ADSMPA Council When Shit Happens

When Sh!t Happens: How the Director's Team Deals with Unexpected Events in Live Variety Television

April 19, 2023 A Western AD/SM/PA Council Event

On April 19, DGA members gathered at the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater for an informative and entertaining discussion hosted by the Western AD/SM/PA Council: When Sh!t Happens: How the Director’s Team Deals with Unexpected Events in Live Variety Television. Moderated by Director Don Mischer and Stage Manager Valdez Flagg and illustrated by clips from productions that showed both ends of the spectrum, the event featured Directors Sandra Restrepo, Alex Rudzinski and Glenn Weiss; Associate Director/Stage Manager Gary Natoli; Stage Managers John Esposito and Alissa Hoyo; and Associate Directors Eve Adair and Susan Kopensky, who all shared the benefit of their knowledge and experience in a conversation about how to get things right when things go wrong.

The event kicked off with a welcome from moderators Mischer and Flagg who said, “This is meant to be educational. We are here to not just discuss war stories but to impart wisdom we have learned from prior incidents and failures. When things go right the Directors, Associate Directors, and Stage Managers collaborate to execute the vision of each show, overseeing all the departments, harmoniously towards a flawless production. We hope to learn lessons from when things go wrong. That is what we are going to explore, the various topics of shit that we have all been through.”

After presenting a clip of one of the most infamous moments in television history, Associate Director/Stage Manager Gary Natoli began the discussion of how the 2004 Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake wardrobe malfunction from the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show rippled across the industry. The panelists spoke about how that event has affected their jobs over the years with the inclusion of practices such as adding a standard time delay and other measures taken to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

The next topic covered technical problems such as the Jimmy Fallon teleprompter fail at the 2017 Golden Globes, the Ashlee Simpson lip sync fail during a 2004 episode of Saturday Night Live, and Mariah Carey’s flubs during the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast in 2017. Starting with the Carey incident, Weiss and the rest of the panelists discussed how to not be derailed, with contingencies put in place to deal with music and audio fails, switcher freezes, playback fails, and more. Mischer also shared a clip demonstrating his reaction when the Olympics torch fuel began to run low during opening ceremonies for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 — sometimes no matter what you plan, you can’t plan for everything.

Moving on to the topic of scenic/set-up problems such as when the video wall broke during the recording of an episode of America’s Got Talent in 2011, Stage Manager John Esposito recalled the incident and the rest of the panelists chimed in with stories of how they dealt with problems such as sets breaking or not being completed by showtime. They also revealed what Directors and their teams have done to prevent similar episodes such as trying to convince Producers when to scale down set-ups.

Discussing the havoc caused by extreme weather — such as Prince performing in the rain during the halftime show for Super Bowl XLI in 2007 and Diana Ross continuing to perform in both wind and rain during her Central Park concert in 1983, or how the We Love NYC Central Park Concert went on in 2021 despite being interrupted by Hurricane Henri — Director Sandra Restrepo and Associate Directors Eve Adair and Susan Kopensky shared their survival tips and spoke about how weather influences all outdoor events including the stunts and equipment, lighting and cameras. They also revealed the back-ups that can be in place for weather related instances and how to maximize safety for the talent and crew.

Realizing that the best plans can’t always compensate for acts of nature or gravity, the conversation moved on to the topics of injury and safety. Set up by clips of instances such as Madonna falling at the 2015 Brit Awards, Jennifer Lawrence tripping at the 2013 Oscars and the flaming arrow fail during a broadcast of America’s Got Talent in 2016, Director Alex Rudzinski started the discourse recalling how he managed to keep the show going after a lead actor broke his ankle after the dress rehearsal that was taped the night prior to the day Rent Live was to air live in 2019. He could not perform on the day of the live show, and the broadcast was honest about how they handled using much of the taped rehearsal with some of the live performance. The panelists also discussed the related issues such as the importance of having medics on set, how to deal with real fights breaking out, and knowing when to step out of a situation when it’s already being handled.

Stage Manager Alissa Hoyo led off the segment of how to deal with talent issues that covered instances such as contingencies for when performers don’t show up on time (or at all) or when they change previously rehearsed staging or blocking during a live show.

Following a clip that showed famous instances of security fails during live events such as Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech being interrupted by Kanye West at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen throwing ashes on Ryan Seacrest during the 2012 Oscars Red Carpet broadcast, and the “Soy Bomb” interrupter during Bob Dylan’s performance at the 1998 Grammys, moderator Don Mischer led the discussion that included tips on how to maintain a relationship with the security team to help keep interlopers off of the stage.

The last clip covered embarrassing blunders such as Steve Harvey announcing the wrong winner during the 2015 Miss Universe pageant; the Democratic National Convention in 2004 when Director Don Mischer was not aware that his P/L was live, and the epitome of broadcast bloopers, the wrong envelope snafu that led to the wrong Best Picture winner being announced at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. “Almost everything seen that is newsworthy would be called embarrassing blunders,” said Flagg. “It takes on a life of its own through social media, memes, and the news.” Mischer recalled the lesson learned from the convention incident, Weiss and Natoli spoke about how they made a quick and strategic decision on how best to handle the Oscar envelope issue, and Adair and Kopensky chimed in with a similar story from the Steve Harvey wrong contestant announcement. The panelists all spoke about measures that have been introduced to prevent these things from happening again.

In the final discussion before the panelists took questions from the audience, they shared stories of how to recover from nightmares on the job. The event ended with an informal reception in the DGA lobby and atrium.

See videos from this event in the gallery below.

