During the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve had to get used to a whole lot of changes in the way we live. We’ve seen differences in the way we work, the way we socialise, the way we shop and the way we dine just to name a few! Over the last few months, almost every industry in the United States has had to spring into action and adapt to the ‘new normal’ – and the creative industries are no exception.
With many film and TV shoots shut down and the summer’s usual festival calendar cancelled entirely, the world of entertainment was thrown into disarray – but there’s some US creatives that aren’t about to let a little thing like a global pandemic stop the show from going on!
Paul Caslin is a creative director and was the driving force behind the MTV Video Music Awards 2020, which amazed audiences across America with an incredible – and understandably different – ceremony on August 31st.!
Here, Paul tells us a little more about what’s changed in the world of entertainment since the start of pandemic and what we can expect the future of live music to look like in the world of the ‘new normal’.
Was there a moment when you realized that there was going to big changes needed to keep creating during the era of COVID-19?
At first I wrongly assumed that the industry would be virtually the same, but with everyone in masks… the reality is very different. The whole industry has changed. Before Coronavirus, creativity was always the driving force – now it’s safety first, and rightly so.
What has been the biggest challenge that you have faced during the pandemic?
The biggest challenge by far is recreating the excitement and atmosphere of a live performance or an award show without any physical audience.
Is there any problem that the industry has faced due to COVID-19 that you feel there is simply no way around?
Creativity will always find a way. People will adapt to turn a negative into a positive. I have no doubt that the quality of shows that audiences are usually present for will remain high and that new genres and solutions will be born.
Have there been innovations made that you can see being utilized even after the pandemic?
Extended Reality – or XR, for short – is an innovative technology that I’m utilizing a lot during the pandemic. It allows creatives to take a small physical stage and extend it virtually to create immersive worlds that music artists can perform in.
Can you describe an event that you have worked on during the pandemic, how it was impacted and what you did to adapt to it?
The MTV VMAs has been my biggest challenge to date. How do you create the buzz of a live award show without the atmosphere of an audience inside an arena venue? The solution is virtual audiences – the idea of painstakingly blending together interactive fans on platforms like Zoom with movie level CGI to add an audience into scenes. It isn’t as good as the real thing, but it’s pretty damn close. The magic comes when you blend the two and incorporate them in ways that you would never able to do with real people. For instance, we created a Virtual New York city for the VMAs and had fans on top of each skyscraper, with Zoom fans in each of the windows. The end result was the perfect synergy of the real world and the virtual world.
How did you feel with the end product? Did you feel that having to adapt so much made it worse or just different?
At first, I felt a music award show like the VMAs was an insurmountable challenge. Even in a normal year, the show pushes the boundaries, so in COVID-19 times, I was concerned that the fans would be disappointed and the level would drop. Ironically, it’s the best yet! Sometimes, when something breaks apart, what’s revealed underneath is even better than the original. It’s the most creative year yet, with mind-blowingly immersive performances and a whole lot of creative innovation.
Are there any lessons that you think the industry will take away from the pandemic?
Nothing is for certain now, and entertainment shows and music tours need to have a plan-B to pivot to when things are looking uncertain in the future.
Are there any valuable lessons you have learned whilst working through the pandemic that you feel you will take into the future?
The most important lesson that I’ve learned personally is that the creative industries won’t be beaten by the pandemic. Instead, they will constantly innovate and find solutions to overcome even the most seemingly impossible hurdles.