Exclusive Q & A: Technical Director Noah Norman
The master at work.
CREDIT: Noah Norman
These days, any performance, whether U2 at Wembley Stadium or a movie in the park, requires a massive amount of technical support. From cameras to lights to screens to computers, Noah Norman takes care of the tech so the show can go on. The founder of Ancillary Magnet, a technical consulting group, Norman has worked the technical end of production of Cirque du Soliel shows in Miami, 3-D graphics competitions in Hong Kong, and projections of presidential inaugurations in New York City.
Norman sat down with TechNewsDaily to talk about what it is he actually does, which country has the hardest work environment, and why fixing technology sometimes involves dangling off 20-foot high ladders.
TechNewsDaily: Technical director is a pretty vague term. Noah, can you explain what that means and what you do?
Noah Norman: Anything that's plugged in is my problem. I have to look at every light, every fog machine, every motor that raises a curtain, and find a total wattage. But I also need to find a generator that can provide that wattage, make sure it’s permitted right, find the cables to go to every place they need to go. That’s the kind of desk-job, planning stuff a technical director needs to do, but then, of course, there's the unexpected.
For example, I was TD on a show at Lincoln Center Plaza for the tourism board of Austria. There were going to be dozens of people waltzing in a mobile stage, that's a trailer that unfolds into a full stage, roof and all. Day of show we realized that the lighting wasn't right, moving lights were going to shoot through a banner. So we had to do a little on-site gaffer's tape improv. At some point in the afternoon, there are supposed to be dancers rehearsing, and there I am on top of a 15-foot ladder taping a banner to a roof.
TND: Not exactly a nerd sitting at a computer. How did you end up with this job?
NN: When I was about nine, I was in a theater class, but I didn’t want to act. So I became the only kid who worked on lighting. I didn't have to be in the play, it was great. In high school, I became head of lightning because, again, no one wanted to do it. Then at Brown University, I majored in "Computer Music and Multimedia," got this whole other world under my belt, and fell into this kind of generalist practice that eventually became TD work.
TND: It seems like you have to wear a lot of hats in your job, what's the most different kinds of technology you had to deal with at one time?
NN: For Cut and Paste Global Championship [a live computer graphics competition], there were 32 computers, the show was over five-hours long. It was basically 20 hours straight, and I had one or two assistants who helped me for about eight hours of that day.
I set up nine projectors that were 20 feet off the ground, shooting onto nine screens. I don't know if you've ever been 20 feet off the ground, it doesn't seem very high, but trust me, it's very high up.
The whole time, I’m running the show. Any time something went wrong with one of the computers, I would throw my headset off, go fix the problem, and then go back to running the show. That’s really the holy grail of things I've done. It's insane, basically. When I tell other techs about the show, they assume I had a crew of 50 people with me.
TND: You've done shows all over the world, in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Which country was the hardest to work in?
NN: You would think that Japan or China would be difficult, because of the language barrier, but the work ethic is just incredible. They were pros, and they were ready to sweat blood to get the show working on time. That made the language barrier no problem. Amsterdam was a really tough show . We barely got it off. The conditions of working in a historic venue made things extremely difficult. But the hardest hardest, the ones that take the cake, were all here in the US.
TND: Do any of those U.S. shows in particular stand out?
NN: I did a gig for Phish up in Vermont where I showed their live concert video from Coney Island to their fans in Burlington, Vermont. And there were 5,000 totally batshit Phish fans running around crazy and on drugs. I did Obama’s inauguration as a simulcast in Time Square. Five in the morning, freezing cold. We had to push these 1,300 pound screens through Midtown traffic to get them into the trucks.
TND: What's your least favorite part of this job?
NN: Part of the gig of being a technical director involves dealing with people with different goals. Let's just say I've had to pass people wads of cash in handshakes.