IQ editor Gordon Masson meets with Paula Poštolková, manager of Pohoda festival’s main stage, to talk about her path to the top in the Slovak production business
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IQ’s latest backstage champion is general manager of Düsseldorf-based venue Castello, Fabian Müller, who has been busy organising D.Live’s drive-in concerts
By IQ on 18 Aug 2020
He studied law but readily admits that he found working in the live entertainment sector far more enjoyable, so he dropped the law degree and underwent training as a specialist in event engineering.
“Straight after that I pursued further qualifications to become a master for event engineering,” he tells IQ, while he later added qualifications such as the Professional Certificate in Event Safety & Security Management from the International Training Centre for Crowd & Safety Management (IBIT) to boost his professional credentials.
“I basically began working in the live entertainment sector when I was 14. At the time, apart from going to school, I did casual work as a temporary helper for event [organisers] and wedding DJs. However, I quickly noticed that there was more than just bouncy castles and DJs, and after a short while I began to work as a helper for a local service provider before commencing my studies and training.”
Having completed his training, Müller became self-employed and worked as a technician and operator in the lighting trade before kickstarting his career at one of the world’s biggest events: “My first job as freelancer was as a light technician at the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf,” he reports.
“I was fascinated by the opportunities at D.Live, a company that operates all event venues of a metropolis is unique in Europe”
His relationship with D.Live started through work at then-parent company Düsseldorf Congress Sport & Event GmbH on behalf of a local event organiser and venue operator, meaning his first contact with the company was as a client.
“I therefore knew Michael Brill, our CEO,” explains Müller. “When Michael went to D.Live, I was fascinated by the opportunities offered there – a company that operates all event venues of a metropolis is unique in Europe.
“They also have a team brought together from all over Germany, with each one of them an expert in their own field. However, what was really special for me was the common interests shared by all colleagues – the love of their profession, the love of live music, and the dynamism, which really impressed me right away.”
A native of Düsseldorf, Müller’s first concert experience was at the Mitsubishi Electric Halle (then called PhilipsHalle), so coming full circle to putting on shows and concerts in the venue is particularly pleasing.
“My personal highlights have been when I went against recommendations and the success proved that I had been right”
“Each of our venues tells a tale of my personal history,” he says. “As a matter of principle, I put 100% of my efforts into working for D.Live. Nevertheless, you will see me every year with one or two bands as production manager at festivals or on medium-sized tours.
“I find it extremely important to collect new experiences, to see what other people are doing and to support colleagues. And if we are really honest about it… you can’t and don’t want to completely give up touring.”
Müller admits that taking on the seemingly insurmountable is his favourite aspect of working in production. “My personal highlights have been when I really put my heart and soul into projects, went against the recommendations of others or even had to face up to people who wanted to prevent something, and at the end of the day, the success proved that I had been right,” he says.
“One of these highlights was undoubtedly the Horst Festival in Mönchengladbach, which – as an outdoor, free festival – was completely organised and staged by volunteers to enable their fellow citizens to enjoy culture.” He also cites ARAG Big Air, a ski and snowboard event, as another highlight, while the recent drive-in shows in Düsseldorf are another project that he is immensely proud of.
“Every task was a challenge with the drive-in cinema…there were no references or tips that we could have fallen back on”
“Every task was a challenge with the drive-in cinema,” he states. “We developed a completely new product and we were the first in the world to stage drive-in concerts. There were no references, experiences or tips that we could have fallen back on.
“We had to consider various issues, such as lines of sight from cars, distances between the vehicles and heights of stages. After all, the windscreen of a passenger car always restricts the field of vision.
“The whole behaviour of fans travelling to the show was new. Who comes? When do they come? We discovered that the first step taken by guests was going to the toilet, since some of them had already spent hours in their cars. But there were also new learnings with regard to the productions.
“Here, occupational safety was once again highlighted from another perspective. Issues such as distancing rules and, in particular, measures to protect crews against infection were constantly relevant. One of the great things about our profession, namely sitting together with the crews and drinking a beer after the show, was suddenly forbidden.”
“The amount of work required has considerably increased, while possible capacities have decreased exorbitantly”
Müller and the D.Live team had to persuade the on-stage talent to participate in public announcement tasks. “We had to urge the artists to motivate the guests to stick to the applicable rules… and not lose sight of corona.” And he reveals that fan interaction took on another dimension during the vehicle-centric shows.
“There are few possibilities for communication and reaction from inside the car. To protect local residents from noise during the cinema, we had to ban honking the horn and develop an app that enables interactive clapping, cheering, rejoicing and laughing, and which can be integrated in the transmission sound.”
Addressing the pandemic situation that led to the necessity for the drive-in shows, Müller notes, “Corona accompanies us everywhere. Unfortunately, that will remain so for a long time and we currently do not expect that the market will be able to settle down by the middle of next year or recover its former strength.
“Nobody regarded themselves as being too good to do something on behalf of the event”
“Every event that we are considering is looked at from the perspective of current findings and regulations. The amount of work required has considerably increased, while possible capacities, which I always refer to as ‘our currency,’ have decreased exorbitantly.
“Despite this burden, my employees perform excellent work. The way my boys and girls put their hearts and souls into implementing the drive-in cinema at lightning speed was incredible. Everyone did everything: nobody regarded themselves as being too good to do something on behalf of the event.”
He adds, “The set-up phase particularly reminded me of ‘the good old days.’ It was all just a super experience. And, as a team, the time once again brought us even closer together.”
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