Author Doug Matthews talks about the new editions of his Special Event Production books

Doug Matthews speaks to us about what got him interested in writing on special events, how he believes the industry can move forward and why his books needed to be written.

1.  Why did these books need to be written?

These two were first written to cover a gap in the knowledge base of both event practitioners and event management students. The material in both books is intended for university-level students or existing practitioners who already have a fairly good basic knowledge and perhaps a few years working in the field. The books add to that knowledge by going into much more depth.

2.  How are these different from other books in the field?

Most other books in the field do not cover both the theoretical aspects AND the practical aspects of any given subject the way these books do. For example, there is a lot of explanation about how event audio systems and event lighting systems work as well as explanations of how to use the systems in a practical sense for an event. However, I have tried to be conscious of not being too technical so that the books are understandable to someone less familiar with technical processed and jargon. The intention is that an event manager who has read the books should be able to have an intelligent conversation with a technician in any of these areas without feeling lost or embarrassed because they don’t understand the terminology or how the systems work. These books also differ from others through the strong emphasis on risk management and the necessity for event practitioners to follow all industry standards, guidelines, and regulations pertaining to the safety of equipment and personnel.

3.  What do you hope readers will take away from these books?

I hope readers will take away an appreciation for the complexity of the industry of special events and the fact that to create and organize a memorable and safe event requires extensive knowledge in a number of key areas. The industry is becoming very sophisticated and practitioners need to be up to the right level of professionalism.

4.  Can you tell us about the instructor/supplemental materials available?

Supplemental materials include: additional sets of quiz questions for every chapter in the two books; fully organized and coordinated PowerPoint presentations that correspond to the layouts of each chapter; templates for forms such as contracts, evaluations, risk assessment, and production schedules; and web links for additional information.

5.  What’s new to this edition?

For Special Event Production: The Process there are three new chapters: Event Design, Information Technology, and Sustainability and Event Production. These were added to bring in some of the latest developments in the field. There is also a new section in each chapter called “Voice of the Industry” in which I have conducted interviews with some of the most respected experts in the various fields and subjects from all over the world. Finally, there has been a wholesale change-out of images and diagrams in the book plus updated questions and true industry anecdotes that I have dubbed “war stories”. Of course, every chapter has completely updated explanations of current technology and practices. The second book, Special Event Production: The Resources, does not contain any new chapters but has been updated in all other ways that The Process has.

6.  Are there any key messages you’d like to highlight?

I would like to highlight is the importance of event practitioners gaining knowledge in the industry, especially with respect to risk. We are still seeing far too many major deadly accidents at special events in every country, such as stage roof collapses, fires, and crowd crushes. These are all preventable if the organizers and technical suppliers to the industry had more knowledge of, and put more emphasis on, proper risk management and following standards and regulations. These Special Event Production books books go a long way in ensuring that practitioners have something readily available to bridging that knowledge gap.

7.  Can you offer some guidelines for professionals, students and researchers?

My advice is especially for event managers. Do not be afraid to make the effort to understand the services for which you are contracting, such as entertainment, decor, A-V, audio, lighting, staging, special effects, and tenting. Many managers have come into the industry with very little understanding of these areas. They expect that all will be well if they just let the sub-contractors “do their thing.” The managers forget that they themselves will be on the hook if the event is unsuccessful or a major problem or disaster occurs. This does not necessarily mean that every manager has to help to decorate or to rig lighting gear but it does mean spending some time with technicians and suppliers and getting to know their processes as well as how they contribute to the success of the event.

8.  Can you share a story/anecdote from the books that illustrates a key message?

This story is from Chapter 8 “Risk Management” in Special Event Production: The Process:

“My company was contracted to produce an original entertainment show for an international convention that integrated cirque-type acts with traditional west coast native performers. This involved dancers, musicians, a magician, fire performers, and aerial silk artists. The performers were to act out a simple story told in segments between dinner courses, with the finale being the aerial silk performance at the end of dinner.

