Political conventions present unique challenges in the realm of events. These multi-day gatherings have thousands of in-person attendees and millions of viewers who count on TV networks and websites to take them inside the event. And, of course, those media outlets are competing for a share of that audience, so substantial thought is given not only to the content they will provide but also the look and feel of their on-air personas. Brand experience agency Jack Morton Worldwide has created sets for Fox News, NBC News, and The Daily Show With Trevor Noah for this year’s Republican National Convention—which opens today in Cleveland—and Democratic National Convention, which begins July 25 in Philadelphia. The company’s executive vice president of design, Jim Fenhagen, shared the concepts behind each one.
The Daily Show With Trevor Noah
“The Daily Show takes their whole show and moves it to the convention town for a week of shows. They find a theater outside the perimeter of the locked-down convention area and open it up to college students and whoever to be in the audience. [In Cleveland, the show will use the Breen Center for the Performing Arts; in Philadelphia, it will originate from the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania.]
“We’ve created this whole set that definitely has a Washington, D.C., architectural theme to it. To us, it’s like Washington in repair. Washington is a little broken, and it needs to be worked on, so the whole thing looks like it’s Washington broken apart, and it needs to be put back together. That was my idea. and they really loved it, so that’s what we’re doing.
“Trevor [Noah] is more of a stand-up [comedian] kind of guy, so we did accommodate that in the set. We have a segment in the beginning when he goes out and stands in front of a big screen, and then the screen flies out, and the desk comes in. So it’s a little more movement than in the past.
“There are two identical sets being made. One goes to Cleveland, and one goes to Philadelphia. There used to be time between the two conventions, sometimes weeks, and now they are back-to-back and it drives the networks crazy.”
“In Cleveland, we’ve got a hotel ballroom, and in Philadelphia, we’re erecting a tent on a vacant lot. They bring their whole operation there. We make a mini-convention hall where we have all the Fox desks—the assignment desk and the national desk and politics. They have all their people in this big space, and then during the broadcasts you see that in the background. And then we have windows where we look out over the cities as well. So we create this kind of mini-convention.
“There are several places they can broadcast from. They also will have a small broadcast booth in the convention. Some of the design elements are following through from the debates. It’s very red, white, and blue—super Americana, but in a modern version. So an abstract flag is where we landed on the design elements.
“We’re doing a lot of projection on the walls. We colorize it and project stars and stripes, that sort of thing. When you get into a big space like that, you are almost seeing 360 degrees, so everything has to be kind of looked at for camera shots.”
“They’re in one of the sky booths that overlooks the convention. They’re going to use it more for interviews. We’re creating graphic walls around this booth, so when they cross-shoot into the walls it has some interest to it. They are tight little spaces, so you are trying to make them feel not so claustrophobic. And then we tied in with NBC’s graphic look for their coverage of the whole election cycle and tied that into what the design of the booth is. It’s mainly trying to set it up so they have a good shot out into the convention hall and see the podium in the background of the shot, and then creating some kind of design elements on the sides of this booth to give it some interest. We’re basically doing giant wallpaper on the sides of the booth. We create the graphic look and then we have it printed and have an artist apply it to the walls of the booth.”