About the panelists:

Don MischerDirector Don Mischer (co-moderator)
Mischer’s diverse body of directing experience includes some of the most widely viewed live television events, ranging from political ceremonies — We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial; musical specials — Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever; and sporting events — Super Bowl halftime shows and the opening ceremonies of the 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games. He has served as Executive Producer for the Primetime Emmy Awards seven times and has directed the 83rd, 84th and 85th Academy Awards ceremonies. He has been recognized by the DGA with 18 DGA Award nominations, taken home a record 10 Awards for Outstanding Directorial Achievement, and in 2019, was the recipient of the DGA Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction. A DGA member since 1971, Mischer has served two terms on the Guild’s National Board and as the Chair for the annual DGA Awards ceremony.

Valdez FlaggStage Manager Valdez Flagg (co-moderator)
Flagg’s Stage Manager credits include the International Jazz Day at the White House, The ESPY Awards, BET Hip Hop Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Grammy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and The Oscars. A DGA member since 1987, Flagg currently serves as an Associate member of the DGA National Board, and as a member of the Western AD/SM/PA Council. He previously served as Council Chair from 2008-2014 and again from 2017-2019. In 2023 Flagg was honored with the with the Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, which is given to an Associate Director or Stage Manager in recognition of service to the industry and to the DGA.

Sandra RestrepoDirector Sandra Restrepo
Restrepo began her career as a page on Saturday Night Live and joined the Guild in 1994 as an Associate Director on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Since she segued into directing, she has amassed credits including, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, where she was the lone female director of late night variety television; episodes of 2 Dope Queens, Hood Adjacent with James Davis, Pod Save America and Brand X with Russell Brand; and live events including Soul Train Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Grammys Red Carpet Live, Soul and The 76th Peabody Awards.

Alex RudzinskiDirector Alex Rudzinski
Rudzinski’s directorial credits include live specials such as 45th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, Annie Live! (with Lear Debessonet), Rent: Live (with Michael Greif), Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert (with David Leveaux), A Christmas Story Live! (with Scott Ellis); awards broadcasts including Billboard Music Awards, CMA Awards, MTV Video Music Awards; and episodes of live competitions including The Masked Singer, Dancing with the Stars, The Titan Games, The X Factor. He has twice been nominated for the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series for productions of Grease Live! (shared with Thomas Kail) and Hairspray Live! (shared with Kenny Leon). Rudzinski has been a DGA member since 2005.
Glenn WeissDirector Glenn Weiss
Over the course of his career, Weiss has received 17 DGA Award nomination. He won the DGA Award in 2007, 2010-2014 and 2016 and 2022 for the 61st, 64th, 65th, 66th, 67th, 68th, 70th and 75th Annual Tony Awards, and in 2017 for The 89th Annual Academy Awards. He was also nominated in the Musical Variety category in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008 for the 55th, 56th, 59th, 60th and 62nd Annual Tony Awards and in 2019 for The 91st Annual Academy Awards and in 2021 for The 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors. Additionally, Mr. Weiss was nominated in 2015 for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television and Mini-Series, together with Rob Ashford, for Peter Pan Live! A DGA member since 1994, Weiss has also served on the National Board and the Eastern Directors Council as a first alternate and alternate respectively from 2015-2017 and recently served on the Guild’s Return to Work Committee.
Gary NatoliAssociate Director/Stage Manager Gary Natoli
Natoli’s Associate Director credits include Super Bowl Halftime Shows, Primetime Emmy Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, The Oscars, The Critics’ Choice Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards; and episodes of Big Brother. A DGA member since 1987, Natoli currently serves as the Western AD/SM/PA Council Chair and previously served terms as Council First Vice Chair, Second Vice Chair and Council Secretary-Treasurer.
John EspositoStage Manager John Esposito
Esposito’s Stage Manager credits include live specials such as The Oscars, Primetime Emmy Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Grammy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Kennedy Center Honors, ESPY Awards, BET Awards, iHeartRadio Music Awards, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’ and America: A Tribute to Heroes. A DGA member since 1994, he has been elected three times at a member or alternate on the Western ADSMPA Council.

Alissa HoyoStage Manager Alissa Hoyo
Hoyo’s Stage Manager credits include live specials such as iHeartRadio Music Awards, Oscars, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Grammy Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, MTV Video Music Awards, BET Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, The Little Mermaid Live!, Aretha! A Grammy Celebration for the Queen of Soul, Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times’ and episodes of That’s My Jam and Assembly Required. She has been a DGA member since 1994 and has served two terms as an alternate on the Western ADSMPA Council.

Eve AdairAssociate Director Eve Adair
Adair’s Associate Director credits include awards shows and specials such as American Song Contest, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, MTV Movie & TV Awards, American Music Awards, VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World, The Oscars, Academy of Country Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Miss Universe, Miss USA, Grammy Awards; and episodes of Survivor, The X Factor, Comedy Central Roasts, Skating with the Stars, America’s Best Dance Crew, The Moment of Truth and Don’t Forget the Lyrics! She has been a DGA member since 1997.

Susan KopenskyAssociate Director Susan Kopensky
Kopensky’s Associate Director credits include awards shows and specials such as The Oscars, Screen Actors Guild Awards, Grammy Awards, New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash, Kennedy Center Honors, American Music Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, BET Awards, Tony Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards, Critics’ Choice Awards, The Little Mermaid Live! and The Sound of Music Live!; and episodes of That’s My Jam, Amazingness, The Standups, Wonderland and Comedy Central Presents. She has been a DGA member since 2007.

About the Council:

The Western AD/SM/PA Council is the elected body that represents the Guild members who reside in the Western region and work in television as Associate Directors, Stage Managers or Production Associates.

Pictures & Video

photos by Howard Wise

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