On the Lot with Janet Elkins
Janet Elkins sits down for lunch with Hillary Harris at Warner Bros. Studios
As the owner of Event Works for more than 20 years, Janet Elkins remains eternally youthful by always taking on new challenges and flying off to destinations unknown at the drop of a hat. In fact, when she stopped by for lunch on the lot, she was just returning from a logistically difficult event in New York. As we tucked into a salmon salad, I just had to hear more about this trip, which I knew had been in the planning stages for months. Here’s a peek into our conversation.
Hillary: So, how was it having 1,600 people over for dinner in New York at Liberty Island? And I heard there was rain, ferry boats, fireworks, and birthday cakes?
Janet: (laughing) The birthday cakes were definitely different. It’s part of this client’s template to celebrate birthdays that take place in the month of the event. There were 45 in all and “Happy Birthday” was sung in Mandarin and Chinese. Each birthday person got a 10-inch cake. This was not an easy feat given the ferry delivery and the rain!
Hillary: So let’s go back to the weather. We are lucky in Southern California to have gorgeous weather year round which works well for our outdoor back lot events. Clients want to be outdoors. Did you have concerns doing an outdoor event on the east coast this time of year?
Janet: Oh, definitely. But we were told that it would be beautiful weather on Monday and Wednesday and rain on Tuesday, so we did it anyway. The skies were fine when the first ferry left Ellis Island for Liberty Island and then opened up as soon as it landed.
Making that rain call is always a hard decision. It’s a gamble. With total hindsight a week later, my client feels he made the right decision, and so do I. It was a teachable moment – to go forward rather than not go at all. The guests all had an experience of Liberty Island. They were all from China, and even if you aren’t from China, how many times in your life will you have a private event on Liberty Island – even if it is in a poncho?
Hillary: Friends should not let friends wear ponchos, but our guests should definitely wear them! Was that historic angle the reason you chose this venue, even with all its challenges?
Janet: A lot of time was spent looking for potential venues in New York and some had to be ruled out because of the size; we needed a place for 1,600 people. But what is more iconic than the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island to America? In China, you’d go to the Forbidden City. In India, the Taj Mahal.
On this coast, a unique experience would be taking 1,600 guests beyond the exclusive gates of Warner Bros. Studios. As an event planner, making that decision is taking a chance and doing something different; creating an event that is exclusive and other “safe” venues, such as a hotel or convention center, can’t give you. How incredible for a group in Los Angeles to have an event on a street where they film famous movies?
Hillary: Thanks! I feel that way, that’s for sure. And entertainment is always a big part of making that experience special. What did you do for this Asian audience, many of whom didn’t speak English?
Janet: You hit it right on the head – we needed talent that would appeal to them. During cocktails on Liberty Island, we had 60 different types of performers. Then we ferried everyone to Ellis Island for a sit-down dinner, at the end of which was a five-barge fireworks show followed by a performance by the wonderful Leehom Wang, a Chinese superstar who was born in New York.
I’m just hitting the highlights here, but there were so many behind-the-scenes challenges and logistics. I know everything there is about ferries: when they run, what they are named, how many people they can hold, when décor and food can be delivered, and that there is a bridge in New Jersey that can be accessed if needed.
The rehearsals had to take place after 5 p.m. on Monday, and then all the lights had to come down so the island could be open to the public, then put back up. And the client was worried about the VIPs getting here on time, so we arranged for a helicopter on standby and worked out all those logistics. Then we ended up using limos instead. We had 60 performers, and all their handlers to move back and forth, as well as security. I can bore you for hours with more excruciating details, but I’ll stop here. I think I need dessert!
Hillary: Cheesecake – not a birthday cake – is coming and it’s well-deserved. I understand how taxing it can be. Our Warner Bros. International Television Gala is filled with as many details…but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I know you love this profession, too. But I heard – thank you, social media – that there was a second storm. Tell me about that.
Janet: That was kind of funny! The fireworks show not only lit up the sky over the Hudson River, but it lit up local Twitter feeds. The best part was when the reporters got into the conversation. Here’s a couple that we caught:
Hillary: Oh my God, I love that. You couldn’t ask for a better example of how what we do sometimes extends beyond the perimeters of our events into the world. What’s next on the agenda?
Janet: Believe it or not, I’m off to the doctor to get my shots for Africa. I’m going on a trek to Rwanda with Steve [her husband] to follow Dian Fossey’s trail to see the Silverback Gorillas.
Hillary: Well, that should be a piece of cake now after New York! I can’t wait to hear about that. Thanks so much for stopping by. Oh, and hey…feel free to bring 1,600 of your friends by the studio any time. We’ve got more cheesecake!
Originally posted on www.wbspecialevents.com
Photos courtesy of Event Works