Special Events

GALAS: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG LIZARDS

WHILE CHRIS YEAGER admits he might have “refined some of the details” if he'd had more than a mere month to create a launch party for hit TV miniseries “Dinotopia,” he says the time crunch forced him to go for “the big wow.” And when the president of Culver City, Calif.-based Progressive Events says big, he means big. Decor for the January event — designed to publicize Dinotopia to an audience of nearly 300 members of the Television Critics Association — featured a menagerie of computer-operated robotic dinosaurs, including a 20-foot-tall, fully mobile, bellowing Tyrannosaurus rex.

SMOOTH TALK

With client Hallmark Entertainment based on the other side of the country and Dinotopia's production based on the other side of the Atlantic, communication was key to bringing the $75,000 event to life, Yeager says.

One of his first steps was to write an extensive memo to his client in New York, with instructions to forward it to the show's set designer and art director in London. Among questions he posed: “Can I have 8-by-10 photos of key set pieces? Can I see color swatches or a basic palette to verify paint colors? Do you have working drawings?”

Yeager says the concise questions not only yielded crucial background materials, but also turned up hidden treasures. Triggered by Yeager's queries, “someone at Hallmark remembered that they had an inventory in Los Angeles,” he says. That inventory turned out to be a selection of costumes and small hand props reminiscent of the miniseries' “lost-civilization” look, ideal for outfitting greeters and filling in decor details.

Meanwhile, Yeager had to convince Los Angeles-based robotic dinosaur collector Jun Shimizu, whom Yeager describes as “very reticent,” to proffer his animatronic creatures for the event. “Some of them weigh a ton,” Yeager says. “They're designed to be on display for long periods of time. They're not designed for the special event industry at all.” Eventually, special measures — including hiring extra manpower to hand-carry dinosaur components up staircases and arranging to insure the computerized reptiles somewhere in the “several million dollar” range — convinced the reticent robot-keeper to participate.

QUIET ON THE SET

With the basics in place, Yeager and his crew tackled the challenges of Hallmark's chosen venue — the stately Athanaeum club, located on the busy campus of California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Because the circa-1925 building lacks large doors and an adequate loading dock, load-in required extra patience. “We had to park these enormous semis on the back side of the university at 6 a.m. and quietly bring my dinosaurs out in pieces on dollies, then come around the back of the building so we wouldn't wake the students in the dorms,” Yeager says. “It was like a three-ring circus.”

But a very well choreographed one, he notes. “We had to remove certain pieces of valuable antique furniture from the club, so we were careful. When we moved things out of the building, they were blanket-wrapped and put in a very secure location, and we had taken digital shots of the room to show where everything was.”

Finally, on the stroke of 6 p.m., with a 12-foot prop waterfall in place, jungle foliage filling the space, flame units at the ready, and intelligent lighting sweeping the show logo over the building's exterior, the party was primed to go.

ANOTHER WORLD

Calling the event “one of those parties where everything clicked,” Yeager describes a scene of equal parts fantasy fun and no-nonsense networking.

Highlights included scenic computer kiosks decorated to look like little temples containing terminals where guests could log on to the show's Web site for miniseries updates. Also popular, according to Yeager, were strolling handlers who carried robotic baby dinosaurs that rolled their eyes and appeared to react to guests' expressions. In a main room set up with two large dinosaurs flanking a massive temple structure, TV critics “hobnobbed, laughed, drank and got all their interviews” with Dinotopia's top talent, Yeager says. So effective was the event, he asserts, that his client hired him to duplicate the magic for the show's New York launch several months later. Hallmark Entertainment's man-ager of trade advertising Todd Sokolove concurs that the bash was a smash: “Even the president of ABC [the network that aired the miniseries] had a huge smile on her face.”




Progressive Events 8439 Warner Drive, Culver City, CA 90232; 310/559-8226; www.progressiveevents.com




Turn to page 65 for a list of resources for this event.

DINING DINO-STYLE

Beet Salad with Montrachet Cheese and Hazelnut Dressing

Pan-Seared Crab Cakes over Saffron Beurre Blanc

Roasted Chicken Fricassee

Sun-Dried Tomato Ravioli with Spicy Italian Sausage

Angus Prime Rib with Creamed Horseradish

Assorted Mini Pastries

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