onto the stage and feel safe and protected by the familiar stage environment.

The entire process is overseen by the Production Manager whose ultimate responsibility is to make sure the artist walks on stage happy and on time. Bill Leabody, Cold Play’s Production Manager, said the other day that his job in a nutshell is “managing his artist’s expectations.” That goes for everyone’s expectations.

This is a good example of two serious stage carpenters! John “JV” Vanderwende (L), Sal Marinello (R)

Over the last four decades, I’ve watched road crews grow from 10 people in the early days to 230 for a Rolling Stone tour and everyone, including designers, directors and producers have worked without any mechanism for receiving credit such as the credit roll on a film or in a Playbill. Jobs were secured through word of mouth and brilliant talent went unrecognized. That changed in the 90s with the advent of social media and personal web pages that allowed all the touring personnel—from Producers to Roadies—to have their own web sites listing their credits, contact info, portfolios and YouTube videos of their work. (I was surprised to find that I became well known in the touring world because of my TV credits.)

Whether a headline act or a roadie, the touring life is very difficult.  With long, irregular hours, tons of scenery and lights to take down and set up every night as you travel from venue to venue, it takes the leader ship of the production manager, the endurance of the star performers and musicians, the dedication of the technicians and the hard work of the road crews, stage hands, riggers, and truck drivers to deliver on the road entertainment to millions of fans.

The wild stories of roadies and drugs from back in the day are legend, but the road crews of today—talented, dedicated, knowledgeable professional—are the best in the world!

 

Looking back at my life in design, I find that so many of my inspirations and interests were sparked by growing up on a farm in Central Africa. For instance, my first live music experience was every Sunday when the Reverend Sungwene would gather his choir and congregation on the lawn of our house where my parents would host the weekly service. The choir wore leopard skin capes and hats over black robes. (Leopards were still plentiful in those days and we would have to bring the dog food in at night so the leopards wouldn’t come onto the back verandah to forage.)

The choir sang Christian hymns a cappella with the most amazing harmonies. That Sunday experience made an indelible impression of the power of live music and song, but I had to wait till I arrived in London in 1967 to hear Procul Harum, Cream and The Rolling Stones to reignite the impact of my earlier experience of live music.

 

While living in London in the early 70s, I became friendly with Barry Krost, Cat Stevens dynamic and entrepreneurial manager. Barry gave me the opportunity to present an idea for a set for Cat Steven’s upcoming Bamboozled tour. My artistic experience at age thirty was limited to theater, circus, and a rather unfocussed desire to be a painter but I jumped at the opportunity. The only criteria I was given was that the set should be easy to set up. I made a model of my idea, which was a tent, presented it to Cat Stevens in LA and he liked it. After meeting his Production Manager, Bill McManus, I had the job!

I submitted the model to a construction shop and they responded to the challenge of the design. The drafting of the compound archways were beyond my skill and training, however the head of the shop offered to help me with something that was quite new to me, a “computer drafting tool.” The final product was a blueprint with angles and measurements that allowed the construction team to build and assemble the set on stage. In that era, I was working in a vacuum with no sense of what had been done before or who else in the world was doing the same thing—the only name I had heard of was Chip Monck, who lit and served as the master of ceremonies at Woodstock and was the ‘go to’ mega talent at the time for lighting.  Nor did I know that I was one of the first set designers to design for a musical tour.  At that time, sets were always done by the lighting designer.

 

MY FIRST TRAVELING SET DESIGN LESSON

For my first tour set for Cat Stevens I had imagined a bright and colorful gypsy tent, but when it was set up it was very dark. I timidly mentioned my concern to the lighting designer. “Sure, I could light it,” he said “but you never gave me one lighting position or any room for lights. That’s why set designers should never be let anywhere near a touring show.” I learned the hard way that lighting designers are the set designer’s best friend and many of my subsequent successes were because of a collaboration with talented lighting designers.

The two sets below are from two Cat Stevens tours. The first one with no lighting positions; the second was two year later using the same set but with modifications to allow for light.

