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Producing Eurovision Song Contest: an overview of an amazing achievement

The Eurovision Song contest. You hate it or you love it. But there’s one thing you can’t deny: the production behind it is one amazing big project. What you see on the television is just such a small part of what’s happening backstage at the moment. Not to say about the whole process before the shows. In this article, I’ll give a short layout of the production aspects.

General idea

Before I go into certain aspects, let’s give you an idea of the magnitude of the project.

Let’s start with a list of the products used in 2021:

  • 70 wireless mics
  • 4.2 kilometres of sound cables
  • 298 speakers (150 in 2019)
  • 12 mixing sound tables
  • 887 m2 of LED screens with 37.369.344 pixels (this is 2,5x more than last time in 2019)
  • A screen of 52 meters wide and 12 metres high
  • 1782 automated lamps
  • 25 cameras (23 in 2019)
  • More than 100 monitors
  • 12 4K media servers
  • 280.000 kilo of weight hanging on the roof of Ahoy
  • 160 GB network needed
  • 1083 hotel rooms needed
  • 621 volunteers
  • 17.848 lunches
  • A total budget of 26,5 million Euros for producing the shows (read this blog if you want an overview of how budgets are created for TV and film)

If you’re a producer, you might be wondering now why you’re not on the team. I know I was. What a project! What an experience it must be!

Ahoy Rotterdam Eurovision 2021
The venue Ahoy, ready for the live shows of Eurovision 2021

But looking at the list, you probably also realised that it’s not just about the show itself. The mics and cameras are for the people at home, but you need entire crews for arranging all the hotel chambers and how many cooks do you need to create all those lunches? Think also about the logistics of it all. To add this year’s extra challenge of a certain global pandemic and the safety rules. You – as the production team – need to stay flexible till the very end, as participants have to stay quarantined – Iceland – or your Dutch winner from 2019 suddenly gets corona and can’t perform.  

For all information about Eurovision, its participants and the latest news, check www.eurovision.tv.

Teams within the production

The crew of Eurovision exists of many different teams. I’ll go through a few, but there are many more.

The lead is in the hands of two executive producers of the hosting country. This year, these two are Sietse Bakker and Astrid Dutrénit from the hosting country the Netherlands. But they don’t have a free pass, as in the end the organisation of the song contest – the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) – has the final call. If they disagree with certain aspects, the executive producer has to change his or her plans. For example, the place, the decor, the interval shows and the presenters are all discussed with de EBU before the final decision can be made.

Executive Producer Sietse Bakker
Executive Producer Sietse Bakker for Eurovision 2021
Executive Producer Astrid Dutrénit
Executive Producer Astrid Dutrénit for Eurovision 2021

The executive producer is the head, but then there’s a split between the stage producers and the producers for the TV. They communicate all the time with each other, but the first group is responsible for getting everything together to have a performance on stage. The TV producers are responsible for the show as you see it on stage. Next to these producers, there are many others, like supervisors, production assistants and head operators. This year, there’s an extra producer just for managing the 41 Live-on-tape back-ups, in case a country can’t perform. I found an interview that mentions about 70 people working on Eurovision in the office in January (so 5 months before the shows start).

When we get closer to the shows, the team expands. This is always the case with any production you do, but with Eurovision it gets grand. The moment that you go from the office to the venue, is the moment that all managers and heads get their team. The stage is being set up. The camera operators and sound mixers come in. Dancers start their rehearsals. The presenters go through their text. You get the idea.

Apart from the production team, there are other teams. Think about a team for the costumes of the presenters and the interval performers. Hair & Make-up for all. A team that takes care of all the staff and volunteers, a team that hires the staff, the HR department and a creative team who designs the stage, the opening and interval shows and the lighting (think the musical director, choreographer, head of show, show directors). There’s also a  medical centre with its own team. Oh, and don’t forget the press department! All the countries have their journalists send to the show and you need to have a program for them all. You want them to see the host country as well, so you will need to arrange trips. And of course, they will need to have a good spot during the show itself.

The load-in of the venue Ahoy. It needed dozens of crew to get everything into place.
The load-in of the venue Ahoy. It needed dozens of crew to get everything into place.

I found some numbers from 2019, the last show before the pandemic hit. This year might be different, as due to measures they will probably have tried to work with a smaller crew. But in 2019, they needed 250 trucks with gear with a building time of 21 (this is 41 days in 2021 due to corona). 225 man were operating the equipment. I found somewhere that there are 500 operators in 2021, but it wasn’t a clear statement. Those are just the people behind the equipment, the entire team must be at least 4 times more.

And then we have the teams from the countries themselves. Not only the performers come to the venue, but also their stylists, representatives, creatives and more. In total, I’ll be surprised if there are less than 2000 people working on the shows.

Timeline

Now that you know how many people are working on such a big event, let’s move on to the timeline.

First of all, one year to produce such a big event is short. It’s certainly possible, as we’ve seen for the last 65 years, but as the elements on stage become bigger and bigger, the production becomes bigger again. This year we see huge LED screens, a massive stage, lights from all sides and special effects. In the 80’s we saw a few cameras with some coloured lights and a few props. You can imagine which one takes more time to prepare.

