How to Prepare a Massive Virtual Event in Less Than 60 Days
When we were approached with an idea for a remote project in November of 2020, we didn’t hesitate to say yes. After all, we were coming up on the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant it had also been close to a year of working remotely. At that point, we were used to it and thought, “how hard could it be?”
After nearly 365 days of lockdowns, missed holidays and a universal sense of anxiety that comes with such unprecedented times, one of our clients based in New Orleans hatched up a wonderful idea: a massive, virtual Mardi Gras celebration. For those of you who don’t know, Mardi Gras (also known as Carnival) is one of the many cherished cultural traditions in the historic city of New Orleans. For over 100 years, the annual festivities, which include parades, parties and lots of indulgence, have taken place during the two weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday. And while 2020 wouldn’t be the first time Carnival had been formally called off, it still dealt quite a blow to the city’s economy and spirit. But, as we learned soon enough, Mardi Gras is just like most holidays—it simply can’t be cancelled. So, when this client proposed a three-day virtual program that would keep the celebration alive while potentially boosting tourism in the future, we couldn’t say no.
As excited as I was to manage such a special project, I also had my concerns. The fact that we had less than two months to plan, schedule, film, and edit everything literally kept me up at night. Plus, I was a mom working from home with two kids and another on the way, which meant I had to stay in Chicago and do all of this remotely. However, once we agreed to do the project, I forced myself to block out any doubts I had about pulling it off in that time frame so I could just concentrate on getting it done and surprisingly, it worked.
One thing I learned from this experience is that it’s crucial to have a trustworthy team on your side. Aside from the unwavering support from my partners here in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to work with some particularly talented and reliable crews based in New Orleans, who I couldn’t have accomplished such a task without. A project like this would normally take about a year to produce so having dedicated people working with me every step of the way was beyond essential. Well, that and Excel spreadsheets. Keeping track of all 5 crews we had out on the field, who they were working with, and what they were filming just wouldn’t have been possible without those.
Of course, things didn’t always run smoothly and there were plenty of learning curves, but we were able to meet deadlines and work together in a respectful and cohesive manner until the very end. Although we had less than 60 days to shoot more than nine hours of content, we made an effort to focus on the end goal, let go of expectations and cooperate with one another. What surprised me most was the fact that, because everyone was so invested, egos were put aside for the sake of the project, making it easier to navigate obstacles and hurdles that would otherwise slow things down.
Speaking of obstacles, something that surprised all of us was how little COVID impacted production. Despite having strict policies in place to ensure health and safety on site, I was holding my breath during that first week of filming. All we needed was one case for the entire shoot to be derailed, which would have been catastrophic considering the tight deadlines. Luckily, we only had a few scares during the weeks we were filming and everyone tested negative each time. If you should ever find yourself organizing a large-scale production during a pandemic, remember to plan accordingly.
Each day was different, which entailed wearing many hats. I was used to a grind, but this was unlike anything I had done before. Even though I knew I had all the tools and skills to pull through, I really had to draw on my strengths and learn to trust in myself and others in order to cross the finish line. Ultimately, I was just so proud of how well we worked together as a team and how spectacular the final product came out. The aim of this project was to not only entertain New Orleanians in lockdown who were pining for cherished traditions during a time of such uncertainty, but to also give others a taste of the Mardi Gras experience from the comfort of their own homes, perhaps inspiring them to visit one day.
What helped production move along more than anything else was everyone’s love for New Orleans. I even have a special connection to the city, so I was ready to give it my all from the start. It goes without saying that everyone we worked with locally, from our client to the crew and talent, was just as passionate about the project. We all wanted it to work, so it did. At the end of the day, this really gave me a greater appreciation for this resilient city and those who call it home. And while I don’t suggest anyone try to prepare and execute a massive virtual event in under 60 days, I can say with confidence that it is entirely possible, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.