It's been a crazy fall for me and my company - I've been in Nashville for a corporate show, ran the Encore for a live TV broadcast on Fox News (the Republican Debate in Orlando) & the subsequent Florida Straw Poll, worked a large association meeting in Boston, and am now in Montreal doing a medical conference. It's nice to be busy, but hard to keep up with writing a blog as well!
Do you remember the song "One of these things is not like the others" from your time watching Sesame Street as a kid? (well, at least those of us over 40 years old...) I thought of that song recently as we were dealing with not only trying to match images between various types of projectors, but also different projection surfaces. It's far from the first time any of us have been put in this kind of situation, but it got me thinking about how often the projectionist is put in such an impossible situation and expected to make everything look perfect.
In this case, we had a combination of Barco HD DLP projectors for a widescreen blend, combined with smaller Christie DLP projectors for the flanking outboard screens. The Barco units had xenon lamps, while these particular Christie projectors had dual mercury lamps. Both are decent projectors, but the CRI (color rendering index) from those lamp types is quite different. The Xenon lamp tends to have a better ability to show colors across the visible spectrum, and the mercury lamp falls off in the red spectrum and has a blue color spike. When trying to match skin tones from IMAG feeds or the client logo, that difference can create a problem for the projectionist.
On top of that, though, we also were using 2 different projection surfaces for this show. The outboard 16:9 screens were a standard rear-projection surface, with a decent gain and a fairly dark backstage area to allow decent contrast for the projectors. The widescreen blend screen, on the other hand, was a dual-view (usable as a front or rear projection screen) surface, and this particular screen had a yellow tint that is inherent with this particular model of screen surface. Again, on their own, both screen surfaces work well for their application, but trying to match even similar projectors on these varied surfaces is somewhat difficult, and matching these projectors that were also so different presented a challenge that took all of the patience and expertise of our projectionist to overcome.
It didn't help that the end client and their various creative producers all felt they had something to offer in how the screens should look. One wanted their graphics to match perfectly across all screens, while others only cared about the IMAG feeds. Add in problems with the graphics content provided by the client and scenic uplights that were coloring the screens, and suddenly the projectionist was covered with tire tracks from an entire racetrack of buses. I felt for him, and we all tried to pitch in to help in out as best we could, but he was the one under the gun, and took the brunt of the stress from the client and from the production company for whom we were working. He spent hours each night after we left trying to get these screens to match, and came back in the morning long before the crew call time to do it again. He did a great job considering what he had to work with, and in the end, the client was satisfied with the final result, but it was at the expense of extreme stress and lack of sleep on the part of the projectionist.
Was he put into an impossible situation? Not really - we all run into these kinds of problems on show site and do our best to make them look as great as we can. But there comes a time where a client needs to understand that the projectionist has done everything they can within the confines of the laws of physics. Most of us have been Scotty, asked by our Captain Kirk to do the impossible ("I canna' change the laws of physics!"), and most of us give our everything to "make it so" (I know, I'm mixing my Star Trek captains...bite me). But Kirk never threw Scotty under the bus when he didn't get his exact wish followed, and Scotty always came through with SOMETHING that kept everyone alive and well for another adventure. I understand that sometimes our shows seem like lives are depending on them, but they seldom actually have that kind of gravity attached to them.
In the end, the show ran perfectly and the system worked as it was designed. Perhaps the design of the system, both projectors and screen surfaces, should have been caught before it ever left the shop, but there are plenty of production companies that don't ever have a person (that understands these kinds of issues) scrub the equipment list and rectify these problems before the order loads into the trucks. And even if they do, how many companies give that kind of power to employees to change the equipment list to include the proper equipment, instead of the equipment that was specified? More often, it involves sending out whatever gear is available, and when a company is busy (and sometimes even when they aren't), it may not be the proper gear for that particular show.
In the end, there was a lot of pain and suffering on this show, especially on the part of the very professional projectionist. I know many people that would have thrown in the towel under this type of pressure, but he remained as cool as he could and did a great job in spite of the difficult situation. He didn't deserve to take as much of the pressure as he was given - instead, perhaps the client needed to recognize that everything that could be done WAS being done. Perhaps the production company should have absorbed more of the pressure and critiques from the end client instead of passing them all onto the projectionist.
How often have you been put into a seemingly impossible situation, and told to "just make it work"? How did you handle the pressure? What steps do you take to make sure you aren't put into those kinds of situations? As always, I'd love to hear your stories and insights.