LIGHTING RULES

That first job for Cat Stevens proved to me how important lighting designers are for touring sets. Set designers just need to give them something interesting to light and a place to hang the lights. Designing for touring shows has been and really still is under the ambit of the Lighting Designers, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the wonderful experiences of designing for musicians if I had not had incredible lighting designers to work with—stars in their own right—like Peter Morse, who I have just worked with on Barbra Stresand’s 2016 tour, Allan Branton (concerts and television), Bobby Dickenson, (Olympics, Emmys, Oscars), Kieren Healy, Greg Brunton and Mark Brickman—the list of talent goes on and on.

And then there is Patrick Woodroffe! Patrick began his career lighting the early Rod Steward tours. Collaborating with Mark Fisher, he went on to light Dylan, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones tours and the London Olympics. He and I worked together on a show I designed for Phil Collins as well as The Dancing Cranes attraction that I created for Resorts World Sentosa. Patrick is an inspired artist who once described his métier as “interpreting the artist’s performance with light… with the stage as the canvas and the lights as your electronic paint box.”

SLIDE 10

(1 sketch)

NEVER SAY NO

One of the lucky things in my career is that I could never say no to any job, not only because everything was fascinating to me but as a young man, all I had was a mouth, an eye, a pencil and my Dad’s words ringing in my ears—that if I wanted a career in art, I should be an art teacher or I would end up starving in a garret!  From the beginning, that primal image of failure drove my ambition.

 

GLAM!

A few years later the world of KISS hit the pop charts. Costumes and Glam rock seemed to be the fashion–perfect for a theatrical designer/wannabe music concert designer! I made some headdresses for the Sky band. Hard to imagine musicians today loving these!

Then I met Warren Entner and David Josephs, band managers who hired me to design a set for Quiet Riot and after that, the whole image package for Angel, including album cover, touring sets and costumes. I worked with the band and we came up with a look that fit their name. Perhaps the costumes are hard to look at now but it was my first lesson in ‘brand harmony’—integrating all aspects of design to embody the band’s message and vibe.

 

Jack Shafton, whose shop built the Cat Stevens sets, and also made sets for the magician/illusionist, Mark Wilson. I designed a few stage shows for Mark and through him I met Johnny Gaughn, an illusion builder and magic memorabilia collector, who designed and fabricated many of Mark’s illusions. Thus, it was logical that I would bring this recent experience of illusion technology to my next job for Angel. The set had a giant head that opened its eyes and called out to the audience, “Do you want to rock and roll!” The idea of using interior projection came from seeing Little Liota, the ghostly character at the end of the Haunted Mansion attraction in Disneyland that urges guests to “Hurry back.” (Incidentally, on that visit to Disneyland, they almost did not allow me back because of my long hair which I had to tie back and tuck into my collar.  Times have changed.)

Four empty boxes were wheeled on stage and the band made a magical appearance, alla Mark Wilson. The cross-pollination of different disciplines has helped me stay fresh and bring a new eye to each genre.

Angel – The Full Package – Logo Album Cover, Set and Costumes

 

 

‘STAR’ JITTERS

Through Allen Branton, Fleetwood Mac’s Lighting Designer, I got to work with Fleetwood Mac and later with Ozzie Osborn.  At first, when I was introduced to stars, especially iconic performers, I was shy and tongue tied, but that went away when I realized they were creative artists like myself and wanted to participate in creating an on-stage environment where they would feel inspired to play their best music. To this day I regard myself as a ‘creative collaborator’ because designing a stage set for a musician is as personal as designing a family living room. You’re responsible for making a space that feels like home so that every night, no matter what country, what city or what venue, the familiarity and comfort of the set eases the incredibly difficult stress that everyone lives with on the road.

 

GANNONOLOGY

I met and became friendly with Joe Gannon in 1979.  Joe had been Neil Diamond’s lighting director, set designer and road manager. I was fascinated by his stories of managing undisciplined musicians and the early tour days when promotors would pay the musicians in cash from the door take. Joe was the first to use moving sets on rock concert tours and once, cut a hole in the back of a truck to accommodate the scenery. Working with Joe, I designed sets for Alice Cooper, an incredibly disciplined and focused musician/performance artist.  The theatrical themes of his shows, punishment and retribution, ran through each tour and was right up my puritanical, Victorian ally: ‘Bad Alice’ is punished and comes back as ‘Good Alice’. His concerts told a subtle story without the music pausing for dialogue like in a traditional musical.

