Chase Simonds, Producer, on working the Oscars, Grammys, & Emmys, Founding the Production Company - Anticipate, & the Value of Live Events.
November 30, 2015
My background and enthusiasm for production is deeply rooted in me from childhood. Specifically, my career focus and passion has been within live show production but frequently this overlaps and encompasses many areas of film and television production processes as well.
The epic scale and graceful choreography of big live events has mysteriously captivated my attention and sparked an interest in me for as long as I can remember.
It’s actually hard to pinpoint exactly why this specifically caught my interest, as it has always been that one thing I felt I was ‘born to do.’
Originally hailing from the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest, it was not until after graduation from Chapman University in Orange County that I called Los Angeles home.
My intrigue with the industry naturally influenced my decision to seek out school in a location that was in close proximity to this entertainment capital.
Why Live Events?
I think there is something very powerful in having a shared experience with others and the idea that a live event can take thousands or millions of people through a journey together as one is exciting to me.
I am driven by a passion to develop deep, meaningful connections through an event’s ability to empower, inspire and move people.
Selfishly, there is also a pretty damn good adrenaline high that comes along with putting on a live show.
Roles Within Live Events
Throughout my years of working on live events, I’ve gotten to try on many hats in various departments; production assistant, coordinator,supervisor, producer, director, post, script, technical, production management, you name it.
It’s been a wild ride and some great experience for sure.
The “Jack of all trades” idiom may come to mind here, but having the opportunity to see how each department operates has given me great insight as I settle into mastering my current path as a creative producer. Talk to me in a week though, as I’m sure this will change. I’m still figuring it all out.
For most jobs in entertainment, I believe experience outweighs formal education, but each has a role.
Most of my knowledge has come from working in the industry, however college studies in any area of the arts/communications can’t hurt and can in fact be an extremely valuable opportunity to become familiar with the industry and the types of career paths out there.
I studied Entertainment Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations, but was able to take film and television production classes too.
This gave me a well-rounded overview to what the Entertainment Industry entailed.
Learning, however, is a lifelong process; college just gives you a taste of what’s out there.
First Job in the Entertainment Industry
My professional experience in production stems back to my days in high school where I was actively involved in videography, graphics and staging various events. With admiration, I would closely study shows like the Oscars, VMAs or Olympics fantasizing about someday having the opportunity to work in some capacity on live events.
I quickly started to put the pieces together and realized that I could make a living doing something that was a fun hobby to me and thus sought out a path that would eventually take me to work in Hollywood.
My first proper television job was, like most newcomers, a PA (Production Assistant), gig on an awards show that came off of an internship in college.
Unlike most internship spots that might have had hundreds of applicants fighting for a highly publicized and coveted position, I was able to create an opportunity where one might not have otherwise existed by directly reaching out to a handful of targeted producers whose work interested me.
Since live events were a very specific niche slightly off the path of mainstream film or TV production, I think the odds were also working to my favor.
I carry a strong belief that mastering any craft requires the mindset of a lifelong learner, and thus my basis for inspiration continues to evolve with me.
When looking for creative inspiration in what you want to do, it is important to recognize work that compels you and understand what about it is celebrated—what’s the formula for its success and what does it take to gain proficiency in it.
For me, this process started with an appreciation for a very specific set of live shows.
I began to recognize companies and individuals whose names would continually surface on projects that I was inspired by. These became my idols and heroes and I became obsessed with figuring out the secret sauce behind their success.
Fast forward several years, and I am humbled to now have the opportunity to work with many of the same people whose work I have so greatly respected over the years, and am fortunate to continue to learn from them on every project that I do.
As I grow personally and in my career, I continue to look for inspiration beyond the specifics of the industry to tap in to the unlimited creative potential of ideas that exist in the world.
Though this exploration, I seek out analogous parallels for inspiration that can be harnessed and uniquely applied to my line of work.
This could range from something as straightforward as how to manage communication workflow on a big team to abstract creative concepts that influence a show’s visual identity or design.
If there were one individual whose career I draw most inspiration from, it would be Don Mischer.
A veteran producer and director of live events, and one of the most respected names in the industry, Don has been honored with dozens of awards in a career that has spanned decades and whose credits include Olympic Ceremonies, Oscars, Emmys, halftime shows, major concerts and political conventions.
More than a credit list, however, what I am now most inspired by is the thoughtful, calm and collected approach in his leadership, which I have had the good fortune of witnessing first hand.
There is a consensus among peers in his ability to understand all aspects of a production’s needs with a kind demeanor and clear precision, and I really look up to this.
Emmys, Grammys, & Oscars
The prominent awards shows (Emmys, Grammys, Oscars) all share a very similar production processes and team structure.
In fact, most of the individuals on the staff or crew on any given awards show have probably also worked on all of the others at some point or another.
As cliché as it sounds, it is a small world and small group of highly skilled production people that do all of these shows. You get to know everyone quickly, and it is all about who you know.
Smaller events mean fewer positions but lots more individual responsibility because a lot of the same elements of production are required.
I learned the ropes jumping between big shows and smaller events throughout college and early in my career, as this allowed me to leverage knowledge from one into the success of another. This works both ways.
Improvements in Technology
As with every industry, technology is rapidly excelling change and growth within many different branches of live entertainment.
Computer processing and internet speeds are allowing for faster, sometimes more efficient, processes in workflows.
Lighting and video technology is accelerating new effects, making the magic of stagecraft more accessible and more cost effective.
Virtual reality, as if lifted straight from the pages of a sci-fi novel, is now an actual thing entering conversations about events.
A lot of changes are coming. It’s hard to keep up.
I think some technologies will be passing gimmicks while others are going to create real value in providing a better live experience to the audience.
