Special Events

Guest Room: Charles Banfield

Charles Banfield puts his heart into whole-environment event design.

More than a decade ago, Charles Banfield began “stringing lights in trees” on weekends for a Los Angeles event producer. What started as his way of seeking respite from a high-stress job in the mental health field, has since blossomed into West Hollywood-based Charles Banfield Productions a full-service event production company with a reputation for creating cutting-edge theme events. In this month's interview, Banfield shares his insights on the trials and triumphs of theme design.

Special Events Magazine: How do you choose an event's theme?

Charles Banfield: Usually clients have an idea of what they would like and it's up to me to give them an interpretation of that and also to take it 25 steps further.

Q: Is there a difference between theming social events and corporate events?

A: Social events are inherently more personal; there are definitely more details than in corporate events. In a corporate event you may need a big red wall, whereas in a social event that wall is created with thousands of roses.

Q: Can you talk about a particularly memorable corporate event you've produced?

A: I did one this year with the Jim Henson Co. They have a creature shop that creates creatures and monsters and characters for films. We took them all and put them into a sound stage in Los Angeles and made the world's largest interactive prop house for producers to come and see. The whole point of the event was [to present] sort of a visual resume. That was different. On one end you have all these heads of dogs from “Cats and Dogs,” [a film] that's coming out this summer, and on the other end you've got this giant wolf with all of its hydraulics.

Q: What was the goal of your theme design?

A: We wanted to show all the mechanics of how things worked. Usually my events are so detailed you don't see what the production elements are, but for the first time it was a real challenge for me to leave the road cases out and leave the cables out and show the hydraulic mechanisms.

Q: What's the greatest challenge you've faced when designing a theme?

A: The greatest challenge I face is a client who has no vision. That's the hardest part when you get excited about an event and you can take it 25 steps beyond anything they ever could have imagined, and they're only willing to go two. And then they regret it in the end, which is really kind of sad. A lot of it isn't budgetary, it's just that your client might not want to take the risk.

Q: Do you have any tricks for achieving effects when implementing theme elements?

A: Don't skimp on lighting. Lighting is everything. If you don't know about lighting, learn. Follow a lighting director around and find out it will be time well spent.

Q: What trends do you foresee in the future of theme design?

A: You're going to see cultural divisions being blended to create an emotion rather than an environment. There's a scene in [the film] “Moulin Rouge” where they are inside the Moulin Rouge and it's Indian, it's Egyptian, it's Moroccan, it's sex, it's fabulous. That's where I see events going they're going to be sensual, stimulating occurrences.

Q: Are there any mistakes you've made when theming events that you'd caution event producers to avoid?

A: The worst mistake that I have ever made is not doing my research when it comes to animals. Because animals will never work with you when you want them to. You cannot stage them well. Doves will not fly past sunset they just don't go anywhere! And no matter how much you clean them, elephants stink.

Q: What's the best theme you've ever seen?

A: I think there is always room for improvement. But if you're looking for themes that are really wonderful, go to the movies. See “Moulin Rouge” or “Restoration.” For a simple, lovely wedding there is “Here Comes the Groom” with Jane Wyman. There is also the theater. Go to “Phantom of the Opera” and see the masquerade scene. Take risks and have fun!

Charles Banfield can be reached at 323/934-4445.

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