I loved collaborating with Joe, as well as Ron Vols who had been working with Alice for years.  In the first of the three tours I did for Alice, I was able to inject my illusion experience into the mix by bringing in Franz Harary, a talented magician/inventor who had just designed illusions for Michael Jackson’s Victory tour.  A funny tour note: Normally when you are on the road, a huge amount of effort goes into keeping the set clean but with Alice, Joe would complain that the sets were too clean and couldn’t I spill some paint or empty some dirt on the floor.

 

ATTRACTION OF OPPOSITES

By an irony of scheduling, one of the Alice tours that I was working on happened to be on a stage  adjacent to a stage that housed a Bugs Bunny Tour that I was also designing. I worried about the contrast between the two brands (as well as my own) and tried to keep my work on both a secret, but my worries turned out to be unfounded. When Alice’s band was not rehearsing, they spent their break watching the Bugs Bunny rehearsals and the Bugs Bunny cast kept disappearing next door to watch Alice. I was so relieved that Alice’s musicians didn’t think I was uncool.

 

LUTHER VANDROSS

Working with Joe, I designed two tours for Luther Vandross, so sweet and so precise, but with a temper that could instantly turn into a sound that makes babies! Luther had an amazing ability to match visual cues to the music; he knew that when he was singing a certain phrase, a certain light in the grid would turn on. All well and good when the lights were programmed, but it was the follow spot guys that often found themselves in the eye of a storm. Luther would watch a run through and memorize his stage positions by the lighting and music. Such a sweet man that I loved and was lucky enough to never feel his ire! What a privilege to be able to sit next to him in rehearsals and hear that one in a million voice, live from six feet away.

 

DESIGN POLITICS

Luther was very proud of ‘his girls’—his backup singers who were not only note-perfect but beautiful. On one tour he had En Vogue as his opening act. I was standing next to him on the first run through as the cute girls came out in their little sparkling outfits. Luther was appalled. “I don’t want that thrift store trash on my stage,” he proclaimed in his soft southern accent. “My girls are in three thousand dollar gowns!”

At the time, En Vogue was at the top of the charts and had been brought in to try to broaden Luther’s appeal. After a negotiation through the managers, a solution was negotiated: En Vogue would keep their miniskirts and sexy little outfits. At every arena, a black pipe-and-drape wall was put up down the middle of the hallways so Luther wouldn’t see them when he was on his way to the stage.  But when the music is that beautiful it’s worth the trouble to accommodate those whims.

 

SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

The first tour I designed for Luther was built by a Los Angeles shop that was not used to building touring sets (the shop I wanted was too expensive.) On a cold morning in Atlantic City, I stood watching in horror as the set was being off-loaded down the ramp on set carts.  As each set cart reached the ground, the wheels snapped off! I had been diligent in telling the shop to bolt and weld the wheels, so I was shocked and embarrassed in front of the crew as they manhandled the set on to the stage. It turned out that the wheels were not spaced correctly—one of the many small and painful lesson that I learned at the ‘school of hard knocks’.

 

DESIGNING IN THE ROUND

Neil Diamond was next, with Joe Gannon and my brilliant lighting designer friend Marilyn Lowey. It is worth noting that ‘in the round’ is wonderful for promoters selling tickets (more front row seats) and good for the audience, but a lot of hard work for the artist. Even with a giant turntable the artist must be constantly on the move to share with the audience. Standing at the mike, down stage/center does not make for a good show in the round.

 

The ‘in the round’ set allowed us to magically produce a Christmas tree in the center of the stage.

Barry Manilow was another of Joe’s artists that I enjoyed working with and after a tour, I ended up doing his set for Copacabana as well as designing  the set for Barry Manilow at the Gershwin (my only Broadway credit.)

For this particular tour set I wanted to do a projected scenic backdrop as a way of doing quick set changes; however, the projectors were either too big or too weak back then, but we did it and the set looked cool and worked for Barry’s Broadway music style, although not the projection dream we could do today.

 

I designed Phil Collins’ Up on the Roof Tour with my lighting designer friend, Patrick Woodroffe. I was given the job because Phil wanted a narrative design, rather like in a musical with scenic vignettes. Still on the hunt for touring set changes before projection and LED scenery was perfected, I came up with a scrolling billboard.

