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EVENT REPORT

SPECIAL REPORT: Inside MTV's VMAs

The MTV Video Music Awards returned to Radio City Music Hall with a splash of light and an enormous banner displaying the VMA logo.

The MTV Video Music Awards is a notoriously big event—one of New York's biggest—and this year's bash was no different, despite MTV moving the show a week earlier than normal to distance it from the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The broadcast returned to Radio City Music Hall after last year's stint at the Metropolitan Opera House, and again required almost a week of event site set-up, a considerable budget and a hefty crew of vendors.
Here's our behind-the-scenes look:

THE SHOW

The person in charge of the whole event is Kathleen Flynn, MTV's vice president of production events, and this year she worked with set designer Roy Bennett, show producer Alex Coletti and executive producers Salli Frattini and Dave Sirulnick to pull it all off. The show's set was aglow with a neon blue zigzag arch and a large LED wall, and two audience pits filled with screaming guests next to the stage gave performers easy access to interact with the crowd (Shakira body-surfed through the pit during her performance).

A teen-friendly lineup of performers used elaborate sets to provide lively entertainment. Justin Timberlake performed on top of a huge moving boom box set reminiscent of the days of 80's break-dancers, and Sean P. Diddy Combs' dynamic performance closed with dozens of members from the Antigravity aerial group bouncing around behind him.

A few lyrical tributes recognized the upcoming anniversary of the September 11 attacks, giving a peek at how autumn events may acknowledge the occasion. Bruce Springsteen opened the show playing outside of the American Museum of Natural History, and Sheryl Crow performed onstage back at Radio City, each with an original song inspired by the attacks. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also said a few (slightly awkward) words.

THE SHOW BEHIND THE SHOW

Even with all the hoopla you see on the TV broadcast, there's plenty you don't see. A special VIP area on the mezzanine hosted 700 guests, including Sumner Redstone, Mel Karmazin and other Viacom bigwigs (aka MTV's corporate parents) and media industry execs (plus folks like Calvin Klein and Donald Trump). The Catering Company served a buffet with sushi, oysters on the half shell, Florida lobster tails, and chargrilled New York strip steak served on garlic croustades with b?arnaise, frizzled leeks and roasted tomato chutney.

Passed drinks included cosmopolitans with sugar-crusted rims, green apple martinis and champagne. Other nibblies served on square Asian-inspired trays included homemade potato crisps and a selection of tapas including roulades of chicken stuffed with spinach, roasted tomato and nicoise olive tarts, and wild mushroom and ricotta pizettes. Eighty-five catering staffers were on hand to man the buffet tables, which were provided by Broadway Famous Party Rentals (which also provided the pipes and drapes throughout the indoor set and stage).

John Creech Design & Production designed a special platform that required Radio City's crew to remove an entire row—about 50 seats—for the party. Magnolia Flowers & Events decorated the area with giant arrangements of red cymbidium orchids placed in cement urns, as well as roses and tall copper-colored eremurus.

Magnolia also filled Radio City with massive floral arrangements to accent the venue's Art Deco decor—one arrangement in the greenroom had thousands of red and brown gladiolas alone. The lobby entrance was filled with large crabapple and berry branch arrangements, and the common area on the mezzanine level had bountiful calla lily arrangements with more than 200 flowers each.
The lobby was turned into an amber zone with overhead lighting. Barbizon Electric Company supplied 50 flame-colored rondels and 50 gold amber reflector lamps made of high-temperature polyester, which are usually used along with tapes and gels to replace and cover ceiling lights.

A makeshift greenroom was created backstage, and Greenroom filled it with red, beige and brown couches, tables and chairs. MTV scrimped on extra goodies like flowers in the dressing room (only show host Jimmy Fallon got some), but the stars were compensated with an oversized gift bag produced by On 3 Productions with about $18,000 worth of loot (Read more about the gift bag...) The Catering Company served much of the same fare in the greenroom as it did backstage, except dim sum replaced the oysters and lobster.

