Earlier this week, the DNCC announced the team that will help craft the overall look, sound and execution of the Convention program, including the stage and podium design for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The team, made up of Bruce Rodgers, Lisa Geers, Bob Dickinson and Pat Baltzell, will work with Executive Producers Ricky Kirshner and Mark Squier to make look and feel of the Convention a most memorable event.
We had the opportunity to ask Bruce Rodgers, Convention Production Designer and creator of Tribe media a few questions about his personal history, his take on stage design, the Rocky Mountain West and the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Q: The first thing people will see when they walk into the Pepsi Center on August 25th will be the stage for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Not to put any pressure on you, but how DO you deal with that kind of pressure when developing a design?
A: Thanks! This is a good first question. For a few months now, my California studio and I have been working hard on the 2008 Democratic National Convention concept. We’re still in the early phases so the pressure is on to create something really special…And I know we are on to something great…
But to answer your question: The pressure on this project is all about creating something that will inspire people visually and speak to people from all walks of life. I deal with this pressure by reminding myself where I come from, my family, my hometown, etc. – that I’m part of the audience of normal people that want a positive exciting outlook on life. Once we’re on site the pressure increases because of the mix of all the technology and architecture and the potential design changes and challenges, but it will all come together. This production team is made up of great live television and DNCC people.
Q: Speaking of pressure, any stories of 11th hour changes or surprises you’ll never forget?
A: Oh yeah! In live television and production there are always last minute changes and surprises…That’s the fun part of my job (and the hectic part)…
Last year’s Super Bowl halftime performance, starring Prince. Normally a halftime performance is already pressure packed — we’re allowed 5 minutes to set up the show, which takes 1,000 volunteers and 200 production staff members to pull it off — and then the actual performance is 12 minutes long. All in front of a live TV audience of 140 million worldwide. It’s our chance to pull off a great moment in TV music performance history.
But for us, and Prince, the pressure multiplied thanks to God’s gift of a huge rainstorm. I remember being there and waiting for our cue to start our set up. The huge set was broken into 20 large portable puzzle piece chunks all lined up like an abstract parade outside of the stadium. While we waited for the 2nd quarter to end, the volunteers and staff and 300 member marching band and 3,000 fans who would be allowed on the field were being pelted by the huge Florida rainstorm.
Not a single person in the production complained or doubted we could pull it off, and we were ready. It was exciting, nerve racking and daunting. What would the rain do to the lighting? Would the stage be too slippery? Would the sound work? Would the stadium audience brave the rains with us? Would the cameras work? Would the clouds allow us to get the blimp shot? Would the pyrotechnics work in the soaking rain?
Once we were allowed to set up, it was mayhem everywhere. We were losing power and lights. We lost camera connections. The sounds coming thru the walkie-talkies sounded like a scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and as we got closer to the start of the actual performance, the pressure mounted.
Hidden inside one of the set carts was the amazing Prince who would ride out onto the field hidden from the audience. His cart wasn’t completely waterproof, so I know it wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but once the show started and he stepped onto the electric lift to take him up to the stage surface, I saw a performance that will stand the test of time. The cameras and lights and pyro effects and stage all came together. It took a great artist and a great team to give this inspiring performance to the audience. It was very cool to be part of that experience.
Q: Presumably much of your work is done before a show begins. Are you usually on hand to watch? And if so, what’s going through your mind as you watch the public take it all in for the first time?
A: Luckily, with the great people I work with, our shows are fun and huge and exciting. In live TV and show production, there’s an energy that is unique. People who attend live shows and concerts and football games and events such as the Democratic National Convention bring an essence and vibe to the event. They are ready to group together to take part in the event. Anyone who has ever gathered as a large group, a school or church gathering, or a big ball game or concert knows the feelings that sweep across the room when everyone is in sync. When this happens and I’m in the arena or stadium or concert hall, I blend in and enjoy myself immensely. Feels good to add my part into the mix.
Q: Where did you grow up and what led you to this line of work?
A: I was born in Monahans, Texas and raised 30 miles north in the west Texas oilfield city of Odessa. I’m a 5th generation Texan and proud of it. My father worked in the oilfields driving trucks and my mother was a mom and housewife. My two brothers and I were raised with lots of creative freedom, and we always had music in our lives. We went to church and we had lots of fun being involved in community things. And being in west Texas, we were outdoors quite a bit where the weather and oil industry combine to make for very dramatic memories. All these things have contributed to the way I design and the career I found myself in. I eventually studied architecture and set design at Texas Tech University and then moved to Hollywood to find a career in film and TV. That was twenty years ago. Wow.
Q: You’re building the set for the Super Bowl halftime show again this year. Any previews on what it’s going to look like?
A: Rain is not an option this year because the stadium has a roof. Somehow the lack of rain means more pressure on us. I can’t show you sketches, but I’m allowed to tell you that it will be huge and inspiring. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a great American band, and we have the same team as last year, so I think the audience will love what we’ve created.
Q: Will this be your first show in Denver?
A: I really love the feel of Denver, it’s a great city. This is my first time to do a Denver based project, although I’ve had tours such as Rascal Flatts and Dave Matthews Band perform in Denver.
Q: Is there anything about the West that inspires you?
A: Being from west Texas I’ve always been inspired by the people, who are larger than life. Texas isn’t the only state that is larger than life — Colorado, New Mexico and California are too. I think people from the West get their inspiration to do great things from each other and from nature. People help us learn and strive, and nature keeps us humble and hopeful.