Heroic Musings

Random and sometimes deep thoughts from the staff at Heroic Productions

Behind-The-Screen: Heroic's Steve Brown

Michael Challeen - Friday, May 13, 2016

This first "Behind-The-Screen" installment of the Heroic Musings Blog gives us a bit of insight into the background of one of our newest employees, Steve Brown. Steve's extensive experience as an on-site producer for Target Corporate was an excellent fit for Heroic Productions, and provides Event Producers and Planners a seasoned resource they can easily relate to when approaching us for their AV and event-staging needs.

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Heroic:  How did you get your start at Target, and what were your duties there?

Steve:  I started as a project manager for video production, coordinating video shoots, and then moved into the on-site producing world where they needed more help, and ended up becoming a team member and gaining full employment. Soon, I was managing and coordinating details of any Target event that was executive-supported, which was what the meetings team did. And so I became the hub for all production – I’d hire AV crews (like Heroic), I would hire personnel and TDs. I would pull a team together for the production part of it and then I would also be the service person for the creative director, if they needed printing or a specific lighting designer – anything that was part of creative. As the tactical person, I would actually execute those things, including managing the budget for on-site. 

Heroic:  Explain what you mean by “on-site?”

Steve:  On-site was anything that was on the floor, whether AV, decor or anything else. As the main contact, I would find crews and appropriate vendors, I’d get holds for the dates, and as we started working on details – it often took many months – I was the center of execution for the on-site piece. That meant managing budgets and timing, translating the creative vision to my partners, and helping them put it all together. 

Heroic:  Did your responsibilities include smaller events, too?

Steve:  Sometimes there were smaller events, and I learned from them, too. We’d bring contractors in and I’d help guide them. Sometimes it was just a Q & A event at a local venue, and I’d make sure we had an AV vendor in place with the necessary people to run the event. It was really all about coordinating the execution. So, I didn’t have to be a technical expert, I would bring in those people and utilize their skills. I’d still have to negotiate prices, and make sure we were covering everything we needed to do.

Heroic:  Was it a big change moving from project manager to on-site producer?

Steve:  It’s interesting, because I really didn’t have much experience in that (on-site production), but as a project manager you are kind of doing that already, but just from the office. As an on-site producer I was meeting the vendors, and then working at the venue from beginning to end. I would manage production-assistants. Everything from prior-day or first-day of load-in, I’d be there with walkies and a PA, and we would set up a whole production office. Anything that was production, I was in charge of it. Every week we’d have a meeting. We had a core team – a meeting planner, a creative, content producer – we were actually all moving together, but my piece of it was producing all of the on-site execution. It didn’t mean I did every piece, but I was the guy who was answering the questions, like “OK, where should we put all of this stuff?” 

Heroic:  You had shows not only here in the Twin Cities, but around the country and internationally, too?

Steve:  Yes. Typically the events we were doing were either local or somewhere in the U.S., but the international shows, while fewer, required much more time and coordination. That included finding companies in India or China that did production work, which wasn’t always easy, especially in India. 

Heroic:  Talk a little more about the international events you worked on.

Steve:  I worked on 2 different events in China, and 2 or 3 different events in India, where we had sourcing partners, so we would have big recognition awards events, huge receptions, and general sessions. We would tap into partners that had been used before. These events entailed a site visit ahead of time to make sure the venue looked good. The final decision wasn’t up to me but I would have to recognize what we would need to do if we were going to choose that room. So, it was about knowing the venue and knowing both the limitations and the great things it offered. We also produced a few events in Toronto, which required many site visits since Target had never worked in Toronto before. That was kind of exciting for me. My manager said, “OK, you’re the Canada guy, find good people, find vendors, find print people, and creative partners that can help manage and execute these events.” And we did, and it was both great and exhausting. Once we had established an office up there, we even did a simulcast with an event here at Target headquarters. So, lots of interesting coordination and a lot of great experience that I would never have expected them to give me. Travel is really cool, but it’s stressful, because you’re being asked to take care of it all even though you can’t always control things in some of these venues. And culturally, it’s all new.

Heroic:  How do you see yourself being most useful to event planners and producers using Heroic for their staging needs?


