This article is for anyone who’s interested in pursuing a career in live entertainment productions or just wants to learn more about what it takes to make complex live shows possible.
So what kinds of live shows are we talking about here? Live production covers basically any type of one-time-only event that is broadcast live or possibly on a slight delay, either through traditional means like broadcast television or via an online live stream.
Professional sports, awards shows, Esports, and many more programming types depend heavily on high-level live production.
Without an experienced and well-coordinated team working behind the scenes, unique moments might be lost.
We spoke to a live production expert, Teo Karakolev, so that we could provide some crucial advice for aspiring live production pros.
Karakolev has worked on many different major broadcast projects, from television to Esports and beyond.
To name just some of Karakolev’s credits, he’s worked on the BET Awards, the Soul Train Awards, Riot Games’ Wild Rift Icons, the Valorant Champion Series, the League of Legends Academy Series, as well as a number of projects for Netflix, the Academy of Motion Pictures (of Oscars fame), and Warner Brothers.
Karakolev knows exactly how to manage and execute large-scale live broadcasts, and he shared his expertise with us so we could share it with all of you. Let’s jump right in.
At the very top of the list is organization. You need to stay organized, not just some of the time and not just during an event. No, you need to stay organized at all times: before, during, and after an event.
There are so many moving parts in these kinds of productions, and the situation can change at the drop of a hat.
Everyone working on the show needs to know what to expect, but they also need to be ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. Not everything is going to go according to plan.
Producers, specifically, have to understand exactly what they’re going to need and how to stay in control of the entire operation, which Karakolev affirms here.
“As a producer for a live broadcast, you have to be able to have everything under control while working under immense pressure. Having all elements of the show laid down well is fundamental in making sure the viewers experience a fantastic show and that the client is happy with the final product.”
That high level of organization isn’t just about making things easier for yourself, either, but also about maintaining professionalism and efficiency.
Losing track of something or not being able to respond when something changes can lead to some major problems, and if the end result doesn’t satisfy the client, you’re far less likely to be hired for future events with that same client.
On top of organizational skills, effective and efficient communication is an absolute must. Maybe if these shows were one-person jobs, communication wouldn’t be quite so important, but that’s just not the case.
Live broadcasts can take dozens and dozens of people, both on camera and behind the scenes, and things just won’t run smoothly if everyone’s not on the same page.
Karakolev put it this way:
“Without communication, there is no event. From the very first pre-production meeting all the way to the seconds before we go live, it’s important for every detail to be well communicated in order for the entire team to know how to steer the ship.”
When trying to emphasize this point when working with his teams, Karakolev distills this concept into a simple phrase: better to say something twice in advance than forget it at the worst possible time.
No one should feel afraid to bring up, or even reiterate, a concern or a question. Stress levels are only going to get more intense, so it’s best to work out all the kinks ahead of time. Chances are more will come up as time goes on.
Right in line with the last point is the challenge of stress. It’s part of the job, and depending on how you manage that stress, this could have positive or negative effects.
Obviously, working under large amounts of stress for prolonged periods of time can be difficult or even dangerous, especially for someone in a leadership position.
At the same time, stress does have positive potential, specifically in the area of keeping yourself and others highly motivated and sharp, ready to tackle what’s next.
When asked how he deals with stress during a project, Karakolev said that this is another area where planning and forethought are extremely important. Depending on the amount of planning, the stress will hopefully be entirely manageable.
“If I’ve planned the show well, then the stress level is entirely manageable and not harmful at all. It comes in a very steady flow that, if anything, keeps me and the team on our toes, making sure everything goes well.”
If stress levels tip over into frustration, then mistakes become more likely, which is exactly why live producers need to have reliable ways to reduce stress and manage the inherent stress of running these kinds of events.
In it for the long haul
We also need to talk about the level of dedication required to work in live production, especially on the day of an event.
For live producers and directors in particular, it’s not possible to just show up for work an hour or so before the show is about to start and go from there.
For production leaders, shows represent a very large time commitment. This means coming in early and staying late, as Karakolev states here:
“Get ready for very long days. Producers are the first to come to set and the last ones to leave. They are the ones who start the project from its inception, and they’re the last ones to assess its success after completion.”
These long hours are the culmination of everything we’ve been talking about so far. You have to stay organized, manage your stress successfully, and communicate effectively for hours on end, not just while the show is live.
Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work, but if you’ve found yourself nodding along, then you might fit the profile of a live producer.
The live producer profile
Given all these strict requirements, we wondered if live producers have a particular personality profile.
We don’t want to imply that every live producer shares the same personality, but it also seems that certain traits contribute toward success in this role, and for anyone hoping to break into live production, being aware of qualities that can lead to success could be extremely helpful.
We’ve already talked about being able to handle stress, communication, dedication, and staying organized, and these are all definitely key skills for live producers.
But in a more general sense, there needs to be a strong sense of drive and motivation that makes this all possible.
Karakolev believes that he fits the overall live producer profile to a T, and that’s largely because he has an abundance of energy and enthusiasm for these projects.
“We are people who have a passion for creating an artistic show unlike anything seen before, and when given the opportunity, we excel at this. I think I fit this producer profile well: I’m passionate about the craft and able to adapt to every situation.”
If you relate to this description as well, then you might find yourself fitting into a live producer role very well, although hands-on experience is really the best way to test yourself and get a feel for the mechanics of live shows.
Now that we’ve covered many of the major requirements and hurdles involved in becoming a successful live producer, let’s close out by talking about the joys of doing this job well.
There’s immense satisfaction in seeing everything run as smoothly as possible, and working well with a team is a reward in itself.
The challenges might be steep, but getting to the other side feels even more rewarding as a result.
Also, leading successful projects can easily result in getting more work, possibly even larger, more complex events.
Karakolev is both proud and thankful that he’s found success in this field.
“This is definitely the path I saw for myself. This is my passion, and I feel grateful and humbled that I’m able to produce some of the best events in the world for a living.”
Whether this is your path as well is up to you. If you love this kind of work and are willing to put in the time, it can become your career as well.