 

FINDING THE ARTIST’S BRAND

One of the most important aspects of designing for artist is not only designing a set that fits the mood of the music and pack well for travel, but also that reflects a visual brand—a unique creative identity.  Sometimes it would come to me in a flash, but other times it would be illusive and I would have to search for it. The year I designed a Diana Ross tour is a perfect case in point. This was my first design, and I thought that it perfectly show-cased her personal style:

It was one of my favorite renderings, but the Producers pointed out that the orchestra seemed too far from Ms. Ross and as I reviewed the rendering, it was obvious they were correct.

 

I designed another set with the band inset in the turntable, but that proved to be too cramped.  Finally, as time was running out, we created a model and this is what was built.

 

Jane’s Addiction happened to be one of one of my favorite bands, so when Doriana Sanchez introduced me to their front man, Perry Farrell, it was a great personal treat. Here was another vision for a tent—something   loose, romantic and gypsy like. I had learned my lesson from my Cat Stevens days and had the tent made from netting for maximum lighting effects!

 

Julio Iglesias was brought to me by Joe Gannon and I designed his concert two years in a row.

 

Yanni’s set came to me with a history of live concerts performed at amazing locations like the Acropolis in Athens, so I had to do something that could compete with classical architecture. This was the first year that I had one of my tour designs made into a 3D model

 

Yanni

 

SPINAL TAP

This was the first pass at doing the Spinal Tap Tour. It was fun to meet everyone and try and reach a consensus as to what the set would be.

Coincidentally, a few years earlier, my friend Anjelica Huston had called me up and said that she had a part in a rock n’ roll comedy in which she was playing a set designer and asked me what the worst ‘nightmare’ could be for the designer. I said that getting the scale wrong was possible and a definite disaster, so in the Spinal Tap movie, the set for Stonehenge was built to the scale of the tiny model. For this tour we designed to a scale closer to reality, so a very low budget Stonehenge set wobbled its way onto stage!

DESIGNING FOR CHER

 

Doriana Sanchez, my director/choreographer friend introduced me to Cher and her management team after Dori and I had worked on the Dirty Dancing Tour.

Dori was one of the lead dancers in the 1987 film and after choreographing the tour, Cher asked Dori to give her dance lessons which grew into a deep creative and personal friendship that spanned Cher’s Love Hurts-, Believe-, and Living Proof tours as well as 192 performances at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.

It hard not to fall in love with Cher. She bubbles with creativity, sweetness and fun. I have been so thrilled to design four tours and two of her Las Vegas shows, but the best thrill is sitting with Doriana and Cher as they ping pong creative ideas back and forth and where nothing is too outrageous!  There are very few experiences like this where the designer gets to build on the ideas for a tour as if concepting a musical.

 

THE FAREWELL TOUR

 

CHER AT CAESARS COLOSSEUM

The stage was flanked by two towers, each with decorative cladding that had to be screwed in place, a long and tedious job. I left the stage for twenty minutes and when I returned half the panels were up!  Tate had come up with an ingenious installation system using magnets. The positive poles of magnets on the panels were indexed to match the corresponding negative poles of magnets on the tower. The stage hands just had to hold a panel up and the magnets pulled it into the exact position! Designers can always learn from innovative shops like Tait as well as creative production managers, in this case, Michael Weldon, who guided me with a pragmatic but open mind.

 

CAESARS COLOSSEUM

 

BARBRA!

In 2006 Mickie Weiss contacted me and asked if I would be the designer for Barbra Streisand’s new tour. Of course, what could be better?

I can’t remember whose concert I had just seen, but it was so overloaded with props, effects, and light beams that it turned me off. Working with Streisand’s director, Richard J. Alexander, it became obvious that this show, more than all the others, was about designing for sound.  After all, this was Barbra Streisand, with multi-platinum quartet, Il Divo as her special guest and a 52-piece orchestra of hand-picked musicians, conducted and arranged by William Ross.  This was not a show of elaborate decorative elements, huge LED screens and drawbridges, but a show that had to move from city to city, in halls with sometimes less than adequate acoustic properties, and yet our design must truly support the genius of the artist.

To add to the audio and visual challenge, the show would play in the round in some venues and in 270⁰ configurations in others.  Another overriding desire was to provide a comfortable home for the huge orchestra and ensure that Barbra would not be lost in a sea of musical instruments.  She had to be able to visit different sides of the arena, yet remain in eye contact with her musicians and her audience.

