Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 24, 2010

Another Op’ning, Another Show

Dear Gerry,

It’s that time again: we’re preparing to stage the company’s big annual events. It’s the business that you introduced me to and gave me a chance to learn, so I thought you’d be interested to know how it’s going. I figure I did my first show with you in Hawaii in 1986, so this is my 25th consecutive year of doing at least one of these gigs, and in the next few weeks we’ll produce 3 events.

As you can guess, the technology’s changed. Practically everything is digital, now, and most of the show resides on hard drives or, at least, on digital tape. You’ll remember that we saw our first DATs — digital audio tape machines — when we were in Hong Kong in the late ’80s. We project the images to our big screens in high definition, years after it was supposed to be widely implemented, and I wish you could see what the HD picture looks like on a 40 foot-wide screen: awesome. If you were here, no doubt, you would point out that since we were using 35mm film all those years ago, our pictures were ALREADY in high definition. Point taken. I don’t have time to get into it now, but the graphics and motion video we can do for a fraction of the effort of editing motion film are mind-boggling, by almost any standard. You’d like it. The lighting department has a vast new range of technologies, including the fact that lights have computer-programmed servo motors that move the lights around, and a single instrument can produce not only multiple colors but put out light in patterns like waves, stars, abstract geometrics, bands, circles, and so on. Audio, too: we produce an astounding sonic environment with the multi-channel systems that include subwoofers that can really rock the room.

But, although all these departments — lighting, audio, video — use some impressive technology, the underlying process of show production is pretty much the same as what I learned from you and the amazing team of pros you assembled: Jax, Chuck, Freddie, The Cincinnati West-Sider, Bassman Dick, plus Jai and Dick and the other writers and producers. There’s the same agony over getting decisions made, revising scripts and re-editing shows that have already been re-edited. Oh, one other point on technology. As you predicted, the advent of computer-driven graphics in place of 35mm film slides simply means that speakers can revise their presentations right up until the moment that the show goes on, instead of having a deadline at least half a day before showtime so that we could process film, mount it in slides, then stay up all night putting the slides into projectors and reprogramming them. That compression of the notion of “deadline” has happened in spades, and nothing is ever really done now until someone actually steps onstage to speak.

And, of course, the underlying motivations are the same, not only from your day, but from the time someone first gathered an audience together to tell them something important. We want to wow them, naturally, because it’s just so doggone cool to impress an audience with a slam-bang, gee-whiz show.

I’m several years older now than you were when I started working with you. By the time I started in your department, you were spending most of your time in the planning of the overall event, working the budget and answering the sometimes conflicting demands of the executives whose meeting you were producing. The whippersnappers like me wrote the scripts, went out and shot and edited video and, in those days, stayed up late into the night programming slide shows. What I know now is that you were actually at work doing a couple of other things that all of us who worked for you appreciate more than I, at least, ever expressed to you while you were here. You were building a team that respected one another, worked together with a sense of common cause to make every detail right, and were never satisfied with anything but excellence. I wish I could say that I measure up to your example on that score. I have a world-class team of people, and we do great work, but I don’t know if in another 25 years these folks will look back with the same sort of admiration for our accomplishments that my former colleagues in your group have. I hope so. You certainly set the standard, and I hope you’d enjoy seeing what a great group of people can still accomplish together.

Yes, now I have a job similar to yours, and although I sometimes miss having my hands on all the media production, there’s still that moment: a room full of people who have come from all over the world, ready to see the show. There are several million dollars of lighting and sound and projection equipment and about 30 technicians, ready to roll tape, hit the light cues and mix the sound. I stand at the back of the room and make sure the CEO is in his seat. I look at my co-producer, who smiles. I turn and look at Ted, up on the control platform, and he’s looking at me with that bemused look of anticipation. I twirl my right index finger to signal, “Roll ’em,” and Ted nods. The lights go down. It’s time for magic!

Thanks, Gerry.



  1. Brad,
    Thanks for remembering and honoring a truly great individual.


  2. Them wuz the daze when i dun all them good write things fer Gerry, the daze before spellchecker. Brad, thanks for the memories. As Grandma would say, you done good!



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