With more than 400 major events to his credit over the past 30 years, including the 15 Olympic Games and the 50th anniversary of the Disneyland theme park, Scott Givens’ creative prowess is world-renowned. Having worked previously on UAE National Day ceremonies, the President of FiveCurrents and Executive Producer of the Expo 2020 Opening Ceremony now brings his unique vision to Al Wasl Dome with an uplifting spectacle that underscores the pressing need to achieve a global sustainable existence.
You’ve worked on huge projects like the Olympic Games. How is the Expo 2020 Opening Ceremony different?
It’s actually similar in terms of scale to what we’ve done in the past. I worked in various roles on 15 Olympic ceremonies, which has been amazing, but the one thing that’s different is that we’re right in the centre of the Expo site. And the morning after the Opening Ceremony, the public arrives to explore this beautiful place. So, we have to do our magic on the night of the ceremony, and then we need the space ready for the world to see the very next morning.
Where does your inspiration come from?
It comes from the place we’re in, the stunning Al Wasl Plaza, and from Expo 2020 itself. The organisers know who they are, what their brand is, what they stand for, and what they want to say to the world. And then, of course, from Dubai itself, which has such an abundant heritage. We had such a rich starting point for our creativity.
How have you incorporated the UAE’s heritage?
We’re telling the UAE’s story to the world through a beautifully spoken presentation, but we’re backing it up with images and amazing projections, giving it a fresh, vibrant perception, with more layers and an elevated story.
How do you think the Opening Ceremony will set the tone for the next six months?
You know, for the Olympic Games we say the Opening Ceremony is 50 percent of the success, because it starts you on a good note, and I think the same applies here. If the country is proud, if people enjoy it, if everyone is happy, the world will come to Expo, and that joy will continue throughout the six months.
How does the Opening Ceremony set the standard for mega-events across the world?
We’re setting the standard for all global events through the magnitude and the complexity of everything we’re putting together for a spectacle that will take place for one night only. We’re setting benchmarks for augmented reality, projection systems, and for beautiful audio systems that really set the tone. Other events will follow and replicate those elements. But what we’re most proud of is creativity. We hope our show will inspire and motivate others to create shows that are true celebrations of culture.
Can you briefly talk us through the logistics of directing something of this magnitude?
We have a long rehearsal process and everyone starts small, they learn their part, they do it, and they come back the next day and they do it again. To me, the Opening Ceremony is almost like another rehearsal. I’m just coming in and doing the same thing I did yesterday, but a few more people are watching. If we take that attitude, the big complexity isn’t so big, because we’ve taken it in little bites. And all we do really in the control room is air traffic control.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
The technical challenge is massive. We’ve created a show that’s 90 minutes of cinematic content at a super-high resolution in this amazing dome, which absolutely has to have the right creative execution. I would describe my role as a sculptor. I take Franco Dragone’s clay – his ideas – and I mold them into the story. And then I need to ensure the story is communicated in a way that is both clear and nuanced.
I pick the point on the horizon and say that’s where we’re sailing the ship to. And then everyone gives their ideas in order to get us to that point. I promise Expo – and the world – we’ll get to that point, and then the whole team works to get us there. Yes, there are always creative differences, but the good ideas are apparent: they are like the cream that rises to the top. The best ideas can come from anybody at any level, and it is this incredible collaboration that brings out the best in people.
How did you select the headline talent?
First, we picked artists that had songs that belonged in the ceremony. They had a song that was authentic to the creative idea. Because when you get a star singing their own material, they deliver it with such passion and joy; it’s their song, but it fits our story. That was our main criteria, and then, of course, we wanted to represent the world, we wanted to be plural, and we wanted to reflect the diversity of our planet.
Do you have a favourite character?
There are so many amazing performers, but there’s one amazing 12-year-old girl, Mira Singh, from Belarus, who is our wise sage. She’s our Al Wasl, and she’s done so much – she exceeded my expectations of what was possible for a young talented volunteer.
Snapchat Collaborates with Expo 2020 Dubai
Visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai are being invited to explore a new series of physical and digital experiences that celebrate Dubai’s unique role in connecting the world and the UAE’s status as a global cultural hub. Developed in partnership with Snap Inc. and located at Al Forsan Park, the ‘Connections’ augmented reality (AR) experience is running from today until the end of Expo 2020 Dubai on March 31.
The activation brings to life the Expo theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ as a cross-cultural collaboration between French artist Cyril Lancelin and Emirati artist and Snap Star Ahmad Ali. The experience is anchored in a one-of-a-kind physical art installation designed by Lancelin, against which Ali has leveraged Snap’s world-leading AR technology to overlay interactive experiences for Expo visitors.
Inspired by Arabic geometry and patterns, Lancelin’s artwork is formed from a variety of shapes giving life to an immersive ‘cube’, with the cube’s labyrinthine structure creating a unique space for exploration and contemplation. Using the Snap Camera inside the cube, visitors can unlock AR experiences designed by Ali and inspired by his Emirati heritage.
Visitors can also virtually explore some of the visionary quotes by UAE leaders over the last 50 years, and another AR Lens virtually merges all participating Expo countries’ flags together in the shape of the UAE flag, with the colours then dissolving into those of the host nation’s flag. The experiences continue around Expo with specially designed AR face lenses available through dedicated Snap Codes on site.
Hussein Freijeh, General Manager for MENA at Snap Inc, said: “Snapchat has a legacy of storytelling in the Middle East, and we are constantly pioneering new ways for people to combine what they see in the real world with all that’s available to them in the digital world, representing the power of ‘Connections’. We also want to make AR more accessible to everyone as we believe it has the power to change the way we tell stories and interact with the world – to entertain, to inform, and to transform our connections in truly unimaginable ways. The compositions created by the two contributing artists are sure to captivate all who visit.”
Rehan Asad, Chief Programme Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai said: “Expo 2020 Dubai offers visitors a glimpse into some of the world’s most unique architectural and cultural wonders. With that in mind and through this collaboration with Snap, we are taking that promise one step further, using the power of augmented reality to both entertain and inspire the world virtually on any device from any part of the globe.”
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