Hot Coals and a Flaming 18-Foot Voodoo Doll Light Up Pyro-Heavy Warner Brothers International TV Gala

By Alesandra Dubin May 30, 2012, 6:42 PM EDT

A giant 18-foot voodoo doll burned at Warner Brothers International Television Distribution's gala.

Photo: Nadine Froger Photography

Warner Brothers International Television Distribution Gala
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In a town with dozens of events every week, party guests frequently follow a standard valet-bar-buffet-valet pattern. But on a particularly crowded night for parties in Hollywood, one bash offered attendees out-of-the-ordinary options like, say, walking across hot coals or bearing witness to a giant flaming voodoo doll, along with the de rigueur plates of salmon and salad. That event was the Warner Brothers International Television Distribution gala, which drew 1,500 guests—including broadcasters from more than 170 countries and more than 125 actors and producers from the studio's 50-plus TV series—to the Warner Brothers Studios lot on May 23 to fete Warner Brothers Television Group’s programming during the annual “L.A. screenings” for international buyers. It was the first gala of its kind since 2010, and only the second since 2004.

Warner Brothers Television Group executive vice president and C.M.O. Lisa Gregorian and senior vice president of marketing for Warner Brothers International Television Distribution Andrew Shipps oversaw the event, and the Warner Brothers Special Events team, helmed by Hillary Harris, produced it.

The bash began with guests gathering at the party's entry for a ginza-inspired cocktail reception complete with digital-video mapping on the surrounding buildings. Next, the event transitioned, as Warner Brothers International Television president Jeffrey Schlesinger entered wearing an LED suit and electric guitar accompanied by six-foot-tall female models. In a staged skit, Alex Grossi from Quiet Riot interrupted to demonstrate how a real rock 'n' roll artist riffs, and Schlesinger reacted by pretending to blow up the back lot by way of a cartoonish TNT detonator. Projections changed to multiple explosions on buildings enhanced by sound culminating in rooftop pyrotechnics. The back lot fell into a three-second blackout as two didgeridoo performers elevated on second-story balconies performed. Projections of fire appeared on buildings coming out of windows and doorways, cuing over 100 entertainers in tribal costuming to creep into position.

Tribal-inspired elements of the main event included an area lined with tiki torches that marked an area for coal walking. The activity utilized more than two cords of wood, to keep the coals burning over a four-hour period. Guests who braved the attraction were given African-inspired necklaces as badges of courage upon completion, a foot bath in cooling buckets, and a flaming shot at a nearby bar.

Across the party space, an entertainer known as Skyfire performed on an elevated 17-by-40-foot truss frame using electrical currents generated from a 15-foot tesla coil. Elsewhere, a giant 18-foot voodoo doll rolled into the party space surrounded by 20 African dancers and 12 drummers. Guests were invited to climb ladders and pin their messages on the doll before it was remotely detonated and burned for 10 minutes while dancers and drummers encircled it. Over on the main stage, Lucent Dossier performed back-to-back acts 40 feet above the ground aerially, as well traditional African dance numbers on the elevated stage floor. Another stage housed African drummers and Adaawa singers.

A third stage came in the form of a 30-foot-tall tree decor piece with a 30-foot leafy canopy, complete with truss that supported aerialists performing in moon, bird cage, and pod decor pieces throughout the evening. The illusion was that the performers were hanging from the branches rather than the truss.

At 11 p.m., the “Jungle Bar” opened within the largest interior façade on New York Street, where draped camouflage netting, vines, roots, and jungle greens covered the ceiling. DJ Choc spun while a Lucent Dossier performer costumed as a jungle queen swung from the vines supplying jungle juice guests who raised their glasses.

With so much fire in the party space—25 tiki torches, 500 candles, coal walking, and the burning voodoo doll—the Warner Brothers Special Events department worked closely with the special effects, fire, and safety departments. The team set up special areas outside of the party space for four fire acts to light and diminish flames. All sets, huts, moss, and furnishings were sprayed with flame retardant and checked three times with test burns by the lot's fire department. The team also worked closely with Precision Weather to check the winds that were forecast, and placed the coal-walking station in an area that was sheltered from the wind and away from the main party space. A test burn three days out ensured there would be no flying cinders from the flaming doll. 

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