May 22, 2020
The new Showbiz & Culture Newsletter from the Sofa of Christoph Scholz
I am writing to you today from my sofa, which is also known as my home office. IKEA named this sofa Seglora – a piece I bought a couple years back from their affordable luxury Stockholm furniture line. Nowadays my family and I simply call it “Lou’s Sofa” because Lou, our little dog from Holland, thinks that it is his sofa.
Very recently I had the idea of renaming the sofa Montecore after legendary magician Roy’s white tiger; I firmly believe that Lou would save me in a dangerous situation, just as Montecore did with Roy. But that’s another story for another day, and without much further ado, I’d like to welcome you to this first in a new series of monthly Showbiz Culture newsletters.
This newsletter is written under the guiding idea that “we will meet again” as Queen Elizabeth II said in her speech to the nation in early April. The Queen in her castle, in her Queen’s chair, reassuring the country and, as some have said, echoing the lyrics of Vera Lynn’s wartime song: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day ….” This was a reassuring song during wartime. Some say, the lyrics could mean that we’ll more likely meet again in heaven and perhaps not here on earth, and a similar reassuring rationale is revived again today.
A couple of years ago, Secret Cinema – the London-based production house for immersive cinema experiences – staged Stanley Kubrick’s movie “Dr. Strangelove.” Later in this newsletter, I’ll talk more about Secret Cinema’s latest project. Thinking of Vera Lynn, I hear her singing over the last scene of “Dr. Strangelove,” as Major Kong rides the atom bomb to destruction.
With this newsletter, my team and I will keep you updated about our international projects at Semmel Concerts and SC Exhibitions. We will share with you stories and business ideas from the worlds of arts, media and entertainment. In the months to come, we will also use this newsletter as a platform to introduce, discuss and develop the topics for our conference, The Experience Economy Meeting (TEEM) in Los Angeles, which we postponed from May to September, and then again to the (hopefully final) date of April 15–17, 2021.
Oh! What’s that beep? Looks like I’m getting pinged by Microsoft Teams. I find these insta-alert messaging services a bit disruptive, but I must take this call from Zurich; I always want to hear what Darko Soolfrank has to say…. Darko is the co-founder of Maag Music & Arts. He and his team have been operating the MAAG Halle, a cluster of post-industrial venues in Zurich, since 2002.The Maag team rents out space, operates its own theatre and has its own catering department.
In 2017, Halle 622 was added to their portfolio, with a 3,500-person capacity for standing concerts, corporate events and exhibitions. Their most successful production was the jukebox musical “Ewigi Liebi” – that’s Swiss-German, I can perhaps translate it as “Everlasting Love” – which attracted over 700,000 visitors.
Since many of you are professionals involved with exhibitions, please find below a couple of the exhibition-related topics we discussed.
Q: In February you opened the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibition. It attracted 26,000 visitors within a month. Then you had to close due to you-know-what. “Van Gogh Alive” has been open again since May 12th. Tell us about the first days!
A: For the reopening of “Van Gogh Alive,” we have developed a protection concept that meets the guidelines of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health and the recommendations of the Swiss Museums Association. Protective masks can be bought at the cash register. We announced the reopening of the exhibition via a newsletter and had sold almost 1,000 tickets overnight. After more advertising, around 7,000 tickets sold out within a week, which included the “exchange tickets.” My feeling is that after this length of time, the audience absolutely wants to enjoy cultural events again.
Q: You told me earlier on that exhibitions are a form of entertainment that can start up again with the first easing measures after the lockdown. Currently you are looking for an exhibition for Halle 662 this summer.
A: We have an area of around 2,500 square metres (c. 25,000 square feet), in Halle 622. Since all concerts and corporate events have been cancelled, this is now available until October. We are looking for an exhibition in the field of family edutainment, because we assume that the Swiss will spend the summer holidays in their own country and therefore will be open to activity ideas. It’s also important that the exhibition functions without major points of contact, such as touchscreens and audio guides.
You can contact Darko via email (and please don’t forgot to send me a cheque if you cut a deal with him).
During the daytime, Lou’s Sofa is a great home office; in the evening it transforms into a comfy place to watch movies. For a couple of weeks now, the creators behind the iconic London film experiences, Secret Cinema, in cooperation with Häagen-Dazs ice cream makers, have been inviting everyone to watch films together on a Friday evening. Instead of the usual live events at secret locations with many thousands of fans, the experience is now brought into the fans’ living rooms. The film will be announced every Tuesday to the signed-up movie-lovers. The community also gets inspiration on how to create a very special and unique movie-night by dressing up in fitting costumes, suggestions of era-defining music, activities and even food and drink ideas.
And the community is going wild about it by sharing hundreds of photos of people dressed up in costumes in their decorated homes. Just two of the many comments we found on social media are: “It’s been the highlight of my week, consistently, for five weeks now. I don’t know what I’ll do without it.” And: “This is the most amazing experience. The excitement on Tuesday when we get the next movie and the planning for Friday. Then the night is brilliant. Fantastic hosts. This has been better than going out ever.” (I do honestly hope that the latter will not become a mainstream opinion!)
