I'm writing this from the Minneapolis / St. Paul airport, where I have finally arrived after boarding and de-planing my flight from Denver this morning a grand total of 3 times (well, I only de-planed twice, since we actually left on the 3rd attempt). I should be home in Orlando later this evening, but it got me to thinking about backup systems. I know that airplanes have redundant backup systems on board, but when a plane can't function before it leaves the ground, they usually don't let it take off (something for which I'm thankful). However, they don't always have a backup plane on hand for those situations. It got me to thinking about spares for our shows... why do we have spares for some pieces of gear or entire systems, but not others?
I am still doing events for a few production company clients that feel that redundancy in equipment on show site is unnecessary. Now, I know that if my airplane fails, it has much more dire consequences than if there is a failure of gear on a show - but try telling that to the producer or end client. We have a saying after a tough show - "At least no one died". But sometimes death would be preferred over enduring the wrath of a client whose show went pear-shaped.
So what gear needs to be backed-up on a show, and what can be trusted to either a) not fail or b) find a quick replacement if it does fail? I wonder about this all the time on show site, since some shows back up almost everything, while others cross their fingers and say a few prayers.
Some things I almost always see backed-up on shows, whether hot (able to switch to it immediately if there is a failure) or cold (sitting in a case backstage, but ready to put into use if there is a problem). Oh, and just having one in the city at the local wholesaler doesn't count:
Lighting Consoles (this comes from as far back as my Vari*Lite programming days)
Projectors (almost always 2 projectors hot, in case one fails)
Moving lights (some brands / models more than others)
ImagePRO's (they are not really backups, but more like Swiss Army knives for any video related emergency)
Computers (especially if they are for presentation graphics)
Some things I seldom see with an on-site backup, even though these are all show-critical items:
Encore or Spyder controllers or processors
Speakers (maybe not, but it sure seems like the audio guys usually have more db than they actually need...)
When I was in the lighting world, we almost always had spares for everything - from the consoles to the fixtures, lamps, DMX splitters, etc. But in video and projection, the main thing we bring as a spare is the projectors, and quite often, even they are doubled up and expected to ALL perform properly in order to maintain the expected screen brightness. Does video gear not fail as often as lighting? Are we more capable of recovering from a failure of a piece of gear? Or perhaps we think our gear will only fail during load-in, but will work flawlessly once the show is up and running? I just don't know...
Is it just me, or do you also wonder why some things almost always have an onsite backup, while others don't? I can understand that an item that is more likely to fail is also more likely to have an onsite backup. I can also understand that budgets don't often allow the big-ticket items (like an Encore system) to have a backup sitting "just in case". But without some sort of backup system, especially on the high-failure-rate items, you risk more than just having a show fail - you risk losing a client.
What systems do you ALWAYS back up, and what systems do you NEVER backup with onsite gear? Why? I'd love to hear your answers.
Meanwhile, I still don't understand why my airline of choice doesn't keep a backup airplane ready for days like today - perhaps it is considered a high-dollar item? Maybe if I ask nicely, they will start backing up their airplanes nationwide... yeah, right.