We decided to go for visual simplicity to deliver the best experience for Ms. Streisand without overpowering her. The intent of my set design was to support perfect sound. We brought Barbra up in the middle of the orchestra where she could be surrounded by her musicians. Ultimately, the stage became a series of ramps surrounding a sunken orchestra.  I put small Juliet stages on all sides, creating intimate visiting spots with a table, a vase of flowers and a pot of tea which allowed for each side of the audience to receive a visit from our beloved Diva!

Streisand’s attention to detail and her absolute discipline is legend. At one rehearsal, I watched her call out a viola player, among the 52 musicians, for coming in a fraction late in the middle of song. When she steps out on the stage she is in perfect control and the audience feels it. Both Streisand and Cher have the ability to make each member of the audience feel like they are their best friends!

 

I am very proud of that set because it did exactly what the director and I wanted it to do. Even though it went around the world twice, I got the least amount of attention I have ever received for a set. People actually said to me, “You did the set? I never noticed one.” That old line—that the audience should leave the theatre humming the music, not talking about the sets is so true and fits perfectly with my early theatre training: sets support the story, they don’t tell the story.

In 2016, we were invited back to design the set for Barbra’s nine-city tour, and although we were still ‘designing for sound’ we added a big media element to the set and used a large screen to extend the depth and theatrical nature of the show. Like Cher, Barbra is always intimately involved in the creative design of her sets. If she hadn’t been a singer she could have been a great interior designer for sure and I loved collaborating with her on all of the small details on her stage.

 

The design for Barbra’s 2016 tour as imagined.

 

Final Set Trimmed To Fit the Budget

 

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

A collaboration using Ms. Streisand’s home collections as inspiration

 

NICKI MINAJ’S PINKPRINT TOUR

When Malcolm Weldon, Beyoncé’s Production Manager, introduced me to Niki Minaj’s choreographer to see if we could design her Pinkprint Tour, It seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring in Francesca Nicolas, one of EDC’s brilliant young designers.  We had a good creative meeting on a Thursday and the set had to be designed by the following week as there had been a few delays. Francesca and I worked the weekend and Francesca was able to deliver an approved set design to Tait Towers by the following Monday! She flew to Lititz to watch it being built before it was flown to Paris for the kick off of the tour. At 25, Francesca was able to lead one of our projects due entirely to her technical skills, creative ingenuity, and dedication to the work.

 

ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME

With all of my forays into different genres and types of entertainment it is seldom that two design modes—TV and concert touring–come into play at the same time.  When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1995, I was asked by Joel Gallen, producer of the opening night television show, to design the concert stage. I was thrilled at the opportunity, as the lineup of amazing artists included Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Al GreenJerry Lee LewisAretha FranklinBruce SpringsteenIggy PopJohn FogertyJohn Mellencamp, and many others.

 

I immediately went into concert mode and came up with a grand design that would have made Mark Fisher proud, forgetting for the moment that the wide shot in television is a throw away and that TV is all about the close ups!  The first Idea I had was to suspend the stage grid and lighting by huge cranes.

Then the reality of a TV Special budget struck home and I rethought the design with budget and close ups in mind.  We also had to have a roster of iconic artist on a stage with a vibe that worked for all of them. I decided on a turntable with a mix of pre-built scenic element so as one set was being used, the crew was changing out the band gear behind for the next act.

It was a little nerve wracking when the truck pulled up with the miscellaneous scenic items that I had never seen and started to unload. We laid everything on the deck and with screw guns and zip ties we built an instant collage sculpture down the center of the turntable.  The lighting designer lit the hell out of it and all of the artists were pleased that they had a personalized look.

This hybrid improvisation was an unexpected reward for working in many entertainment disciplines and never consigning myself to just one thing, as my father had always counselled!

 

TOUR DESIGN 2.0

As the performance landscape changed and new bands popped up, I realized that my grizzled face did not inspire confidence that I would give them the coolest of set designs; if I wanted to continue my company’s legacy, I better start introducing Alex Calle and Francesca Nicolas, my two top designers, to the next generation of performers.  Having grown up with video games, social media, and the internet, Alex and Francesca are innately comfortable with the synergy of digital art and technology that continues to transform themed entertainment.

