What's it like to produce an international music competition right in the middle of a pandemic? In our new mini-series, you'll find out how Stage Producer, Karsten Stouten and Executive Producer, Astrid Dutrenit are working from home to make sure Eurovision 2021 happens no matter what!
In typical Covid-19 fashion, we virtually interviewed the Stage Producer for Eurovision 2021, Karsten Stouten, to find out how his work life has evolved over the past few months and what it's like to produce an international event in the middle of an unpredictable pandemic.
How has your work changed since the pandemic started?
A lot of how we used to think and work became insecure and had to be reinvented, from how we organised our regular meetings to the actual shows themselves. On top of that, we now have to consider all the different restrictions around Europe and what we'd do if a guest or performer was unfit or unable to travel.
What is the general feeling within the production team now versus last year?
Following Duncan's win, we were all feeling really positive and at the beginning of last year, we were all really driven and really excited to be able to contribute to such a fantastic event. This year, we still have that great energy which is fuelled by our strong determination to make the Eurovision Song Contest 2021 take place in the best way possible.
What's it like to work remotely as a team?
We had to learn how to work remotely together pretty quickly. Of course, everybody had to find their own way around the new online world and we did notice the dynamic in meetings was a little bit different too. It's easier to miss information from time to time as there are so many details passing between those working from home and those working in the office. Luckily though, the office is well suited to work at a safe distance.
What new digital solutions have you implemented?
Other than computers, phones and tablets? We mostly work with all kinds of office applications. But as we work with many other parties all the usual software suspects for online meetings, sharing data are utilised as well.
What are you working on right now?
What are we not? We are well underway in defining the opening and interval acts. Our team is very busy getting the pre-recordings up and running too. In a few weeks, our dance crew will start their first rehearsals. Costumes are about to go into production and we're looking ahead on defining rehearsals for the hosts and artists.
In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives to this new way of life?
Ha! What a question! Well, I guess professionally, working remotely has saved many travelling hours which has freed up more time to work. However, it does require a lot of effort to make sure you don't lose sight of each other. On a more personal note, I miss the quality time with friends and family. But, then again, you do find new things to keep you occupied, like running your first (non-official) half marathon.
What have you learnt about yourself and your team this year?
How adaptable we all are and how well we keep each others' motivation up.
What's your personal working-from-home set up?
A few months ago we moved into our new home and always kept in mind that we'd need a 'home office' space. At home, I usually work on my desktop in my office or if I decide I want to work in the living room I'll use my laptop. Here you can see me in my office and, yes, the curtains are closed just for the picture!
We then had a digital sit down with newly appointed Executive Producer, Astrid Dutrenit, to hear all about her work life and current perspective on the situation right now.
What's it like to be the new Executive Producer of Eurovision 2021 during a pandemic?
The opportunity came about because the 2020 event was cancelled and my predecessor, Inge van de Weerd, chose to follow another path. I was offered the role during the pandemic at the end of May, which was totally unexpected. I spent quite some time thinking it over and discussing it with my family. The job would have a major impact on my family life so it was important for me to talk it over with them.
In the end, I chose to take on the role because, firstly, it's such a big honour and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I had experience in host broadcasting large scale international sports events before, like EC Athletics, World Championships Rowing and the Tour de France. I was also producing the Sport Awards show (entertainment) for the past 8 years. Becoming the Executive Producer for Eurovision 2021 was my chance to combine both experiences and place my skills at the service of this incredible event. Secondly, as a French native who moved to the Netherlands 20 years ago, I feel much more like a European and the Contest stands as a symbol for my belief in Europe. Thirdly, besides the challenging element, I already knew the team and was convinced that with their combined expertise and qualities, we would succeed together in producing a fantastic show regardless of the difficult circumstances.
What's changed about your role due to the pandemic?
I've stepped onto a moving train so to speak. Normally, as an Executive Producer, you're on the job right from the beginning. Under normal circumstances, I'd have moved in halfway, but the constant uncertainties and the development of the 4 scenarios have rendered the operations even more complex. My task, together with Sietse (Executive Producer) and the 2 deputy Executive Producers, Emilie and Jessica, is to lead the team and create a set of circumstances that enable us to produce the event no matter what. Health & Safety as well as budget are my top priorities and require accuracy and demand a lot of energy. Next to that, instead of just one Eurovision Song Contest, we have to prepare 4 different versions of it. We have to constantly think ahead and adapt.
What's a workday look like for you now?
My days are very diverse and follow a tight schedule. For example, my day usually starts with a meeting with the Contest Team where we discuss the Live On Tape Backup calendar. This is followed by a Show meeting where the set designer presents us the green room design. Then we have a Health & Safety meeting where we analyse the last developments and possible consequences of our scenarios. This meeting is followed by another meeting where we talk with the manager of an artist performing in one of the interval acts. We then have to conduct an interview with a candidate for a position in our team, followed by a Venue Meeting, where our head of venue proposes a new layout of the press center which is adapted to either scenario A, B, C, or D. Besides that, I also need time to read contracts, propositions, work on budgets and presentations. On average I work 2 days a week from home.
How many people are working on Eurovision 2021 right now?
Our office was redesigned last August in order to accommodate 75 people under the new social distancing restrictions. We now have 70 people working on Eurovision 2021. Nevertheless, we are making sure that people work from home as much as possible.
How do you keep the team together and motivated from a distance?
The different scenarios we have put in place demands a constant focus. We already have a highly motivated team. The secret is that everyone knows it: we are working on the production of the only event that will take place no matter what. As the event and entertainment branch encounters lots of difficulties, we feel blessed to be able to work on such an amazing event.
How do you effectively communicate with one another?
Prior to every meeting, everyone is asked to give their input and agenda points. The head of the department moderates the meeting and minutes are distributed to everyone afterwards. This process occurs in all of our departments. We've also created task forces that mix different disciplines together to ensure that everyone is informed on time.
What new roles were introduced to support the team during the production of Eurovision 2021?
We've been recruiting medical experts and extra staff for Health and Safety so we can set up the best Health & Safety protocol. We've also welcomed an extra producer in the Contest Team to manage the 41 Live On Tape Backups.
What's your personal working-from-home set up?
During the day, I work in our study on the first floor. In the evening, I'm working at the dinner table so I'm not totally isolated from the rest of the family and closed off from the coffee machine! Here's me working from home, with coffee of course!