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Category: Logistics

Don’t Be Line Item Wise… and Big Picture Foolish

We’re starting to see it a lot these days – clients need to cut their budgets.

So they pick line items out of their budget and start asking, “Can we cut this? Do we really need that?”

Ah, if only life were that simple.

An AV budget is (or at least SHOULD be) a lot more than just a bunch of lines with numbers. There’s the overall big picture to consider…making a budget

Gear, labor, facility regulations & charges, transportation, planning, and timing are all intertwined. Changes to one area of event production affect the others. You may think you’re saving money but you could end up paying more in the long run.

Some decide to go with inferior gear (or providers) when making a budget. For example, you may decide to use projectors that are not as bright in order to save a few bucks. But the end result is screens that look washed out that people have a hard time seeing, so all the money you spend on great cameras and switching gear is pointless. If you cut too much lighting then your cameras may look terrible. Going with a smaller or lesser quality sound system means people can’t hear as well, so what’s the point of having a great-looking set when the sound is inaudible? An AV company that is cheap but inefficient or unprepared may end up costing you a fortune in union labor and overtime.

So here’s my point: when making a budget you have to consider the big picture. That means getting event production priorities down to an understandable level. What is REALLY important for your event? That needs to be the starting point. making a budgetFor example, if you have big-name presenters at your event then audio is crucial. Start with a good sound system with good microphones and a good audio engineer. Then go on from there. How many people are attending and can they all see the stage? If it’s a big audience then you should have cameras and screens. Recording the event to edit later? Then quality video is a must. For each thing you add to the priority list you have to consider how that affects your budget in other areas. Oops, you decided on cameras and screens so that means you’ll need lighting. That also means rigging and possible facility charges. See how this goes? It can get expensive quickly.

It’s too easy for priorities to get lost in the chaos of AV budgets and event planning. Money starts getting thrown into areas that, in the long run, really aren’t that important. Or, worse yet, a knee-jerk reaction makes you cut something out of the budget, then you pay a fortune to add it back on site because it was more important than you thought. Believe me, it happens. A lot! There’s a saying in the AV business: in chaos there’s profit! Don’t get caught. Understand what your priorities are and be prepared. THEN, go to your AV provider and see where you can save.

Don’t Forget the Fire Marshal!

So… you’ve planned your event, your AV company has set up, the tables and chairs have been dropped. Then the fire marshal walks in and throws a monkey wrench into your whole program.

Believe it or not they actually do show up, and more often than you may realize. event planningThey are not interested in whether your set up looks great or not. They are interested in public safety. And, if they see fit, they can prevent your session from taking place.

But with a little due diligence you, as the event planner, can avoid this problem.


Make sure that all exits are clearly visible.

Depending on room size and seating capacity, the fire marshal may require that exits behind the stage and technical areas be accessible. A fire marshal may even require personnel stationed at exits to assist in the event of an emergency.

Aisle Ways

Aisle ways need to be clear and unobstructed.

Required widths of aisle will vary depending on crowd size and location of exits. Usually the facility will know what the fire marshal requires. Obtaining this information should be a priority on your event planning checklist.

Trip Hazards

You might think that trip hazards are things that are in the way of walkways or exits. But trip hazards can also be considered thing that COULD be in walkways.

Fire marshals may require chairs to be tied or fixed together, preventing them from being moved into areas where they would be in the way if there was an emergency. A good event coordinator will make sure everything is up to code beforehand. 

Believe It Or Not… The Fire Marshal Doesn’t Care How Great Your Set-Up Looks. His No. 1 Concern Is Public Safety… And If Isn’t Yours, He’ll Shut You Down.


A fire marshal may require that an AV equipment company provide proof that drapery and other scenic material have been fireproofed.

Most professional drapery will have a tag sewn in. But other custom-made scenery may be an issue if near lights or other heat sources.

Also, anything hung over people’s heads must have a safety wire that is steel.

