This week’s guest blog post is provided by Kevin M. Mitchell from PLSN Magazine.
PLSN Interviews DPS Inc. about it’s explosive growth and sits down with Anthony Dever, CEO and the entire DPS Leadership team in their upcoming August 2015 issue. Kevin Mitchell provides context and great insight into what DPS is about and some great 411 on DPS’ boutique entertainment production services. Read it below and visit PLSN:
DPS Inc. – Multi-faceted Production Company Rides Explosive Growth
Reprinted from PLSN – August Issue – By Kevin M. Mitchell August 17, 2015
I’m in an Audi riding over to the DPS warehouse from their HQ in Burbank along with GM Robert “R.J.” Lynn and the director of marketing, Alan Sherin. At a stop light, CEO/Creative Director Anthony Dever pulls up in his Tesla, rolls down his window and jokes, “Wanna race?” Lynn laughs and points out that maybe that’s not prudent, cop-wise. The light turns green and Dever hits the pedal, if only for a short spurt.
But Dever, as well as Lynn and the rest of the team at DPS, have the pedal all the way down. Rarely, if ever, has a single production company so amped up their offerings on so many levels so quickly. Within the last few years, they have hired some of the top talent in the business and created five divisions with great autonomy: DPS Cinema, DPS Touring, DPS Corporate, DPS Commercial and DPS Worship. Within these divisions, they serve theater and rental clients as well.
The list of recent touring artists they’ve worked with include Guns N’ Roses, Kaskade, Judas Priest, Moby, Dixie Chicks, Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson. Corporate clients include Audi, Guggenheim, MTV and Samsung. Their reach into the Worship market is wide and deep.
“We take our experiences from multiple disciplines – knowledge of gear, understanding of systems, experience of trends – and bring anyone who needs to be in the room to find the best solution,” Dever says. “Even with fixed installation work, we want to create an engaging environment.”
Dever was a struggling DJ competing with, among others, Lynn, when the two decided to combine efforts. Dever likes to tell of a pinnacle moment that inspired him to be more than a DJ: He was attending his first Dave Matthews Band concert, and the set design and lighting set fire to his imagination and put him on the road to building DPS, which he launched in 2001.
“Corporate shows were our bread and butter in the early days, and then there was a major growth spurt,” Lynn says. Several growth spurts, actually. The first was 2006, when Dever ramped up at a time when the industry was getting slapped down by the recession. Dever chose to ignore the economic hardships and took the long road, building his business. Impressively, DPS grew despite the times. “A lot of it was observing the market and being able to forecast the needs of the clients,” he says. “And then by 2011, I knew it was time for a big push to be a major player, and that’s when I made my move.”
“As Anthony grew the company, it became clear we needed divisions that could work together but also serve the client better,” says marketing head Sherin. “We wanted a separate voice for the touring world, a separate one for Worship, etc.” They recently moved to a new, expanded headquarters in Burbank, CA. They also have offices in Irvine and San Francisco, plus they just opened an office in New York City. And now they are eyeing Atlanta. Lynn says they have been “hounded” for nearly two years to bring their style of production to the East Coast. “We could make a difference in Atlanta,” he says, noting East Coast clients including Theatre East, YouTube, GE, CBS Sports and Comic-Con/Adult Swim, among others.
Dever shrugs when it’s pointed out that he’s expanding in the face of a lot of competition. “That’s not what I focus on,” he says. “We have invested heavily into people. The beauty part of my job is getting good people, then getting out of their way and letting them do what they love to do,” Dever says. “If it starts to become a punch in/punch out kind of gig for our employees, then I’m not doing my job.” Today the company has 56 full time employees and 110 part timers.
Lynn’s role is leading the sales division and always looking at the mid- to long-term initiatives. Also, just keeping up: “We went from a few employees to over 50 fast, and prior to that I was wearing a lot of hats. Now I’m able to focus on the long-term growth strategy.”
“In this company, there is a willingness for people to focus on what their expertise is and get help when they don’t know something,” says Paul Kobelja, VP of Cinema. “We’re not trying to do things that we aren’t great at. We stick with what we know and that’s how we’re going to grow more.”
Jon Tunstall, VP of Commercial Integration, says he “started out pulling wire in the mid 1990s.” He worked for several integration firms when an opportunity at DPS came up. “It was too good to pass up,” he says. “It’s really refreshing to come to a company that invests so heavily in people. And the thought process for installations is defined by what is the best solution for a particular client. We don’t want to lead with products.”
“I’ve worked from the smallest lighting company to the largest, and they both have their pluses and negatives,” says John Lee, VP of touring. “It’s a tough combination to try to find the sweet spot where there’s a place that offers the best of both worlds, and DPS is the closest I’ve seen that is truly the best of both worlds.”
Lee acknowledges that before he joined DPS in 2012, the company wasn’t known for concert touring. But just him being there sends the message that the company is deadly serious about it now. “I’ve been in this situation twice before, taking a company from essentially zero to a sought-after lighting company that is working the big tours,” he says. Lee worked for Electrotec, TASCO, A-1and PRG previously.
