“It's challenging to work in a studio environment,” says Kenneth Heidt, executive director of special events for Paramount Pictures. “The biggest compliment I get is when people tell me they never see me sweat.”
Heidt has been learning to stay calm under pressure since he was thrown into the special events department at the legendary Hollywood studios while working as a page, just out of college. Having hightailed it to Hollywood from Florida with dreams of becoming a “big producer,” Heidt says getting into events was “a total fluke.” The willingness of superiors to take a chance on a young person with no experience helped Heidt move from staff member to operations manager to director, as did his innate patience, which, he says, “allows people to have a sense of security with you.”
A cool head came in particularly handy for Heidt the day presidential security officers told him he would have to evacuate all his event staff members from the area where they were setting up a dinner in honor of Bill Clinton for the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The command came several hours before the scheduled start of the event. “They had said they were going to do a sweep, but we didn't realize that they were going to actually kick all of us out three hours before the event started,” Heidt recalls. “We had 10,000 people coming. That was the biggest challenge we've faced.”
Secret Service sweeps aside, Heidt says many in the event industry are encountering other less dramatic but no less pressing challenges these days. “We had a period where people were making tons of money — for lack of a better way to say it — and they were much more free about spending money on events. Now it's, ‘What's the most we can get for the least money?’”
Heidt says that such demands can test an event producer's mettle, but admits that having access to a “huge inventory of props and costumes and special effects” gives him an edge. “For me it's a little easier when it comes to giving people bang for their buck,” he says, “simply because we have so much on the studio lot that we can get our hands on.” Working in close proximity to film producers on the Paramount lot and being able to observe “the small nuances they think about … their ability to pick out the smallest details” also helps Heidt provide more efficient services to clients.
With an average of 250 events scheduled for the Paramount lot each year, Heidt depends not only on these resources, but also on the large variety of venues within Paramount's grounds, which allow him to customize the design of each unique production. The lot's 950,000-gallon “B” Tank and elegant, intimate Valentino Park are popular areas for event staging, as is the famous arched Bronson Gate at Paramount Pictures' entrance. But for Heidt, the studios' New York Street — five-and-a-half acres of authentic urban atmosphere — is a favored spot “because you actually forget you are in L.A.”
“It's amazing to me that clients are becoming so much more savvy these days. They're much more aware of what an event entails, of the new technologies out there, from satellite links to dedicated DSL lines. They're aware of what can be done to make an event the best they've ever seen.”
“I've found that in the past few years, events are being geared toward different ethnic groups and being influenced not only in food but decor as well. I have seen some of the most amazing events inspired by Moroccan, Spanish and even Russian influences.
I WISH I'D KNOWN SOONER…
“How many calories are in our chocolate bread pudding.”
Paramount Pictures Special Events
5555 Melrose Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90038-3197