As soon as the winner is announced during the Eurovision, the next hosting country will start preparing for ‘their’ year. The day after the final, the winner will receive the first documents from the EBU with information for producing the shows. Then, just a few days or weeks after the victory, the production team will be formed to start the preparation.

Then multiple things will start at once. The most public act will be looking for the right venue. In the Netherlands, it became a big competition between cities that wanted to be the host city. These venues are judged by their size (how high is the ceiling, does it fit a large stage, how many audiences does it fit), their inside facilities (toilets, backstage rooms) and the facilities of the city (are there enough hotels, is it easily accessible). Only once you have the venue, you can start the set design and designing the backstage rooms as you’re restricted to the space you’ll get.

singer and presentor Chantal Janzen, Edsilia Rombley who represented the country two times earlier at Eurovision, singer Jan Smit and Youtube phenomenon Nikkie Jager (NikkieTutorials).
The Netherlands decided on four presenters: singer and presentor Chantal Janzen, Edsilia Rombley who represented the country two times earlier at Eurovision, singer Jan Smit and Youtube phenomenon Nikkie Jager (NikkieTutorials).

At the same time, behind closed doors, the creative team start making the show. They think about the performances, who should be the presenters, what the theme should be and more. Once they have a general idea, they sit down with the EBU and present their ideas for approval. Once they are a bit further along, the entire group of representatives of the EBU (47 public channels from all over Europe) come to the the host city to hear the ideas. This is usually in November, so seven months in advance. The team tells them about their ideas and how they will also arrange the hotels and side activities. On the one hand, it is to get approval. On the other hand, it is also for the countries to know what the possibilities are for their own participants.

In January is the draw: this is the moment where Eurovision is officially ‘opened’ for that year and all countries are drawn for the semi-finals. This is done by the presenters. After this draw, it is known which country will perform on what day. But the sequence is done by the production team. Why? For a couple of reasons. First of all, you want a diverse show: you don’t want all ballads together and all up-tempo songs in the beginning. Secondly, depending on the props, it’s easier to have songs with multiple and difficult props be followed up with an ‘easy’ song, as you only have 30 seconds between the countries.

Then in February, the opening en interval performances are revealed. Or at least, who will be performing. So that’s when the big lines of the shows have become public. Behind the screens, the first videos are already show and the performance itself is already thought out. Also, for the ladies underneath us, February was for this edition the month where the presenters started meeting the Head of costumes for their outfits during the show. These clothes are specially designed for them for the event, usually with designers from the host country.

Then, 41 days before the shows, the build-up of the set starts. This is a big moment because now the plans became reality. Everything is meticiously planned. Read this blog if you want to know more how data can help you with this.

For the first time, you get to see how it looks for real. Usually, the load-in takes much shorter and you start later, but this year it took a few days longer due to corona as you couldn’t have as many people in the same space working at the same time. Once the load-in is done, you can start doing rehearsals. This year, this was done with stand-ins as many singers couldn’t fly in yet. All performance plans are sent in months earlier, so the production team – both for the stage as for the camera – knows exactly what is expected in each song.

About a week before the live shows, the delegations from all the countries come in. This is the moment for all the final rehearsals and any last changes. There are multiple rehearsals for each country and then a general repetition for each live show.

Rehearsal schedule eurovision 2021
Part of the rehearsal schedule for Eurovision 2021

So what happens during the live shows? Well, everybody follows the script. There have been so many repetitions that the cast and crew are like a well-oiled machine. Props are changed within 30 seconds, from the production car all cues are given and the director is responsible for the show on the TV. Behind the scenes, all artists have to be in their place two songs before their own. This year, behind the scenes, all artists have to keep their distance from each other and everybody has to wear masks. If all goes well, the production team shouldn’t have too much to do. As an (executive) producer, you should have your hands free. Of course, that’s in the ideal world and I know from experience: this is never the case. In the end, you end up running around, sorting out little problems.

And then after the second semi-final, the production team knows who will be in the final. Once again there is a draw which country will perform in which half and the production team will do the puzzle of which country will go when. So the Thursday evening is a very long night, as this is all done immediately after the live show. Only when you know which performances will be in the final, you can make a script for the evening. So you have some work to do if you’re part of the production team.

Barbara Pravi for France during a rehearsal
Barbara Pravi for France during a rehearsal

And then the final. Honestly, when you’re this far, you’ve most of your work behind you. If the live show goes well, you can go and have a party. There’s only your load-out left, which often takes only 3 days (maybe a week in corona-time).

After a year with Eurovision, you will finally be able to relax and take a deep breath. But really, what a great year you’ll have had!

Conclusion

Producing the Eurovision Song contest is a big thing. You don’t have to know all the songs from the last sixty years. Or even better: they prefer people who aren’t too passionate about the festival because you need to keep a clear head to produce it. Losing yourself in passion is a bad thing in this case. But the experience, the professionalism, the magnitude: where can I sign up?

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