I was very excited to be a part of something as big as this year’s MTV European Music Awards (EMAs). I was thrilled to know that I was working on something that would get so much media coverage – but it didn’t take too long for me to start stressing about the scale of the project.
I was the set dresser for the EMAs, so my role was mainly to source props for the stage. I was contracted to work on the opening and closing scenes showcasing Ed Sheeran and Ruby Rose.
It was all extremely exciting, working with MTV. The pace is really quick and you just have to keep up. It was exhausting but so great and worth it. The creative director had pretty clear ideas of what he wanted. I had a meeting with the production team about two weeks before leaving for Milan, so as you can imagine timing was very rushed. There was a lot to do on such a short deadline. Once I was briefed on the theme and the general ideas, it was my responsibility to source all the sets, buy props and create the environment they had in mind.
The production team dealt with all the technicalities of shipping the sets to Milan. Big vans had been organised to leave MTV’s London headquarters because a lot of the stuff was sourced in London. The set was a combination of rented props from several prop houses in London and bought items from flee markets and car boot sales, as well as materials from DIY shops to create fake walls and so on.
During the five days in Milan, the schedule was pretty intense. I set up all the intro scenes a couple of days before the event. But during my stay there, loads of things had to be done that weren’t planned before. That is the way it goes on events like that. Some props had to be sorted for little films they were making, as well as bits and pieces for the stage. I think you always have to remain calm and think on your feet.
Something I definitely realised while working on the EMAs is that you can’t get too attached to anything. Things change and evolve quite quickly and you just have to be okay with working on something and it being put aside because there is a change in direction. That is just the way it works on live events; things happen much faster and changes are made.
The one thing I’d change about my experience working on the EMAs would be not forgetting my steel toecap shoes. Those are definitely an event necessity.
The scariest moment for me was the day before the event when I was told at 11am that a whole load of props had to be sourced and made for Macklemore for the rehearsal at 5pm. I definitely had a moment of panic there. But my absolute favourite moment? I enjoyed the perks of watching all the artists perform live during rehearsal with no audience, but just a few people there and myself. It w
as such a privilege.
Working with celebrities – on this event, Ed Sheeran and Ruby Rose (pictured below) – definitely adds pressure in a way that doesn’t quite make sense. It shouldn’t be any different. I think it’s more about knowing that you are working on something that millions of people are going to see. It was definitely the most stressful job I have ever done.
I think there are similarities working on a theatre piece or a photo shoot and working on a live event. The set has to be there and things are expected from you. However, it’s true that the event industry is different in the way that things happen at such a faster pace. Thousands of people are involved with making the event work and be successful. It is impressive to think of the people who are coordinating all of those different jobs into making a three-hour event be the best possible show. It feels amazing knowing that I had a small role and contributed to making this work.
I think in general, set design can be quite a lonely job. Working as a freelancer, you often have to do everything yourself. You are not part of a team as such. This experience felt quite different and I loved it for that.
I would love to continue working on more events. This project was a bit of a revelation in my career and definitely the direction I want to go in. The thrill that you get working on a live event is quite unique. I think every experience you do brings you something new and makes you just a little bit better at your job every time. I feel calmer about taking on bigger projects, having more responsibilities and being able to keep my cool.
About Joanna Goodman
Joanna Goodman is a London-based set designer. Her practice is based around finding new ways of story telling through visual media. Goodman has designed sets for editorial magazines, window displays, installations, exhibitions, dance pieces and performances. Previous work includes the award-winning exhibition stand for Best of Britannia, showcasing eight fashion designers. Goodman most recently worked as project manager for the Alexander McQueen window design in collaboration with the Emma Roach Studio.
This feature originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Access All Areas, out now.