While acknowledging the competition in concert touring, Dever is philosophical about it. “Working on tight margins, yet I don’t look at the financial obstacles to doing business,” he says. “If you want the absolute lowest price and that’s the sole consideration, then we’re likely not your partner. If you want an experience working with creative types who care, if you want the best solution, if you don’t want gear to die in the middle of your event, then let’s talk.”
DPS was a part of lighting up the Coachella arts and music festival in April. For the closing band, The Weeknd, they put in place their Clay Paky Sharpy moving lights, Martin MAC Viper Profile Spots and drove it with a GrandMA2 from MA Lighting. For atmosphere they put into place Martin Jem ZR44 Hi-Mass Foggers. They’ve recently worked with Alice in Chains and Glitch Mob as well, with Dever revealing that both are already making them their house of choice for future tours. “Once we get them [an act], they come back because we set the bar and really deliver.”
Houses of Worship
Rob Kurtz has been serving the worship market since 1999. Besides owning his own production company, he served as lighting designer/production coordinator for the Jesus Culture outreach ministry, and was lead lighting designer at New Life Church in Colorado. “It was when I was touring with Jesus Culture that I first encountered DPS,” he says. “Then we started hiring DPS to do production management and lighting for the band, and one day I had a conversation about going to work for them.” Kurtz has an interesting perspective on the company because he was first their client. “They genuinely cared about me as a client. Plus I couldn’t help notice that all their people were really high quality people who truly loved their job.”
Kurtz now happily counts himself as one of them. He manages the Worship division. Another client is Hillsong Church, an international organization. DPS provides lighting and video for many of their events. DPS is proud of its work with Hillsong on its movie Let Hope Rise that was filmed at the Los Angeles Forum in late 2014 and is scheduled for release Sept. 30, 2015.
The Worship division also handles a lot of church conferences. They recently supported an event at Dallas’ American Airlines Arena staged by the Covenant Church. This involved an Absen AD07 LED video wall measuring 60 by 14 feet. The show also involved a large lighting package, with 130 moving lights.
Dever cites a parallel between his company’s success and his own personal faith. “We started this division three years ago because, frankly that market was underserved,” he says. “The trend I saw with production companies was that they were making it about their own egos. We considered it an ugly scene, and I wanted to get in and just give back and serve the true purpose of those events, which is getting people closer to Jesus.”
Visiting the warehouse is practically a spiritual experience — it’s insanely clean, like you-could-eat-off-the-floor clean. When this is mentioned, Dever just smiles. “I will brag about Hamish,” he says of Andrew “Hamish” Mills, VP of Operations. “We have the cleanest gear in the business because of him — he and his team do a really good job keeping this warehouse clean, free of dust and dirt, and making sure everything is like new.”
“I understand gear,” adds Hamish “It’s about how it’s presented and how it’s taken care of, and we make sure it’s our number one objective.” Dever also is quick to credit shop manager Craig Meredith with running “a tight ship. We have a scrubber come through twice a day.”
An increasing popular feature at the warehouse is their trussing grid, a huge installation that is 33 feet high, 62 feet deep and 60 feet wide. “The grid can handle a 144,000 pound load,” Kurtz says. “It allows us to set up for full rehearsals in house or use it to prep for a live event we’re doing. It saves time on production because you can work out all the lighting cues here at the facility.”
Otherwise, what is stocked in their warehouse is governed by common sense. “We only want what is capable of great results for our clients,” Lee says. But it all comes back to the people. “This company will go wherever these guys want it to go – I’m dead serious,” Dever says. “It’s about the individual departments, and what those in the departments recommend. It’s been a fun ride, and I’m a big fan of these guys. Otherwise, it’s wherever the Good Lord takes us.”
DPS Bridges the Realms of Film and Live Events
An interesting aspect of DPS is their film work. They’ve had a hand in 50 Shades of Gray, Fantastic Four, Disney’s remake of their 1967 animated film, The Jungle Book (set for release April 15, 2016), and most impressively, perhaps, the film Tomorrowland, which Disney released in May.
Paul Kobelja runs the cinema division, and he has over two decades in the motion picture industry. One of their big selling tools is the aforementioned truss grid. “We use the grid space for proof of concept camera tests and R&D testing,” he says. “Essentially what we’ve been working on is a new product, called Enhanced Environments Process. It’s a unique systems that replaces green or blue screens with a live environment in which video screens and lighting do what is normally done in post for a lot less money,” Kobelja explains. (Tomorrowland used it to great effect in the time machine sequences.)
Kobelja joined DPS at the end of 2012, putting his past cinematography work and sales experience at Lightning Strikes, Inc. (now Luminys Systems Corp.) to work. “We want to bridge the divide between motion pictures and concert touring,” Kobelja states, adding with a laugh: “They don’t speak the same language — and they don’t want to!” One of the big differences is that touring people are much more likely to adopt new technologies — they will take a piece of gear out on a tour, and if it spectacularly fails in Chicago, they just switch it out for something they’ve used before in time for the Indianapolis show. But with films, the stakes are higher, and thus creative types are less likely to accept changes that require new gear.
“This is the year I think the general interest is growing in what we’re doing, and it’s flattering to see competitors suddenly going, ‘me too,’” he says. “This is to be expected because it’s a hugely popular process that allows for a much more realistic visual effect — not to mention that its cost savings are such that television shows are beginning to look at it to create scenes they wouldn’t ever normally be able to afford.”