Eight weird tricks for an awesome media-served show

Using media servers on your live event can give you enormous creative freedom — but without good production management, it can also cause enormous headaches! With apologies to Buzzfeed, we suggest these eight “weird tricks” for running smoother media-served shows.

1. Create one media department to handle all things on-screen. We traditionally separate a bunch of screen-related work into different departments — graphics, video, playback, lighting — then tie them all together at the last minute on-site through the stage manager. This guarantees confusion and missed opportunities. Organize these departments so they work together from the beginning of production. Get them to coordinate design and technology early on to help you deliver your best creative.

2. Pre-visualize early, and pre-visualize often. Pre-visualization needs to be the first step of content production. The audience experiences the show in the context of the scenic; that’s how all content production should work, too. First, you can’t make meaningful creative or design decisions without the context the audience will have. Second, your client will better understand work presented in its scenic context.

3. Choose your big creative moments wisely. Impact or “wow factor” is like the dynamic range in a song; the contrast between the soft parts and loud parts is valuable. Spread your high-impact moments out over the show to design the audience’s impact arc. Get the biggest creative bang per production buck by conserving resources in the soft parts, and spending resources in the impact arc’s crescendos. This simplifies production and makes for a great audience experience.

4. Pay special attention to the in-between moments. Transitions are a fantastic case for “any pixel, any time” media-server shows. You can execute creative in transitions with servers that’s too complex to do any other way. The moments between show segments are often a great time for building energy in that audience impact arc, but if you don’t design them with flexibility in mind, they can become a production nightmare if you need to make a last-minute change in your show. Give transitions the right level of impact, and keep them modular for easy re-use.

5. Staff a dedicated coordinator for media. Media coordination is a full-time job. Dedicate a tech-savvy coordinator or job manager to this role for at least a couple weeks prior to show through the on-site. They’ll make sure that media department i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, you’ll free up your designers, developers and programmers to focus on making your show better.

6. Prioritize operational simplicity. Designing a show is one thing; actually running it successfully is another. You can have the coolest creative in the industry, but if it’s too complex to run when the show caller says GO, it’s a failure. Dream big at the start of each project, and invest time in figuring out the simplest, most elegant way to cue challenging creative.

7. Use the right tool for the job. When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. Just because you have a media server on the job doesn’t mean you need to use it for your presentations; charts and graphs and last-second changes belong in PowerPoint or Keynote. And with flexible content layering, you don’t have to give up “any pixel, any time” when you use graphics — you get the best of both worlds. Make sure your media team is using their entire toolbox.

8. Don’t buy more (or less!) than you need. There are a lot of server products on the market, and the right one to use really depends on the specifics of your project. Some are overwhelming overkill, and others leave too much to be desired. Be Goldilocks: get it just right. Take the money you save and put into content production (hint, hint), or into scenic, or talent, or straight to the bottom line. Technology, capabilities, and pricing are changing rapidly. Make sure you’re making the pragmatic choice for your production.