There is no doubt the world will continue to become more connected and smaller events with unique markets will be accessible to global audiences.
What technical & creative skills are necessary to be successful in Live Events?
Putting on a live event requires hundreds of people with vastly different skillsets working together toward a common goal, typically under a high-pressure deadline.
Once a show is live, there is no turning back and there are quite literally a thousand little things that can derail its success along the way.
While specific skills can range from technical to creative, common threads and required skills across any department is the ability to clearly communicate and calmly react to change—i.e. keep your cool.
Frequently, there is a massive amount of critical information that needs to be distributed to many people in very short windows of time, so one’s ability to think clearly and present concise top-line information needs to be communicated is crucial.
As a producer, it is important to have at least a conversational understanding of every department in order to make informed decisions.
As part of that role, people skills are extremely vital in discussing and gaining this understanding.
It’s a producer’s job to look out for every department and understand the dynamics within each team on a production.
The ability to listen to people and empathetically approach decisions from another’s point of view carries great value.
The Oscars - from Pre-Production to Post
I’ve had the opportunity to work on several Oscars broadcasts over the years in varying roles from post-production edits to handling screen content that appears within the set on stage. My specific responsibilities generally run a couple of months leading into the live show.
On a live show, post-production is, ironically, part of the pre-production process, as this is where all of the nominated film clips and graphics are collected and prepared ahead of the event.
These are all pre-built in an edit facility, and then played back live in the control truck during the broadcast. If you imagine a live show without post elements, it would just look like camera shots with no graphics or no nominee videos, so this is a huge component to the visual identity—what we call “packaging”—of a show.
This process starts several months before the show and really starts to pick up momentum 6-8 weeks out, once a general direction is established and nominees are announced.
Once rehearsals begin, we are able to take a look at on-stage graphic visuals—the screen content—in each segment on camera, then make note of any adjustments or revisions that need to be refined, and determine the best resolution to accommodating these notes.
Sometimes these are small adjustments—like graphic color shifts and scale—that can be done quickly within the media server on-site, and other times it will require us to go back to our design team to address more significant changes.
If you can keep calm in stressful situations and stay sane with a million little details constantly bouncing around in your head, live events might be just what you’re looking for!
Like other avenues in production, there are so many different disciplines that go into a live production, so even if producing isn’t your thing, it’s worth exploring any area that catches your interest just to see what it’s all about.
Editing, graphics, writing, production design, lighting, talent logistics, and technical roles are just a handful of the positions involved in a live show.
It can be a very rewarding and fulfilling career path.
I have fought, and reluctantly come to accept the fact that, regardless of the show and its timeline, it is just the nature of live production that things will inevitably change up until the last possible minute.
We jokingly will never call something “final,” until the show is over.
You can save a lot of unnecessary hair pulling by accepting this as a fact of life up front.
You don’t know what you don’t know, until you know it (chew on that for a minute).
There have been a few instances in my career where hindsight popped its impish head and taught me some big lessons.
There is no rulebook in production—or life for that matter—and many times it falls on you to be assertive and define your own list of responsibilities.
This can be challenging at times, as there will not always be someone else to tell you what to do. These are the uncomfortable growing pains we all go through when learning something new.
Two key concepts I find critical to this process are to define expectations and avoid making assumptions.
It is always important to get a razor sharp set of expectations set fourth when taking on any role in production. Ask thorough questions and be prepared to discuss everything with those you are working with to ensure you have clearly defined responsibilities.
The moment you assume someone else is going to handle something likely means no one is handling it.
I learned this the hard way once when I assumed someone else was managing all of the overtime to a budget that was actually my responsibility. It was a very expensive oops!
It’s also important to understand that there are personalities that can be difficult to work with, as with any industry. You can’t change personalities, but you can choose the personalities you work with.
Take note and choose to work with people who you respect and enjoy being around. Behavior that is anything short of pleasant is unprofessional and immature.
Almost every event today—some more gracefully and successfully than others—incorporates social media.
This most commonly appears in the form of an event hash tag, but also now extends into specific conversations and voting processes.
I can’t even keep up, but I think that MTV has proven successful in leading the way as they have put a lot of work into building pointed social platforms and practices that hit the mark with the audience.
There needs to be an understanding of how the audience uses social media in order to connect with them in a meaningful way.
Not all brands or networks understand this.
Personally, I see social media as a great tool to really pinpoint and share ideas or take part in conversations about industry-specific topics that would have been more difficult to come by a few years back.
You can now actively take part in a conference discussion remotely on Twitter, or draw inspiration from people on Instagram.
There are infinite future uses for this connectivity, and it is only going to continue to connect us through real time communication that is tailored to individual interests.
What is something about your career that you would like people to know that they might not?
In entertainment and as a freelancer in particular, you can really define your own career path.
It’s okay to jump around, see what fits, what doesn’t. Sometimes you have to take a step or two back to move forward, but this is crucial to avoid getting stuck doing something you’re not crazy about.
If you’re working in a field or on a project or with people that you’re not content with, it’s important to recognize this and take the leap to move on to something else.
This can sometimes feel like a risky move, but a small price to pay now as every day you’re not doing what you want to be doing is time wasted towards getting experience on something else that you might enjoy.
Save up so you can have the freedom to make these important choices in your career. Small sacrifices now can make a big difference down the road.
Current Career Ambitions
Currently, my focus lies on refining my skills as a live show producer and growing my production company, Anticipate.
The core value and message of any project I take on is important to me, and I want to work with others who share this mindset as I continue to expand into various facets of show production including performing arts, festivals, industrial events, and more.
Anything Else You Would Like to Share?
Be nice, humble, eager, and patient. Never stop asking questions, always think of ways to make other people’s jobs easier and you can do whatever you want.