MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: Matt O'Donnell
Event Producer, Tantalus Productions Inc.
May 10, 2009 Social Butterfly Club Member Interview: Matt O'Donnell
Reporter: Alice Zhou
Matt O’Donnell’s career as an Event Producer and Technical Director spans over 11years. From audiences numbering 50 to over 3000, he has produced hundreds of spectacular and technically precise events for the corporate and special events market. His broad skill set sees him equally at home working on spatial and conceptual design, as calling the cues of a multifaceted technical production.
Corporations such as Citigroup, Suzuki, Metlife, Safeco, Hewlett Packard, Porsche and Sony are some of the long list of clients that have relied on his talent and expertise in the field of event production. Matt has a true passion for the event industry, and in his spare time shares his knowledge with the event professionals of tomorrow; as faculty at the Art Institute of Vancouver, teaching staging and production.
Matt has been nominated for two Canadian event industry awards, and recently won the CEIA Star Award for “Most Outstanding Event” for an event he produced for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
A: What is the one event in the past 10 plus years that you have worked on that is most memorable or impressive for you, tell us about
M: Citigroup Chairman’s Council back in 2004. The group had to cancel their incentive trip to Athens for the summer Olympics. They chose Whistler as the alternative destination, and my team and I had the formidable task of creating a gala event that would be worthy of the group missing out on Athens. What made the event interesting and challenging was that there were no venues left in Whistler for staging a spectacular event. I don’t remember how I got the idea, probably late at night after a glass of wine or two, i thought “what about the ice rink”. So began a an intensive and detailed creative planning process (we had 2 months to make it happen. Over 4 days we transformed the rink into an ice palace, with a huge central stage in the round, with a full cirque show, professional ice skaters, and opulent decor. It was one of the most technically challenging events I have produced.
Custom Stage set for Citigroup
A: Can you tell us your academic background?
M: I have a science degree, Biology major, earth science minor.
A: What did you do in Australia? Any weird and exciting stories from the outback like getting your leg trapped in a croc's mouth or fighting off Tasmania devils?
M: Wow, there are lots. I was a 4WD tour guide in the outback for 4 years, primarily in Kakadu national park in the Northern Territory. One of the incidents that I remember well – I worked for a tour company that was very cheap. Rather than pay for our clients to go on the large and popular “Jumping Crocodile” river cruise, my boss thought he would do it himself. So he bought a much smaller boat, with no safety glass around the outside, that held about 20 people, rather than 200. So on maybe the 3rd trip, I am piloting the boat, and trying to coax a pretty big (almost as long as the boat) croc out of the water with a lamb chop tied to the end of a long bamboo pole – trying to keep an eye on the big croc, and also the others that were approaching the other sides of the boat (while also trying to steer and maintain speed). Next thing, I hear a big snap right next to my right ear, and get hit by a big waft of rank fish smell (croc breath). I turn around to see a 3 metre croc sliding out the engine well back into the water. It had jumped over the engine, and missed my head by about a foot. Needless to say, the Japanese tourists I had on board went crazy. But not what you would think – they loved it!
Pfizer "Virtual Forest" Gala at Vancouver Convention Centre
A: What skills or valuable knowledge from your previous position you can transfer over to your entrepreneurial life?
M: Be good to your staff and colleagues – treat them as equals, give them the responsibility they deserve and nurture and develop their skills. Be a kind and rewarding leader and mentor – not an overbearing boss. Also, treat your vendors well – to a certain extent, when it comes down to event day, you’re only as good as your suppliers, and that’s when you really need them as allies.
Sun Microsystems, in the old Enterprise Hall (now Edgewater Casino)
A: Tell us some of your clients, and type of work you get into?
M: Tantalus is a boutique event production company – so in our first year of being, we have serviced what I would categorise as boutique clients. The spectacularly modern and chic Loden Hotel is a valued client. I produced their launch events (3 of them) last year. They are an incredible team of people to work with – creative and passionate about their hotel. Immedia PR – Laura and Heather are an inspirational pair of savvy business women that have a high end roster of clients – I often provide them creative production services for restaurant and product launches. CPRS – I am providing technical production for this year’s “On The Edge” 2009 conference, being hosted here in Vancouver. In fact, it was Alice that introduced me to the conference – thanks Alice!
Southridge Gala 2008
A: I know you're a big CAR guy, tell us about this passion of yours, and how you are keeping the dream alive?
M: Well, living downtown and now fathering a new baby girl, I made the decision almost a year back now to sell my baby (my metal baby) an Alfa Romeo 164S. I really loved the car, but it wasn’t exactly practical to have an extra car when you live downtown (I never used it). My day will come again, when we moved to a larger residence out of town. In the meantime – one can dream.
Wife Stephanie, baby girl Laila, and Matt O'Donnell
A: Congrats on becoming a brand new dad to your daughter only a week ago, how do you feel about family in terms of your career?
M: I’ll be honest, it’s already hard work, and will continue to be – but I knew what I was getting myself into. I’ll just try to do my best to balance a hectic work life with spending time with my family.
A: You're also a professional instructor at the Art Institute, can you tell us what courses you teach, and what they cover?
M: I teach the subject “Production and Staging” as part of the one year Event Planning course. It covers the main aspects of technical production: Lighting, Audio, Staging, Rigging, Power, AV, Spatial planning and creative production. It is very rewarding.
A: Can you list some awards and accolades in your career that you are proud of?
M: Well, I have twice been nominated for Canadian Event Industry rewards – both time in the category of most outstanding event. Last year, I won. It was for an event I produced for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. I travelled to Toronto to accept the award. It was great to be recognised amongst an assembled group of very talented event planners and producers.
A: Any tips you like to share with our members on the importance of "networking" and how your likability has benefited you in your business?
M: I think networking in the local production industry is key to the success of any person already involved in the industry, or who is considering breaking into it. The only tips I have – get out there, be honest, be yourself and follow up on your connections.
Matt is a great freind, and a constant professional. I have worked with him on several of my past events, his technical expertise and excellent leadership was a delight on the job site. If you have an event from 10-3,000, Matt will save your sanity!