I think Secret Sofa is an inspiring example of how a producer of culture can keep their fans, their ticket buyers, engaged. From my sofa, I phoned Amy Farrant in London, she’s the marketing director of Secret Cinema.
Q: How would you describe Secret Cinema to somebody who has never heard about it?
A: Secret Cinema offers the opportunity to step inside the world of a movie and play inside it, as one of the characters. You become a part of the story and exist in that world for a few exhilarating hours. Our audience become actors; intertwined within our story and interacting with our cast of around 50+ actors. They are given a role to play and reason to be there. It is a deeply immersive experience, that allows the audience to live within the world of a film. We have been producing shows for over 10 years now; taking film, art, music, theatre and blurring them into a hyper-real experience. We invite a large audiences of between 1,000 - 5,000 per show, depending on whether it’s the indoor or outdoor format. If you haven’t been already, you really should experience this unique art form… it’s a trip!
Q: What’s your position and what are your duties?
A: I’m the Marketing Director. It’s my team’s job to get bums on seats and spread the word about our brand and the unique and wonderful experiences we create.
Q: You won a sponsor, Häagen-Dazs. Tell us more about this co-operation.
A: Yes, for our Secret Sofa campaign we were able to partner with Häagen-Dazs who had just launched their “Haag-Indoors” initiative, so it offered the perfect synergy. Home movies and ice cream just work well together, so it made a lot of sense. And they have been a joy to work with; super creative and collaborative. Every week, in keeping with the chosen movie title, we select a Häagen-Dazs flavour of the week and customers can order it, for delivery via Amazon Prime Now, straight to their living room, in time for our mass viewing. We also encourage our audience to dress up and share their images on our Secret Sofa Facebook page. Each week the best efforts are rewarded with a week’s supply of ice-cream. We’ve seen some amazing UGC over the past few weeks! Our audience are a lot of fun.
Q: Will we meet again?
A: I do hope so. We are busy dreaming up entirely new formats and inventive ways to launch shows that are fit for this strange new era. We’re also still working on our next major ‘Secret Cinema Presents’ show which we’re still hoping to get on sale later this year… so watch this space!
If you want to sign up for the Secret Sofa, just follow this link.
Last spring, we were on tour with “The World of Hans Zimmer,” an arena spectacular featuring Zimmer’s genre-defining scores from films such as “The Dark Knight,” “The Lion King,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Interstellar” and “Pearl Harbor.” In Barcelona, Mr. Zimmer met with Uber-DJ Alan Walker, a Norwegian artist who went on to create an extensive following with his YouTube channel, now the world’s 10th biggest music channel. The result, a remix of one of Zimmer’s biggest hits – “Time” from Christopher Nolan’s Academy Award-winning box-office hit “Inception” – was released one week ago. Today is the world premiere of the music video. I’m happy to share it with you here! The project reminded me that it is at the core of our business as cultural producers, at the core of what we do, is bringing creative people together so that they can create their wonderful art and share it with audiences across the globe.
The project reminded me that at the core of our business as cultural producers, at the core of what we do, is bringing creative people together so that they can create their wonderful art and share it with audiences across the globe. I spoke with Kristian Berg, the video’s director, about shooting a video under lockdown.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself; for instance, how you got into directing and where you’re from?
A: I was born and raised in Bergen, Norway. I have worked as a director for the last 15 years, both in advertising and in the music industry. A couple of years ago, I met Alan Walker and his representative MER Musikk and was given the opportunity to direct his music videos full-time. The last two years working with Alan have been a journey I could never have dreamt of! The projects become sicker, bigger and more ambitious each time. To cooperate with Hans Zimmer is a new milestone for me and the production team. This collaboration has been a definite career highlight, and turned into a video that I am very proud of.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for this video?
We were actually in the process of producing a completely different creative idea for this music video. During production, I happened to come across an article about a gigantic video projection. They had filled an entire Swiss mountain with video projections of an Indian flag. The dimensions were huge! I’ve worked with video projecting before, but never seen it done on this scale. I thought about all the empty cities around the world and how nice it would be to fill the deserted areas with colourful video and music. The audience is already stuck indoors, only venturing on to their balconies or peering from their living room windows, so I imagined this would be a nice visual postcard from a special time in history.
Q: You’ve worked a lot with Alan Walker in the past. I’ve seen the making-of the “Heading Home” video, which is an impressive piece of art, by the way. Your videos always tell a story and include amazing visual effects. How long does it take to create the storytelling and what influences you in your work and creativity?
A: Alan Walker’s videos are always location-heavy. We are never in the studio in front of a green screen, but travel great distances, often to inaccessible locations. Recent projects include the Son Doong cave in Vietnam, ice caves in Iceland, deserts in Dubai, mountain peaks in Montenegro and most recently, the Angkor temple town of Cambodia. Planning and preparation varies from one to six months. The actual recording is normally done over a period of two to three weeks. We also usually have a lot of VFX which is always time consuming. All in all, we spend an average of just over three months on an entire video.
