Behind the Scenes at the MTV Movie Awards
Chase Simonds on Creating Graphics, Screen Content and Flow of a Live Televised Event
On a late Friday morning at the entertainment complex, L.A. Live, tourists are enjoying the California sun, lazily strolling about from shop to shop, dining at well-known city restaurants, stepping over bright yellow cable guards, and avoiding armies of security guards. Wait, what? On any given day, this is exactly what tourists will see as L.A. Live is home to several large arenas and theaters where live production is ongoing. Today, those cables, guards, stanchions and people wearing huge security badges around their necks all lead to the Nokia Theater.
Inside, the scene is markedly different from the warm, sunny day. It’s dark and a bit cold. Better to offset the flaming Movie Awards logo. Better to enhance the look of the larger-than-life three-dimensional “X” on the stage flanked by characters from the film, The X-Men: Days of Future Past. Better to make the flickering flames which are burning in a graphic image of Los Angeles all the more intense. Better to create the total experience of a post-a-popcorn-lyptic (yes, the city is aflame due to meteorites of flaming popcorn) world of the 2014 MTV Movie Awards as envisioned this year by Production Designer Tamlyn Wright.
In the theater’s seats, where soon a multitude of young Hollywood stars will sit, there are makeshift tables filled with water bottles, papers, computers and people on headsets. One of those people is Chase Simonds, a freelance show producer for corporate and broadcast live events, who for the MTV Movie Awards has been brought on as Coordinating Producer.
His role is part techie, part administrator, part wrangler of hundreds of clips of video footage (called video packages), but he is always a full-time diplomat. This is especially true on this project as the awards are a launch point for several major studios who will promote movies that will appeal to this audience through exclusive sneak peeks and staged moments. Last year a centerpiece film of the awards, which Simonds also worked on, was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. This year those movies are The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla and X-Men: Days of Future Past which will be released in summer.
Moments earlier, Simonds was in tech mode. Now, he’s back to diplomat, conferring with a representative from Fox about completely changing the main stage graphic only two days before the show while other reps from Warner Bros. wait patiently by to watch their segment in full tech rehearsal.
Working on this show with veteran executive producers Jesse Ignjatovic of Den of Thieves, Lee Lodge and Jennifer Jones, both independent producers, and Garrett English of MTV, Simonds’ youthful countenance might lead you to believe him to be an intern, but you’d be greatly mistaken. In just five years, Simonds has already worked in similar positions on the Oscars, The Emmys, the People’s Choice Awards, the Video Music Awards (VMAs), and the Country Music Awards (CMAs), among other corporate live events and broadcast shows.
After the show aired live on March 13, 2014, Simonds had a little more time to catch us up on how he got to this position, and the entire MTV Movie Awards experience.
With all that work under your belt already, you must have hit the ground running out of college.
Simonds: (nods) I went to Chapman University specifically because it offered a hybrid major that would prepare me for live event production. I graduated in 2008 with a degree in PR and Advertising and an emphasis on broadcast production. It was exactly what I wanted because it balances marketing and branding with the skills needed to produce an event or film. I always knew I wanted to go into live events so to get my foot in the door I’d read the credits at the ends of show I liked and contact the producers. I got an internship on the VH1 Big Awards show from that and, eventually, got my first paying television gig on the MTV Video Music Awards.
What is the first thing that happens on a show like this?
Simonds: Like an event, the first thing that is addressed is the show’s identity; what we want to communicate to the audience. This year, Tamlyn’s look was about the explosion of big blockbuster films. Once the identity is defined, I take this direction and work closely with our team of editors and graphic artists to make sure this theme is consistent through all of the show graphics and video packages – those segments of clips that run throughout announcing the nominated films, special awards, and the winners. Last year the look was based more around a contemporary interpretation of space, drawing inspiration from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. This year was big, bold and blocky. Fire and destruction was an undercurrent to all the video packages, whether those were packages for the special awards such as the Trailblazer and the Generation award, or the eight in-show award packages. The producers come together several months out to pitch the creative direction to MTV and once it’s approved we get started.
I understand you begin working on this about two months before the show, then it all comes down to a few intense days. Can you talk about the process?
Simonds: In the time leading up to the show I oversee a team who collects all those clips – roughly more than 370 in all – that will be used in the video packages. The biggest part of what I do at that point is ensure that they are all approved by studios and licensed for use by MTV. Then I work with a creative team to produce the packages and work with the executive producers on the final creative direction and timing of the show. In rehearsals, led by our show’s television director, Hamish Hamilton, we play each video package to see how it appears and flows within the context of the show. That’s one day of rehearsal. The next day we rehearse with the live performers to see how the screen graphics flow within their performance as seen by the TV audience at home.
What are examples of some of the changes that you make once you see everything all together on stage and the team views how it looks in the camera?
Simonds: One was the X-Men graphic which was a huge part of the proscenium backdrop – a130-foot-wide LED screen. It was designed one way – with characters on either side of the large 3-D “X” on stage. But on camera, it was clear that it would look better if the order of the characters was flipped. In 24 hours, the artists had flipped it. That was a huge feat due to the time it takes to render graphics in such a large-screen format. Another type of change comes with the live performances themselves. I worked with artist management teams to be sure that the screen images that are shown during their performances stay true to the artist’s vision, but also translate and fit within the context of the show as seen by the television audience. For example, the band Twenty One Pilots had rehearsed with no screen graphics, just a lighting look. On camera, it was clear that it would be better to fill in some dark areas of the stage with scenic video content and subtle texture. Within 12 hours, our graphics team came up with a look that was right for the performance just in time for the live show.
What is the last thing that happens with a show like this?
Simonds: The same night as the live show airs, we do a 24-hour-edit to turnaround a new version of the show, removing any awkward moments or extended time. There are a lot of editing tricks we can do to make a show shorter, such as cutting the time that people walk in and out and trimming some of the less exciting acceptance speeches. The object is to make it fun and entertaining.
What have you learned doing these televised live shows that can translate to the event world?
Simonds: It’s important to have a good run-down on paper with exact timing and sequence for the night, to have a great director calling the show and a keen sense of pacing. And that these endeavors are a team effort no matter what. On these shows, the teams are like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Everyone is a virtuoso yet they have to come together as one. The same is applicable to running any event smoothly, with or without a live stage show component.
2014 MTV MOVIE AWARDS VIDEO CLIPS BY THE NUMBERS
· • 34 nominated films
· • 27 studios involved
· • 83 individual films featured in all packages
· • 8 in-show award packages
· • 3 in-show special packages: Trailblazer, Generation, Paul Walker Tribute
· • Roughly 375 clips in all
· • 2 exclusive world premiere sneak peeks
X-Men: Days of Future Past
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
· • 2 screen looks for musical performances
Twenty One Pilots
Eminem & Rihanna
eNews April 2014