Fog Machines & Fire Alarms

AV companies and lighting designers love to use fog machines and hazers because it makes the light beams visible (which is a great effect, by the way), but these devices wreak havoc on smoke detectors.

event planning checklistUsing fog machines must be approved in advance so that smoke alarms and fire detectors can be disabled.

But wait!

In order to do that at a fire marshal will usually requires that at least one person (sometimes more) be hired to stand guard and manually trip fire alarms in the event of a fire. This is usually the case ANY time smoke detectors are disabled, even for rehearsals and focusing lights.


Simply put, if you have any kind of fireworks in your event don’t mess around.

First, make sure the facility knows of your plans. Then, call the fire marshal at the very beginning of your event planning stages. Tell them everything you’re planning on doing and get their approval.

Also, make sure your AV company knows what you’re doing. Placement of pyrotechnics is also of major concern for the AV company since they can damage screens and other delicate AV equipment.

Lighting Your Event

Lighting can dramatically add to your event and can be reasonably priced to very expensive. Like most things, it needs to be planned out. Here are some basics.

Stage Wash

A stage wash is just what the name implies: general lighting covering a stage area.

A stage wash needs to be even (without bright spots or dark spots), especially if you are using cameras. That means you need enough lighting instruments to cover the size stage you have, not only from side to side but front to back. The number of lights needed varies depending on the type of lights used (ellipsoidals, par cans, parnels, fresnels, there are all kinds).

Positioning of the lights is also important. If the lights are hung to low or too far away then they tend to blind the people on stage. Too high and the lights cast shadows on people’s faces under eye sockets, noses, and chins, which just plain looks bad. Ideally, lights should aim down at a 45 degree angle.

So (this is the part where those high school geometry classes pay off), if the lights are hung 16 feet above the stage, they should also be 16 feet in front of the stage. If you have a really deep stage then you may need multiple rows of lights.


Specials are fixed lights used for a specific purpose, say a podium special or a talent special.

Maybe someone is going to sing a solo on stage and you want to light just them and not the entire stage. That’s where you need a special (even though the talent may not be, if you get my drift). Specials can also have gobos, which are patterns or logos.

Specials are easy to do but need to be planned in advance. Once the light rig is in the air and focused it’s a real pain (and a costly one) to add lights later.

Scenic Lights

These can literally be just about anything, from light set pieces on the stage to lighting center pieces on audience tables.

Scenic lighting can add color & patterns and change the overall mood of the room. Some basic examples are uplighting of drapery, wall and ceiling lighting, and lighting of the audience area.

Lighting Can Define Your Event, Or Bankrupt It. Knowing How to Effectively Plan Gives You the Power to Make the Smartest Bid Possible.


av equipmentYep, you guessed it. Lights that move. Moving light technology has exploded over the last 10 years or so.

Some movers just add color washes to the stage and scenery. Some movers have amazingly sophisticated patterns and effects capabilities.

These lights can shine on objects for effects, such as backdrops or scenery. But with a little haze in the room the movers shoot beams of lights of every conceivable sort that add big WOW factor.


Naturally, there are associated costs beyond the cost of the lights.

In addition to rigging and cabling, lights require lots of power. And, if you want to use haze (which lighting companies love to propose) then it MUST be planned with the venue.

Use of hazers and fog machines require that fire detectors be disabled, which usually also requires hiring a dedicated person to stand guard and pull a fire alarm in case of a real fire.

So when you get your bid, ask lots of questions about additional requirements.

Get Your Measuring Tape

It amazes me still how often mistakes are made

over the amount of space audio visual equipment needs for proper set-up. Often we walk into rooms where chairs and tables go wall-to-wall and we’re expected to set up screens, projectors, lights, sound equipment, audio equipment, and technical positions where there’s very little space to put it all.

Just as you shouldn’t book a room without being sure you can seat enough people, you need to take into account how much space you need for audio visual support.

Probably the biggest thing that gets overlooked is ceiling height and obstacles such as chandeliers and ceiling coves. So let’s get our measuring tapes and do the math.

