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“I wake up with a scream and arrive in panic to the stadium” – Ola Melzig

Ola Melzig knows Eurovision. I don’t mean in the usual geeky fandom way of naming all of Azerbaijan’s top 5 placings at the contest, but on a more molecular level. As Head of Production he knows the nuts and bolts of what goes on behind the scenes and in front of the cameras. If it exists at Eurovision, Ola has approved it.

As the owner of M & M Production Management, Ola has worked on many large-scale events including The Commonwealth Games, The Nobel Prize Awards, and of course Eurovision. Since his first in 2000, he has worked on no fewer than 12 Eurovision Song Contests. This is not to mention his work with previous Junior Eurovision Song Contests.

Back in September, Ola teased us with a cheeky Facebook post that practically announced his return to Eurovision for yet another year as Head of Production. Since then he has been working solidly to form the foundations of the contest in Lisbon 2018. ESCXTRA’s Matt Baker managed to speak to Ola just as both were winding down for the Christmas holiday.

Ola, simply put, you’re in charge of everything that goes on at Eurovision inside the arena’s four walls. No pressure?

Yes, that AND the press center, the press conference, the TV compound, the generators, catering, storages and some other fun stuff that is happening outside the four walls of our arena. But besides that, it’s pretty slow days and no reason to panic. At least not yet!

How do you initially approach the production of the Eurovision Song Contest? Once you’ve brought together a team of creative, technical, and administrative professionals, what happens then?

First focus must be to finalize the stage design. Without that we can’t get a lighting, camera, sound and pyro design, so everything we do originates from the stage. And it’s crucial that we nail this quick, so we can start with seating as well, because before you know it, it’s time to release the first batch of tickets!

After the stage design, what happens next?

So, once the stage design is agreed upon, it more or less goes like this: Planning, planning, planning. Some changes, yet more planning, lots of meetings, and a little more changes till we finally have reached a decision of exactly what we want to achieve, and what tools we will need to reach there. Once that is identified, we create all the RFP’s (request for proposals) for all services that we need to succeed with the production.

What sort of requests are we talking about?

This means everything from hair gel to diesel and from hair dryer to moving lights. So, there are quite a few RFP’s that needs to be planned, created and distributed. Parallel to this, there is an extensive budget job to be done, with constant updates of every single little change. Once we receive quotes for all different areas, we carefully evaluate them based on the criteria that is individually stipulated in each and one of all the different RFP’s, give them points accordingly, and select a winner if it’s a clear result. Quite often, we end up with two or three bidders that are very similar, and then we need to have a conference call with each one of them to go over the details and ask for an updated proposal, before we can announce a winner.

This is extremely time consuming, but necessary. We have to play everything by the book and have a track record of everything we do, since we are spending government money.

Eurovision 2018 stage
Eurovision 2018 stage

Let’s jump forward to May. You’ve arrived in Lisbon and rehearsals are well underway. Can you give us an idea of what your day looks like?

I wake up with a scream, run through some sort of breakfast scenario and arrive in panic to the stadium, hopefully with my clothes on! No really. While we’re in artist and show rehearsals, I tend to spend a lot of time in front of the stage together with the show and contest producers and stage directors to oversee that everything goes according to the plan. I check that everyone has what they need, and if someone is unhappy – fix it. This is usually when we have a lot of technical backstage tours in the venue as well, so they require some attention from me.

I do not have to worry so much about the daily operations at this point, since we are 4 weeks into the production, and it’s a well oiled machinery that runs without me having to manage it that much. There is usually some creative arguments that needs to be settled and some press to be done.

We’ve seen the emergence of strong visual storytelling on the ESC stage. ESC is as much about the staging as it is the song or artist. How do you see this developing in the future and how does production keep up with trends?

I know, and maybe I should say I’m sorry, since I have been heavily involved with creating this monster since the very start of using video on stage back in 2000. We got away with it for many years because it was a new technology, and there was a constant development in both LED, Projection and Media servers, so we could always do something that had never been done before, and keep it fresh.

But finally it all came to a crescendo in Moscow 2009 when we built a stage that was so big and so full of video that you completely lost the artist in anything bigger than a mid shot. This is why we decided to go against the stream in 2010, and put ALL focus back to the performer and the song by not using a big old LED screen, and instead doing physical changes in the set to create all the unique looks you have to be able to create for the Eurovision Song Contest.

I absolutely loved it, and it saddens me that there are a lot of fans out there who hate that show for that reason. But from that point on, I have ALWAYS questioned the use of LED. I think it looks butt ugly unless you treat it with something, and that something is always very complicated and very expensive. If you succeed, you will get the sophisticated look that we had in Stockholm 2016. The development of new LED products has come to an almost complete stop, and it is not at all an existing technology any longer. I am very glad that we decided to move away from the giant LED walls we had in Kyiv, and put all focus where it counts – on the performer and the song!

In terms of ESC production, what has been your proudest moment to date and why?

Every single frame of Eurovision Song Contest 2016 because it is three perfect shows. And according to myself, one of the best things that has ever been shown on TV, in any category, ever! And after the final of 2017, when it was clear that we had done something that everyone believed was impossible, and we had done it very well.

You successfully produced the Kyiv 2017 contest in less than 5 months. How on earth did you manage that?

I’m very stubborn. I’m modest but also excellent at what I do, and I surround myself with the best crew in the world. But we did not sleep that much.

And finally, what is the one thing fans should look out for in the 2018 production?

A spectacular show and a stage full of surprises!

We look forward to it!

What would you like to see on future Eurovision stages? What do you think about the use of LEDs? Let us know in the comments section below.

(Enjoyed this? Listen to another interview with Ola Melzig and colleague, Henric Von Zweigbergk HERE. Brought to you by our friends over at ESC Insight)

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