In preparing for the show, we had jumped through many hoops in order to obtain the appropriate insurance for the fire performances. We had also drawn the event layout completely on CADD leaving sufficient safe distances between performers and the audience as well as safety areas below the aerial performers. All the necessary fire safety equipment was nearby, the proper technical equipment and personnel were in place, and security personnel were standing by.

The performances went off without a hitch and the client was very pleased. After congratulating everyone for a job well done, I proceeded backstage to thank the performers. While I was there, one of my assistants ran back to inform me that someone was trying to climb the two silks left hanging by the aerial artists. I rushed back out to the event space to find two guests making their way up the silks (each about 25 ft high) while a security official tried to get them down. Since there was only one official and the silks were about 30 ft apart, the official only managed to dissuade one of the perpetrators. By the time I and the official arrived at the second silk, the guest was about 20 ft up and hanging upside down. The performer responsible soon arrived and together we managed to convince the guest to come down safely.

What did I learn? I thought we had followed good risk management protocol; however, I had not been made aware that the bars would be remaining open to guests once the main event was over. There was obviously a communications failure somewhere and hindsight says we should have asked those questions.”

9.  What got you interested in writing on this subject?

I owned a special event production company for over 19 years when the industry of special events was in its infancy. At that time (mid-1980s) there were no courses and we all learned by experience, making a lot of mistakes along the way, some of which I have documented the “war stories”. I then went on to teach special event planning and production at a local university and discovered that there were no suitable texts for reference so I created my own self-published work. This was eventually rewritten as the first editions to these current textbooks that are now used all around the world.

10.  What suggestions would you make for change/future research/interventions?

At present there are several disciplines that study special events, although they do not all call them the same name. These disciplines include cultural anthropology, performance studies, history, sociology, and the most recent one, event studies. They should all inform each other. Most importantly, I believe all the “theoretical disciplines” (e.g. anthropology, history, sociology, performance studies, event studies) should inform the practical discipline of event management (the one for which my textbooks are written). Unfortunately, at the present time, all these disciplines seem to be operating and researching completely independently with minimal, if any, feedback to the practitioners. A few authors have, like me, suggested more incorporation of these other disciplines into that of event studies or event management. In 2012 I published the technical paper “The Analysis of Historical Spectacle and Its Potential Impact on Event Studies” and within it I recommend incorporating the study of the historical spectacle as a core component for both event studies and event management courses. Likewise, my paper argues that the aspects of ritual as studied by cultural anthropologists should also be incorporated into event studies. In Chapter 2 of The Process, “Event Design”, I have, to a limited extent, worked cultural anthropology into the text as an example of how this can be done within a technical resource.

11.  Recent research/key findings

Research within the practitioner discipline of event management is minimal to non-existent. The most research surfaces within the event studies discipline which is also sometimes confusingly called event management. However, the research available tends to concentrate on only events that affect tourism. Research needs to broaden to include all types of events, but most importantly corporate events and social events, because these are where most event practitioners work. The results of the research must then be communicated back to the practitioners through a yet-to-be-determined process.

Also, as I’ve previously mentioned, there should be a broader range of background courses available within event management programs that specifically incorporate history and anthropology and how they can be applied to the creation of modern events. 

By Doug Matthews

  • Special Event Production: The Resources

    2nd Edition

    By Doug Matthews

    This must-have guide to special event production resources looks deep behind the scenes of an event and dissects what it is that creates success. It analyses the resources and is an extensive reference guide to the technical details of a big event. It provides a thorough grounding on the…

    Paperback – 2015-09-14

  • Special Event Production: The Process

    2nd Edition

    By Doug Matthews

    This must-have guide to special event production looks deep behind the scenes of an event and dissects what it is that creates success. It analyses the process - the planning and business aspects - to provide a unique guide to producing a variety of events from weddings to festivals. It explains…

    Paperback – 2015-09-14