Steve:  Because I was a corporate producer in a big company I understand what they might be looking for, and I understand all of the processes they’re going through just to get to and talk to AV partners to set something up. I can be thinking along their lines, and maybe be a step ahead for them. I had great experiences with the AV partners that I used, and I was appreciated when we treated them as partners and not just the hired help to make something happen. I think that benefitted me because I got insight into what the AV partners were thinking, and it benefits me now as a person working on the vendor’s side of the relationship. With planners that are new to us, I can come to them with this experience and explain that I’ve been in their shoes and I’m here to help. With the event planners that I do know, there’s trust, they know I communicate clearly with them, and they know that I’m capable. They understand that I’m a straight-talking, honest guy and they know what they’re getting when they’re talking to me.

In this new role (at Heroic) it’s actually a more streamlined, compartmental version of what I was doing at Target, so it’s like, in their minds, “Oh good, Steve’s got that.” In some ways I think I may have the upper hand in that I can help planners get what they need as soon as they need it, and maybe even anticipate a need before they realize it themselves.

Heroic:  I would imagine too, there’s some advantage given your knowledge and experience, being right down the hall from people who can answer questions on anything AV here at Heroic.

Steve:  It’s fantastic! I bring experience in that I’ve been around it, and I’ve worked a lot over the last 10 years alongside TDs, having to answer to creative partners and technically explain what they’re getting and what they’re needing. It actually benefits me because I think sometimes there can be a communication “block” between a technical person’s explanation and someone who’s not technical.  They have great knowledge in what they do, but not everyone has the ability to bring that down to layman’s terms. I think that I’m a great conduit for that because even if I can’t talk the technical language with the tech director, I still know what he’s talking about and am able to put it through my ‘translator’ and bring it to the event planners and the people who I’m working with and talk in their terms. So, I have the experience, first of all, but I also have access to the great knowledge here in the Heroic office, to deal directly with specific questions. Having worked in a lot of the same venues and with a lot of the same people, between myself and our Heroic technical team, we can cut to things pretty quickly, because though it may not have happened at the same time, we have already done the same kind of work. It’s awesome having such a knowledgeable team to call on to ask questions, and I’m continually learning. It’s really great for me. Even though I’m not going to be technical, the more I understand, the better I can treat our clients and help them with a “layman’s explanation” of things. I can offer a “been-in-your-shoes” background and be an advocate and consultant to planners and producers, to help them with what they need to do, and not make it a big long process.

I’m excited about what’s on the horizon. I’m excited about building something new and being part of this team. The first phase has been learning about where I am and what I’m needed to do, but I’m looking forward to what’s coming and what I can do to help evolve and grow Heroic Productions!

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Whither Goest the Gala?

Michael Challeen - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

This installment of the Heroic Musings Blog was written by company president, Jon Young. 15 years before he started Heroic, Jon was Music Director of Temporary Heroes, a 15-piece variety band that played corporate and non-profit events around the country. In a previous life, he was Executive Director of the Bethesda Foundation and founder of (now HealthEast’s) Festival of Trees; Midwest Executive Director of the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon; VP for Development Tennessee Performing Arts Center; Director of Major Gifts for Fairview Foundation; and President of the Creative Resource Group, a TC fund-raising consulting practice. He owns four tuxedos. None of them fit anymore. 

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How many fund-raising galas have you attended? I’m currently over 300.

Attendee. Guest. Host. Chair. Executive Director of Gala-Beneficiary-Organization. Donor. Music Director of Entertainment-Playing-After-the-Speaker-stops-Speaking. I’ve played every one of those roles multiple times. Dozens and dozens of times.

I am a Gala Expert.

As a Gala Expert, I would like to offer some thoughtful (and, potentially helpful), advice. I will present this in a couple of blog posts and will look forward to comments following each one!

So, this first blog is written to the Director of Development of the Non-Profit benefitting from the Gala.

You do this event every year. Same format. Same location. Same really boring food. Please stop. There are a few Twin Cities events that can get away with this, because they are so good, people want to come. Yours isn’t one of them. 

When all is said and done, the only organization which benefited from your hundreds of hours of work was the hotel or venue where you held your event.  

Before you launch into next year’s “check it off the list of things which need to be done” agenda, sit back and ask yourself one question. “Why? WHY am I doing this?” If you start crying (I have), that’s ok — you’ll find it super therapeutic. 

Then it becomes clear: “we’re trying to tell our story, educate and cultivate potential donors, and raise money.” OK, I get that. But, can you tell me, without looking, who your organizations’ top 10 donors are? Who are your top 25 prospects?  