Today, aspiring designers, like Alex and Francesca, begin their careers with degrees and practical experience at school like Cal Arts, SCADS and Carnegie Tech that teach all aspects of tour-, theatre-, and theme park design, thus their graduates are better equipped than my generation that was discovering and inventing the techniques of tour design through inspiration, trial and error.

I love working with this talented young generation – they continually connect me with new trends and concepts that I would never think of, and reciprocally, I can cash in on the ‘scar tissue’  acquired from years of touring experience, accelerating their learning curve and reaping the incredible rewards of passing on a creative legacy!

 

EPILOGUE and SPECIAL MENTIONS…

Lighting designers are so important to collaborate with. Greg Bruntom, Allan Branton, Bobby Dickenson, Norm Shwaab, Jeff Salmon, Keiren Healey Lisa Passamonte, Marilyn Lowey, and Abby Holmes are all designers who I have worked with and who continue to inspire me.

Director Richard Jay Alexander needs special mention. I was set designer under his direction for two Barbra Streisand tours. He is an extraordinary director– managing to juggle everyone’s nerves, inspiring the whole team whilst collaborating and pulling the best performance possible from all of the stars he directs. It’s hard to put a foot wrong under his guidance.
I have had the extreme pleasure to have designed tours for Cat Stevens,  Boz Scaggs, Diana Ross, Alice Cooper, Phil Collins, Luther Vandross, Barry Manilow,  Julio Eglesias,  Jane’s Addiction, Neil Diamond, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Nicki Minaj, Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy Osborn, Angel, Quiet Riot, and Bugs Bunny!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Entertainment Design Corporation's Founder and Chairman, Jeremy Railton Named 2017 Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement, Buzz Price Thea Award

jeremy-railton-headshot-20140618-_mg_0234LOS ANGELES, Nov. 22, 2016 – The Buzz Price Thea Award, recognizing a lifetime of distinguished achievements was awarded to EDC’s Founder, Chairman and Principal Designer, Jeremy Railton on Tuesday November 15th, 2016.

The diversity of Railton’s exceptional design career, lends himself to being, “one of the most versatile and prolific designers in entertainment, “says Judith Rubin of InPark Magazine. “He is a celebrated, creative force within multiple industries, including themed entertainment, immersive experience, gaming, television, and stage shows” Having been recognized numerous times including 5 Thea Awards, 4 Emmys, and an Art Director’s Guild Award, it’s no question that he is a leader in the industry of entertainment design. With an abundance of grace and gratitude, Railton describes this new recognition as being, “an incredible honor, that was very unexpected. One of the most flattering parts of the award, is that it is given by past winners; people I have looked up to for many years and greatly respect. Here I am, realizing what an incredible journey I have been on throughout my career. It is incredibly rewarding.”

TEA founder Monty Lunde goes on to add that “Jeremy is individually imaginative while also being uniquely inclusive, supportive and mentoring to all who help make his creative visions real. He is constantly testing the boundaries of how to create ‘wow,’ but is conscious of real-world budgets and schedules. Jeremy represents the best of what our industry stands for and has elevated many others through his efforts and support.”

A short list of Railton and his EDC team’s accomplishments are listed below.

 

  • Motiongate and Bollywood Parks Dubai at Dubai Parks & Resorts, now in incremental openings
  • 1984 Olympics, Los Angeles
  • Opening and closing ceremonies, 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City
  • Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas
  • The Crane Dance, Resorts World Sentosa
  • The Fortune Diamond, Galaxy Macau
  • Panasonic Pavilion, Universal City Walk at Universal Studios Hollywood
  • Barbra Streisand World Tour 2016

Acceptance of Jeremy Railton’s Lifetime Achievement, Buzz Price Thea Award will take place during the 23rd Annual TEA Awards in Anaheim, CA early 2017.

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The Crane Dance, Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore
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The Fortune Diamond, Galaxy Macau, Macau China
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2002 Winter Olympics Salt Lake City

About Entertainment Design Corporation
Established in 1994, EDC is an award-winning boutique production design & creative firm located in Los Angeles. Comprised of producers, artists, designers, and storytellers that create imaginative & original experiences, attractions, and live productions around the globe.

Contact:
Kaitlin Gefke, Director of Marketing
Entertainment Design Corporation
Phone: 310-641-9300
kaitling@entdesign.com
www.entdesign.com