Q: The productions are very impressive, how many people do you have working in your team to make this happen?
A: In general, I prefer working in small teams. You can have a more dynamic and creative approach, and move more quickly. Small size is also a strength when travelling to remote places. This flexibility is quite different from the experience of working with huge film crews. But often, we need a bigger crew in order to achieve the grandest visions. In the cave expedition, which turned into the music video for “Alone, Pt. II,” we had over 100 people involved in the production. For other videos, the film crews can be as small as five people behind the camera.
The video also focuses on the current situation of lockdowns the world over and the “Walkers” bringing music to people on their balconies. How did the situation influence the concept and the production of this video?
Shooting a music video during lockdown was a singular experience that presented many challenges. We had to keep the film crew extremely small and bring along our own people to make sure we operated within the government guidelines. This experience was clearly new to everyone, and was challenging at first. As a result of the lockdown, many locations that were earlier impossible to film at, were now available. For example, the spectacular underwater restaurant Under welcomed us with open arms.
Obviously, we couldn’t travel around the world and film these scenes ourselves. We sourced local projectors and film crews in London, Budapest and New York. We kept in close contact with numerous calls ahead of the shoot, and monitored the shoots in several cities as they went on. A lot of super-talented film workers were available and excited to work with us – not least because of the scarcity of work in the industry at present – but also the huge interest in getting the opportunity to work with both Alan Walker and Hans Zimmer. The remote video shoots went surprisingly well! We have received many curious questions from Walkers who have seen the giga projections of Alan and Hans on buildings in their cities. We are really looking forward to showing them what we have created!
Now it’s time to enjoy the video:
Once a day, when my back hurts and my eyes blur from endless hours of videoconferencing, I leave my sofa: Then it’s time for a run! I love listening to podcasts whilst running, and in May last year I got hooked on a podcast production from the BBC World Service. Along with his team, Kevin Fong, an award-winning broadcaster and medical doctor, retold the story of how man made it to the moon. It seemed impossible at first, and then in “one small step for man” we were there. The second season of this podcast brings you the dramatic story of the Apollo 13 mission and was recently released on Spotify & Co. You can find all episodes to date, accompanying videos, links and reading material on the BBC website.
Hans Zimmer and Christian Lundberg composed the music for the podcast, our friend Russell Emmanuel – head of Bleeding Fingers Music in Santa Monica – produced it. Read more about Christian and the work of Bleeding Fingers Music in the latest edition of Showbiz Culture magazine.
Our next Showbiz Culture newsletter will be dispatched on June 19.
I’m currently reading the catalogue of the exhibition “Countryside, The Future,” a collaboration between the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and Dutch star architect Rem Koolhaas (whose work I admire). The show – which I think had opened only a couple days before you-know-what closed it, and which will hopefully remain on display until we can meet again – discusses the huge transformations in the countryside all over the world.
In his text for the catalogue, Mr. Koolhaas makes the point that the “systems” of our cities (airline hubs, cars, the internet) “hold us in a self-imposed prison of the urban where the ‘experience’ economy tries to hide the fact that there is nothing fundamentally new to experience in urban life.” I will discuss this thought-provoking statement by Mr. Koolhaas with leading people from the “experience economy” in the next edition of this newsletter.
“We chose to go to the moon,” as JFK said. And we did it, so I have no doubts that we will meet again.
Director of Exhibitions and International Projects at Semmel Concerts
Member of the Management Board
1) Nathan Stone, one of the directors of British promoter TEG MJR, recently shared an article on his Facebook feed with the headline “Our Industry Isn’t Coming Back Like Yours Is” by Nicholas Rivero, an event producer from Atlanta.
Quote: “Our normal isn’t everyone else’s normal. It won’t return when cities begin to reopen. We can’t just restart this beast of a process overnight. Most events you’ve been to – music festivals, concert tours, conferences – take anywhere from months to years to plan and coordinate."
“More importantly, there’s the question of, ‘When will it be safe to gather?’ No one, and rightfully so, will want to be the first to take on the liability of risking attendees’ health and safety to put on events. Furthermore, who gives the ‘all-clear’ for events to gather at all? Will it be for each city or state to decide? The federal government? The industry itself?”
Read the full article here.
I’m planning to speak with Nicholas for this newsletter in the weeks to come.
2) A newsletter I particularly like is “Ari’s Top 5,” the weekly newsletter by Ari Weinzweig, the writer, thinker and entrepreneur behind “Zingerman’s Community of Businesses” in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The newsletter is a source of inspiration to me; its content ranges from recipes to business ideas, is beautifully written and always has something new to offer. If ever I’m faced with a truo to that famous lonely island and have to choose only one newsletter to keep, “Ari’s Top 5” would be my choice. You can sign up here.
On April 27, Mr. Weinzweig wrote a piece on eater.com, and this quote stuck with me: “It’s only been six weeks, but it seems like six years.”
If you want to join me on the sofa for a video chat or have something to share with our newsletter community, drop a line to Stefanie Stubner.
Find out more about our conference The Experience Economy Meeting in Downtown Los Angeles here.