Guests walking around Radio City could watch the show on plasma monitors brought in by MB Productions (and supplied by Visual Word Systems) that showed the broadcast in high-definition TV and stereo surround sound. Two 42-inch plasma monitors were placed in the main lobby, four 42-inch ones occupied the first mezzanine executive level and three 42-inch ones were placed in the greenroom.

THE PARTIES

MTV's official pre-party was held Wednesday night at Pier 54, with Moby headlining the event and Miller's Skytracker Premiere Services providing the tents, carpets and lighting. On Thursday the network held a couple of parties for its sales groups at the Sea Grill and the Rainbow Room, where key clients and advertisers could get a bite to eat and pick up their tickets for the show. There was also a small viewing party at Vanderbilt Hall at Grand Central Terminal (also catered by the Catering Company) for an MTV promotions group.

The biggest event—aside from the ceremony itself—was Sean P. Diddy Combs and Guy Oseary's post-party sponsored by Reebok at Cipriani 42nd Street. Billed as “the greatest party of all time,” the bash enticed guests with sexy entertainment and decor. (Read our complete coverage of the event...)

Only 700 guests were allowed inside Cafe St. Bart's for the Def Jam party sponsored by Blender magazine and Pony (about 1,000 were invited) due to the venue's strict fire codes—and to leave room for late entrances by celebs like Gwen Stefani and Enrique Iglesias. Bolthouse Events managed the event and brought in tents from P. J. McBride to cover the outdoor venue. Lighting was done by NYC Tone and BML Stage Lighting and Productions, security by Citadel Security Agency, rentals by Broadway Famous Party Rentals, temporary power sources by Showpower, printing by C2 Media, and music from DJ Mark Ronson.

Blender's sister magazine Stuff threw a party for Pink at Lot 61 on Wednesday night, and PlayStation 2 held a pre-party for Nelly at Eugene.

Other post-show bashes included Fader magazine and Levi's rocker-friendly party at Milk Studios, with music from Mos Def, the Strokes and the Realistics. Show host Jimmy Fallon threw a party at the TriBeCa Grand Hotel while VMA nominee Fat Joe went to Etoile, where Miller's Skytracker Premiere Services provided the searchlights. Old-school rocker and show presenter Sammy Hagar from Van Halen gave a post-show performance at Irving Plaza with his new band Waboritas, and VMA closing act Axl Rose of Guns 'n' Roses threw a post party at the Old Homestead. Interscope Records partied at Bungalow 8, and DJ Samantha Ronson and nightclub promoter Noel Ashman hosted a soiree downtown at Veruka.

OUTSIDE THE EVENT

Rain may have dampened outdoor sets, but it didn't dampen the mood for the pre-show. Although there was no larger-than-life inflatable astronaut outside, MTV put out an enormous banner with the VMA logo—and a picture of the silver guy—in front of Radio City.

David Morong of Los Angeles-based Mic Mac Inc. designed the set outside Radio City, and Atlantic Studios provided sets, stage construction and crews. Acadia Scenic built most of the scenery for both the indoor and outdoor sets, including the decking on Radio City's marquee, where singer Avril Lavigne performed. Mountain Productions provided substructure construction, including the platforms and tresses for the outdoor set.

Lighting Design Group designed the outdoor lighting scheme, including the robotic lighting on the red carpet arrivals area and the celebrity interview platforms, areas that surrounded Sixth Avenue and lighting on the crowds. Vari-lite provided the robotic lights, and Fourth Phase provided the conventional lighting on the tresses and red carpet. Scharff Weisberg did the audio and video for the press tents.

Miller's Skytracker Premiere Services provided the lush red carpet again this year—4,500 square feet of it—which was cut up in pieces and wrapped around 50th Street to Sixth Avenue by Radio City's crews (the venue requires labor union workers). Directly across the street from Radio City on Sixth Avenue, Atlantic Studios installed a large set of bleachers branded with Pepsi and New York City's NYC logos that covered half a block and housed fans during the pre-show.

Jill Musguire

with reporting by Suzanne Ito, Chad Kaydo and Mark Mavrigian


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