8:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Event Producers Criticized for Holding Live Event About Loss of Live Events
L.A. County Public Health officials are still discouraging large-scale gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop a July 23 in-person event hosting upwards of 90 event insiders who gathered to strategize and share insights on how to revive the decimated industry.
Held at the Torrance, California headquarters of Ryan Choura’s Choura Events, the program was billed as “The Future of Events: A Call to Good." It also included a wide-ranging discussion on topics including inequality and unemployment, but before panelists took center stage to kick off the conversation, the focus fell on how Choura and his team of staff and vendors (all of whom donated time and services) were able to pull off the gathering.
Choura confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that he provided rapid testing for all guests, including those who worked the event, through a drive-thru system administered by COVID Clinic. While waiting for results, which were doled out in under 20 minutes, attendees waited in their cars until a text message arrived. Only those who were negative were allowed inside, where they were greeted with socially distant seating. Panelists were separated by plastic barricades, and everyone was required to wear a mask except panelists only while they were speaking.
“The Future of Events: A Call to Good” ran for two hours and was split into three separate panels, all moderated by Choura, with separate topics: "How Will You Adapt, Survive, & Thrive?"; "From the Highest Hilltops: A Survey of the Industry"; and "Getting Ahead of the Pivot." Choura and his team also leaned on sponsors/event partners including Lighten Up, All Access, Native Four, The Grand, DVA Printing, DJ Rickie Rich, Primo XL and Power Trip.
The roster of industry professionals included All Access vp Dave Agar; founder of JJ|LA Jeff Consoletti; co-founder of Kilowatt Events Anthony Dittmann; founder and president of the Todd Group Todd Hawkins; founder and CEO of AGENC Cara Kleinhaut, COO and vp of Jive Live Entertainment Robert Larmore; founder of WP Miller Special Events William Miller; reBUILD20 co-founder Sheri Morales; CEO and founder of Event Eleven Tony Schubert; president at Hatch.im Carter Reese; founder of Sterling Engagements Alexandra Rembac; CMO of BeCore Kelly Vaught; and owner of Zoe Prods. Jessica Whitney.
Even before it happened, the event drew criticism. One concerned events insider emailed THR, writing, “This is exactly the type of irresponsible behavior that has caused the dramatic reversal of California’s original stunning success in flattening the curve. The fact that this event is being organized by a company in the Southern California event industry makes it all the more disappointing and frustrating.”
In opening the event, which THR covered through a live stream on YouTube, Choura seemed to address the skeptics by saying, “This event is not for everyone; it’s for those who want to figure it out,” adding that he believes “in being somewhere live” despite recommendations otherwise. He added that city officials visited the site ahead of the event “and they were not happy” about the live event, but upon seeing a testing center and waiting room in the parking lot, they acquiesced.
"It was safer than going to the grocery store and the beach. All of those places, there's no testing," Choura told THR after the event. "We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, which was to provide hope that you can gather safely and responsibly. [The panelists] are the smartest people in the industry, and I've looked up to some of them for a long time. Candidly, I felt a little sad that despite the regulations that the government is putting on us, it felt good to be together. The industry is so creative, and all of these business owners are going to find a way to figure it out."
Major takeaways from the panels: Don’t expect large-scale live events with hundreds of guests until mid-2021; a mix of hybrid and digital events until then; more drive-in experiences; ubiquitous mobile testing centers; and liability waivers. Event Eleven’s Schubert, whose firm has clients including Amazon Studios, the Oscars, WME, IMG, Paramount, Warner Bros., People magazine, Vanity Fair and Disney, among dozens of others, said, “One thousand-plus events is definitely into next year,” adding that, “we will see success with smaller events and will see it sooner rather than later. We’re going to have to find workarounds, put our creative hats on as an industry [and figure it out].”
Kleinhaut, founder and CEO of live events and digital firm AGENC — a company that has produced such notable Hollywood events as Amazon’s Jack Ryan premiere, Netflix’s The Goop Lab premieres and the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards events — said that the return of in-person events will really depend on size with smaller events returning first before large-scale events in spring or summer 2021. “The burden is on us to explain how we’re going to do it. Once they see we can do it, it will catch on.”
Choura said it will require that his industry peers take risks and do it loudly. “We have been pretty quiet. We have been weak as an industry,” he said. “We can help people open and I believe we can get a little louder.” As for welcoming guests to an in-person event, he did express his gratitude for those who came out to support: “Thank you for taking a risk and getting something jammed up your nose.”
A version of this story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.