Instead of trying to sell 1,000 tickets to a “just-like-everyone-else’s” event, why don’t you invite those 35 people/couples/families to something really special? The whole evening is honoring/highlighting the gifts the 10 largest donors have given and what they have accomplished. THANK THEM for the RESULTS which have been achieved through their gifts…and then invite the 25 BEST prospects to join them. 

Hold this event somewhere special. Serve really good food. And good wine. And don’t charge anyone anything. 

Did you just have a heart attack?

You don’t need an auction, silent or otherwise. Or mediocre/bad entertainment

You need to tell your special story in the most compelling, thoughtful and engaging way possible. Get pros to help you do that — it’s worth the investment. Great writers, great story-tellers, great production people so your guests see, hear and remember everything you told them. We could help you with that.

You will raise much more money. And have much more fun. 

You can send me a thank you card afterward.

Next time: Band leaders and people who book entertainment.

Jon Young

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It's not the Gear, it's the Ear.

Michael Challeen - Thursday, October 23, 2014

I can’t take any credit for that little turn of phrase. In fact, a quick Google search using that sequence of words will easily show a dozen hits, spanning many articles over several years. But it was a recent trade journal column on that topic that got me thinking about the debate and how it relates to my own habits as well as the event industry we support at Heroic Productions.

If you’ve never heard it before, the phrase, “It’s not the gear, it’s the ear,” was originally coined to promote the notion that in the end, it’s not fancy or expensive equipment that is required to create a great-sounding music track, but rather the skill and talent of the musicians, producer and engineer doing the mixing/mastering. 

That analogy can easily be related to the creation of graphics and art, and yes, even event technology support.

Let me back up and start with my own experience and tendencies. I’m a musician and a graphics guy, and I’ve been doing both for longer than I care to admit.  So what’s the issue? Well, as an active participant in these two areas, it becomes dangerous when you’re also a “gadgets” guy. 

Why? I love gadgets. All kinds of gadgets. (I lump software, hardware, peripherals and the like into the gadget category.) If Gadgets Anonymous existed, I’d belong to the group. 

“Hi, my name is Mike, and I have an abnormal obsession with gadgets.”

“Hi, Mike.”

If a new keyboard synthesizer hits the market, I probably want it. (Never mind that my current one has an internal preset library with hundreds of sounds I probably haven’t even heard yet.)

New iPad app for manipulating photo imagery? I should probably get it just in case I need it. 

Fancy plug-in for Photoshop that allows me to extract the background from wispy strands of wind-blown hair on the beautiful model? Of course, I’ve gotta have it.

But, in actuality, I haven’t totally lost my senses. I’m quite aware of my gadget proclivities, so whenever I’m presented with the urge to add to my gadget bag, I stop, take a deep breath, and ask myself whether I really need this new “whatever.” 

Will it save me significant time? 

Do I already have a tool that does nearly the same thing? 

Will it really make me better at my particular craft? 

Does the end justify the cost? 

If I challenge myself creatively, can I accomplish the same goal?

Then, whatever the answers, I wait at least 24 hours and again ask myself the same questions. Nearly always, I’m able to take a pass on the object of my desire. Crisis averted. One less item stoking my gadget addiction fire.

So how does this relate to Heroic? I think it’s safe to say that our Production Experts also have my tendencies. It’s almost a given. If you’re in this industry, it’s probably built into your genes. Who wouldn’t want the latest mixing board, the newest 4K Laser Projector, some new speaker arrays, or a large, state-of-the-art 7mm High-Res LED Video Curtain? The challenge with gadget envy in the “sound, light and video event-support world” is the sheer price of these items. A single piece of new gear can easily cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. With that kind of money on the line, the first question almost always has to do with ROI. I don’t wonder though, if we shouldn’t approach it with the “It’s Not the Gear, It’s the Ear” mentality.  I’ve seen and heard some amazing setups that were born of less-than-optimal conditions, whether dictated by the room, budget or some other constraint. The experience, talent, imagination and maybe even pride of the lighting, video and/or sound designers transcended the limitations of what they had to work with. Their “vision” was realized or even exceeded.

And so, even though I’m tempted by the clean interface of an updated iPad app, or the several-million-more pixels I can capture by getting the newest camera on the market, I need only remind myself of a couple of absolute truths. First, the greatest masterpieces were not created with Photoshop and a bunch of expensive plug-ins, but with simple brushes, paint and a canvas. Second, the world’s finest symphonies were written using a quill pen, ink, paper, and a primitive version of our modern-day piano, not with a fancy sequencing program and expensive software utilizing exquisitely sampled orchestral instruments.

