I have been in a lot of control rooms, some good, some bad, some pretty and some ugly. But when it comes to designing a control room you want it to be first and foremost, functional. Something that will work well production after production. But after being in as many control rooms that I have been in, there are certain things that drive me completely crazy! When you are looking to build a control room for your facility be sure to sit down and carefully plan it out and try to avoid these pet peeves.
- Noise: The Best control rooms are quiet control rooms. There is something about that calm before the start of a long day of shows when it is nice to sit in silence and begin preparing for the day. But realistically noise can come from many different sources, bleed from adjoining rooms, fan noise from gear, or even being in a spot where people feel the need to constantly come in and out. I have found there is nothing worse than feeling like you need to constantly shout to fight the noise. Now sure, when directing music I like to crank up the volume and get into it, but I also like to have the option to do that. One of the biggest mistakes that leads to a noisey control room is when all the gear is racked in the same room. I have been in many control rooms where this is the case and it always leads to more un wanted noise than it is worth. When designing a facility, I always push to rack the gear in a room other than the production control room. Fan noise makes you tired and requires you to shout over it. I once lost my voice because of a control room I was training end users in. Using an inaccurate iphone app I measured over 80db from fan noise alone.
- Temperature: Being from Minnesota I have never minded the cold and I can’t stand the heat, but when you are working it is always good to be comfortable. Control rooms are notorious for being cold, fridge’d places. I have seen control room stacked with coats and blankets for the operators. Now obviously it is very important to keep the gear at a cool temperature to maximize the life of the gear. But when a control room is so cold that people can’t work, that becomes a problem. Again, I always try and put the gear in a temperature controlled room away from the production control room. That way the operators and the gear can have different climates. However, I have been in many control rooms where the gear and operators are separate, but their HVAC units are not. This is a major design flaw in their HVAC system, because now the operators are getting froze out while the gear is nice and happy. Sometimes some simple dampers do the trick but make sure you can easily control the climate of the production control room separate from your rack/ engineering room. The other pet peeve with temperature is when you have cold air blowing right on you during a show. No matter what the temperature in the control room is, that is miserable. Especially if you are in the construction phase of a building, be sure to really think through temperature control and where vents are placed.
- Lighting: I always tell people I work in cold dark caves. Many control rooms feel cavernous and sometimes it sucks the life out of you. But this is usually done on purpose. Because we are dealing with video, we don’t want any unwanted glare on monitors, and we want everything in the room to be easy on the eyes. The best control rooms I go in have 2 types of lighting, work lights, for doing maintenance and cleaning, and then track lighting on a dimmable switch. This allows you to point light out of peoples eyes and onto the gear and off monitors. Dimmable is also important so you can get the right level to make it really easy on the eyes with still being able to see the gear and production materials. Whatever you do, plan on lighting and try and have both work lights and a dimmable source. I personally am not a fan of recessed canned lights as they usually aren’t always placed the best and end up hitting me in the eyes and driving me nuts during a show! If all else fails, buy some nice desk lamps that have goose necks so you can place them exactly where you want them.
- Monitor placement: My Mom used to yell at me when I was younger because I used to sit too close to the TV, I’m just glad she doesn’t go to work with me now! Monitoring is incredibly important and needs to be carefully planned in a facility. There are 3 things that peeve me the most about monitoring. The first is when people buy monitors that are too big. A 65” TV placed 3 feet from an operator is too big!! In one of the fly packs I frequently use I have 2- 25” monitors placed 3 feet or less from me and I love it!! I hate having to scan left /right/up/down on my main Multi view monitor. When directing I need to quickly look for my next camera shot and I like to have all my primary sources viewable in a quick glance. So many control rooms I go to buy the biggest monitors they can and call it good. That is ok if you aren’t right on top of them but many places are only a few feet away from their monitors. For 5’-6’ I go with a 42”- 55” TV depending on the space and number of monitors. My second pet peeve with monitoring is monitor placement. Many times when hanging monitors in a facility monitors will be mounted higher than lower. I find monitors should be mounted in such a way that the primary monitors she be placed strait ahead of the director. Looking up only hurts your neck and is less than optimal for longer shows. I usually place my main monitors so that the bottom of the monitor matches the top of the front desk in the control room. My last pet peeve with monitoring is when operators are in a position where they can’t see what they are doing. I have seen graphics operators facing a wall on their own with no monitors. I have also seen operators placed on a back row that can’t see anything with low monitoring. This can easily be solved with more monitors on a monitor wall placed higher up or placing a small monitor or two by the operator. Plan your positions accordingly and make it easy for each operators to see everything that they need to.
- Volume control/ Speaker placement: Ever watch a movie with someone and they tell you to turn it down and you think it is too soft? Volume war in a control room is never fun. However, I believe that the director should get ultimate control with a volume knob right next to them. It drives me nuts when volume control is placed on the wall or in another room. Volume in a control room needs to go up and down quickly at a moments notice. I can’t stand having to get up or call someone to adjust the volume. I know in many HOW facilities graphic operators sometimes need their own control. My preference here is to get them a nice com unit that has a program input so they can have their own volume control going right into their headset. One of the best setups I worked on had a “My Mix” station feeding the program input of the com unit and then the announce out of the unit was set to feed the talkback into the worship leader’s ears so they could converse during rehearsals. The other side of this is to properly place speakers in a control room so they aren’t shooting over everyone’s heads or only hitting certain people. Plan converge for a nice sounding control room.
- Traffic: Production and part may both start with “P” but they are nothing alike. It drives me nuts when the production control room is a revolving door of people coming in and out. It’s not the crew or even off duty crew that bothers me, it is the people that stop in just to see what is going on, or the talent that thinks we are the ones who can pull up a video on you tube for them during a show. I get that sometimes there is little control over where the control room can be. But when I lay out a control room I always try and get the room to face away from the door, this allows you to avoid eye contact with people and get distracted when they walk by. If I can put locks on doors (preferable key cards) that is always ideal. But the simplest thing I do, is I never put high level positions close to the door. Such as TD, Directors, and sometimes even CG operators. In fact, I try and make those positions the hardest to get to in the room. If I could put up baby gates to detour people I would!! I just seem to have the worse luck with people talking to me during a show while I’m working resulting in me getting thrown off my game. Anyone that needs to actually talk to me during a show can usually do so on Com (I may be on a rant). I would be happy to let an assistant director, Shader, or even producer talk to the random flow of people that come in and out of a control room. Now I say this as most of my shows now days are out of fly packs and placed back stage. This is why I always box myself in.
These are just a few of the things that drive me nuts in a production control room. I could go on and on. But if you are planning a new control room really think about the environment and carefully plan the layout of a control room. You wouldn’t guess it by this post, but I really am not as picky as many other people I have met. Usually as long as I can see and hear (with a good chair to sit in) I am happy! But don’t take the planning of the production control room environment lightly and maybe consider some of my pet peeves.