Birmingham Ceremonies Ltd, a new joint venture formed by GBA (Gary Beestone Associates) and Done+Dusted to deliver the opening and closing ceremonies of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games was announced last month. Access meets the key figures involved to discuss their plans and the opportunities the projects present for supply chain contractors.
Not only is the team behind the recently formed Birmingham Ceremonies focused on delivering the events that bookend Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games in a streamlined, cost-efficient and cohesive manner, the management team at GBA and Done+Dusted say they are determined to set a new creative standard for opening and closing ceremonies.
“You don’t get many chances to work on big ceremonies like these in your own country, I am 59 and this is probably going to be the last one I do – the other one was in 2012,” says
Simon Pizey, the founder and CEO of Done+Dusted (pictured right). “We want this to move the whole event genre forward – for it to be the show that becomes the reference point for events such as these for the next decade.”
Television production and event staging company Done+Dusted produce large-scale live events and live broadcasts globally. Among its recent projects was a hybrid version of the BAFTA Awards and Tik Tok’s UEFA Euro 2020 Live with Ed Sheeran; a one-hour live show at Ipswich Town Football Club that broke the record for the biggest live music performance on TikTok with more that 5.5 million unique viewers watching the global live stream.
GBA director Zoë Snow (pictured below) is the executive producer of Birmingham Ceremonies. She will work alongside a diverse creative team that includes fellow executive producer Steven Knight, the creator of Birmingham-based hit TV series Peaky Blinders, broadcast director Done+Dusted’s Hamish Hamilton, Birmingham writer Maeve Clarke, local musician and rapper Joshua ‘RTKal’ Holness, and artistic director Iqbal Khan.
Misty Buckley is the project’s production designer. She was recently nominated for a BAFTA Award for Stormzy’s performance at Glastonbury Festival and has worked on events including the London 2012 Paralympic Closing Ceremony.
Another key figure in Birmingham Ceremonies is Gary Beestone, the man behind GBA – a company of producers, project directors and production managers for events. His work involves being a long-serving international technical director of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child touring show.
A common goal
“The Birmingham Commonwealth Games creative team has been appointed by the organising committee, and as the production company Birmingham Ceremonies is delivering that vision,” he says. “That requires a great deal of working with the creative team, and that is why a combined approach with a broadcast company such as Done+Dusted is hugely beneficial.”
Pizey says the structure is similar to the one used for the Olympics 2012 ceremonies, where the creative team was led by Danny Boyle.
“Hamish Hamilton, my partner, was on Danny’s team. He is also working closely with Iqbal on the Commonwealth Games creative and is going to direct the TV show. Iqbal is very strong on what is going to work theatrically but it is very useful for him to have someone on the creative team who sees things through a camera lens.”
Beestone (pictured below) says that the aim of the joint venture was to create a leadership team made up of a producer, a technical director and broadcast director who would work collaboratively and efficiently together, rather than having a hierarchical structure of multiple contractors: “By taking this approach with the creative team working with three people who are completely aligned in their creative approach, we are able to offer something that from a production perspective is a totally new way of approaching these large-scale shows.”
The opening ceremony will take place on 28 July next year and will include a mass cast of 1,200 participants. Snow says the focus is very much on including local people within the cast, the supply chain and the creative team: “We have amazing Birmingham talent involved, Maeve Clarke an up-and-coming writer and Josh, who is one of the city’s ‘30 under 30’, is an incredibly talented rapper and music producer.
“We are in the early stages of creative development, engaging with the local community and exploring talent and volunteering opportunities. The cast of 1,200 will primarily be from the local community. We are looking to launch a casting drive next year, so we are speaking to local universities, colleges, and youth groups. Many in the creative team are Birmingham based.”
When it comes to selecting the suppliers that will help bring the events to life, Beestone says a rigorous procurement process will commence toward the end of this year: “We will create very detailed briefs to go out to all the supply groups such as audio, lighting, staging, costume and sets, and anyone is able to apply to take on one of those elements and provide a bid for it. We will then go through a procurement process and select the suppliers.
“Selection will not be on the basis of distance from the venue or cost, specifically, but those factors will be taken into account. Also, sustainability is a huge driving force within the Commonwealth Games organisation so that is another aspect that will be assessed as part of the procurement process. All the opportunities will be posted on the BirminghamCeremonies.com website.”
The Commonwealth Games Federation has pledged to deliver the first ever carbon-neutral Commonwealth Games and in order to achieve that environmental landmark, plans include creating 72 new urban forests in the West Midlands and a further 2,022 acres of woodland.
“These shows don’t come along very regularly but they are incredibly important in terms of showcasing what the events industry is cable of doing.”G
With sustainability being very much at the heart of the event, suppliers already selected are making the environment a key consideration. Among them is Aggreko, which has been appointed supplier of temporary power generation equipment and will provide renewable power solutions.
Beestone says, “Having that environmental objective from the very get go is very different to trying to mop it all up afterwards with some kind of sustainability audit. Every procurement goes through rigorous sustainability scoring, and if someone comes up with an idea that may be more expensive but more sustainable than others that might be the route that we choose to go down.”
The opening ceremony will take place in front of 30,000 spectators in Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium, and an estimated worldwide TV audience of 1.5 billion people. Beestone says that the event’s budget is in the tens of millions of pounds but the formation of the joint venture will mean it can be spent as efficiently as possible.
“The budget is not as big as the London Olympics, but it is still a large amount of Government money and there is a responsibility to spend it responsibly. That is what we see the JV as being able to do in a really smart way,” he says.
Pizey adds, “It is really easy to make big expensive mistakes when you have unaligned parties working together – people going down paths that others slam the breaks on, for whatever reason. I have seen so much money wasted in that way.”
While the JV is expected to bring efficiencies, Beestone says the impact of Covid-19 on working practices will lead to far more flexibility and cost savings in the way the teams works on the Commonwealth Games ceremonies.
“The single biggest change since the London Olympics a decade ago is you no longer have to amass hundreds of people in the location you are making the show at and have them all sat there from 7am to 7pm for three years prior to the event.
“We are able to access and share information with experts all around the world and the impact of Covid has illustrated the ability to connect with people and meet with people remotely. That flexibility with our team enables us to precure talent for shorter periods of time for much more focused roles with a reduced commitment.”
Pizey says that not only has professional camera technology moved on enormously in the past decade but smart phone cameras can now play a role in the production: “The ability to take an iPhone and create 4K content for a show that is going to be broadcast is a gamechanger, it means athletes can create their own footage in whatever country they are in. That kind of content would have been hugely expensive in the past.”
From a stage production perspective Beestone says that advances in Set Electrics mean spectacular results can be achieved far more efficiently than the past: “It means you can much more easily provide really interesting effects physically built into the staging.
“These shows don’t come along very regularly but they are incredibly important in terms of showcasing what the events industry is cable of doing, especially at a time when the creative industry is fighting for its survival.”