You see, it really IS the ear, and not the gear.

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Michael Challeen is the Communications Director for Heroic Productions. He used to be a lenticular printing prepress guru, is named as a co-inventor on Patent #US 20080088126, played sax and synth in the now-defunct but formerly popular Twin Cities band, “Temporary Heroes Orchestra,” and likes a good doughnut now and then.


Creativity and the Common Man (me)

Michael Challeen - Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Welcome to the redesigned Heroic Productions and Heroic Solutions Technology website. I hope it’s useful, informative, and easy to use. I’d appreciate hearing from you if you like it, or even if you have constructive criticism. Simply use the Contact Us page and send your comments. My intent is for the site to be dynamic, and as such, it will always be a work-in-progress. Choosing the topic for the first Heroic blog post felt like a formidable task. But, as the design and crafting of the website progressed, and the inevitable questions of form vs. function shaped the decision-making process, the blog topic became more clear to me.

Creativity and the creative process.

Creativity is about using imagination and original ideas to fashion something new. It’s the reason I’ve been involved in music and graphic arts for most of my life. I’m drawn to the challenge of being creative — it’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, and I’m grateful to be surrounded by an incredible number of creative minds here at Heroic. Every person involved in a creative endeavor has encountered that moment of self-doubt, or the hesitation that comes when it is time for something that has been developed at a very personal level (whether an idea, image, website!), to be released to the public. The topic has been addressed with wisdom by many, so I thought it might be interesting to imagine a roundtable discussion, using actual quotes from some of the world’s greatest artists, inventors and thinkers.

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Me: Thanks for your thoughts on the creative process. As I mentioned, I find the act of being creative exciting, but the fact that it’s terrifying at the same time, is troubling to me. Why do you think that is?

Henri Matisse (French modernist painter): “Creativity takes courage.”

Erich Fromm (philosopher): “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”

Me: But why should it take courage to be creative?

Edwin Land (inventor of the Polaroid camera): “An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”

Me: Oh… So my fear of failure is the thing that scares the “bejeebers” out of me. But where does that come from? I certainly want to get whatever I’m working on, just right! And if I don’t…

Salvador Dali (surrealist painter): “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

Vincent Van Gogh (impressionist painter): “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Me: That’s a hard thing to keep in mind, but I’ll take it to heart. I’ll admit though, it sure seemed a lot easier to be creative when I was younger. You didn’t worry about staying inside the lines when you colored, or…

Pablo Picasso (modern artist): “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Me: Maybe the problem is that as adults, we have a tendency to overthink things…

Ray Bradbury (author): “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”

Yoda (Jedi Master): “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Me: Ahhh… I think I’m starting to understand… I need to stop being afraid of failing. I need to jump in, let the creative juices flow, and constantly remind myself of the fact that perfection can never be attained. But what if I make a mistake?

Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist): “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

Me: So true. It’s probably the thing that distinguishes the good from the not-so-good. So…are there any tricks to jump-starting the creative process? Beginning something new always seems to be the hardest.

Dr. Seuss (children’s author): “Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

George Bernard Shaw (Irish playwright): “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last, you create what you will.”

Me: Brilliant! I’m feeling a little better about this whole creative thing… How important is it that what I create be different from anything someone else has created?

Charles Mingus (jazz musician): “Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Me: Precisely! I’ve always believed in the “KISS” (keep-it-simple-stupid) philosophy for most things in life… Well, we’re running out of pixels here on the blog. Any last words of advice for the creatively frustrated?

Jack London (author): “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

Leo Burnett (advertising executive): “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people.”

Albert Einstein: (theoretical physicist): “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”

Me: Amen, Albert! Thank you all for your wonderful ideas. It certainly put some perspective on the subject, and gave me some food for thought.

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I leave you with a quote from author Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid.com), in his wonderful book, “IGNORE EVERYBODY And 39 Other Keys to Creativity.” He writes,”The hardest part of being creative is getting used to it. If you have the creative urge, it isn’t going to go away. But sometimes it takes a while before you accept the fact.”

(Due to large amounts of daily spam, we have regretfully removed the comments section. Feel free to use the "Contact Us" link above.)

Michael Challeen is the Communications Director for Heroic Productions, and their newest employee. He used to be a lenticular printing prepress guru, is named as a co-inventor on Patent #US 20080088126, played sax and synth in the now-defunct but formerly popular Twin Cities band, “Temporary Heroes Orchestra,” and likes a good doughnut now and then.