Measure Twice, Set Up Once: In the Midst of High-Tech Audio Visual Technology, Event Planners’ Most Important Tool Remains The Simple Measuring Tape

Let’s say you want a big screen for your event. We’ll be brave and say you want a 11’3″ X 20′ screen. The screen with its frame is 12′ tall. You want it a minimum of 4 feet off the ground (preferably more) and probably a drape over the top (which is another foot). So, in this scenario, you will need a room that is at least 17′ tall with no ceiling obstructions where you want your screens to go. Lighting rigs and speaker systems also have ceiling height requirements based on the type of systems.

Also overlooked is reasonable space for technical areas, such as places for mixing consoles (also known as Front-of-House), camera positions, video technical area (also known as Video Village), and backstage areas. Depending on the size of your event, these areas may need a little or a lot of space.

Then there’s the space that’s needed to operate the AV equipment. Take projectors and screens, for example. There is a minimum projection distance required for a projector to fill a screen, whether it’s front or rear projection. There’s no changing that, no matter how much space is needed for tables and chairs!

There are a lot of options for projector lenses, but, usually, projectors need– at minimum– a distance about 1.5 times the screen width to fill the screen (twice the width for most small and lower end projectors). That’s from the projector lens to the screen. So, if you’re planning on a 10-foot wide screen, the projector has to sit 15 feet away; plus a couple of feet for the size of the projector.

Items such as speaker stands and ground-supported lighting towers will also take up significant floor space.

So, plan for some head-room (no pun intended). Your AV provider will be able to tell you how much space will be needed. As always, don’t just rely on the venue to tell you how much space you need, they are sometimes wrong. And, once the room is booked, your options become fewer and– perhaps– more expensive.

You are the event planner or event coordinator. So don’t forget your measuring tape!
measuring tape 2

AV vs Catering

Audio Visual vs Catering

Food at Events

Oddly enough, AV and catering do have some needs in common, mainly the need for floor space and room access. Unfortunately, this little detail is often overlooked and causes logistical problems and frustration with both food servers and Audio-Visual crews. So here are some rules to live by.

First, always let your AV provider know if there is going to be any catering in a room.

This includes buffets & serving stations, bars, and especially served meals. Here’s the kicker, give your AV company this tasty little morsel of information BEFORE they set up the AV! Here’s why. An AV set-up will often block access doors, usually on the wall where the stage is located. If that happens to be where catering needs to enter and exit, guess what? You’ve got a conflict.

In addition to obstacles such as screens, drapery, scenery, projection towers, speaker stands, equipment racks, and AV catering issuesground supported equipment, there is also a string of cables and power cords that hook everything together which can be trip hazards for servers. AV also needs to have a place for their empty road cases, which is most often behind the stage, drape, or screens. Once this is all set up it can be a major undertaking to re-position all this stuff to make access for catering (which, by the way, usually comes with added cost to you). If known in advance, an AV company can usually work around catering needs, even though a solution may not make either party completely happy.

Second, plan on space for catering and set some ground rules.

Speaker stacks, equipment racks, camera platforms, and stage pieces are completely off limits for use as serving platforms! Serving stations that are set-up near or in front of technical positions can also cause some unraveling of nerves. Believe it or not, these things are common problems.

Finally, schedule accordingly.AV Catering same event

Catering needs time in the room to set tables and prep food and drinks. This can be a problem if there is still AV gear being set-up and dialed in, or if there is a scheduled rehearsal or equipment check going on. Also let your AV provider know of any room changes in advance, such as closing or opening of air walls, any changes in seating configuration, or anything else that will affect room space.

There is one more thing to keep in mind. AV gear such as cameras and technical positions always require cabling, which is often run along the floor and taped down. These cables may need to traverse open floor space as well as doorways. AV companies will do their best, but often have few options when it comes to cable paths.

AV Terms Every Event Planner Should Know

In the AV biz we tend to throw around a lot of terminology that we take for granted. As an event planner, you may or may not already be familiar with our AV lingo. So here’s some AV terms that every Event Planner should know. These terms can help you jive with your AV provider and, perhaps, even more groovy people.