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The man behind Norwood Productions

Chris Norwood of Norwood Productions in Johannesburg has just taken delivery of another 8 Claypaky Axcor Beam 300s (to up his total offering to 16 units), 8 Robe 150s, 6 SL Nitro 510 LED Strobe Lights and 20 Longman FacePar 900s all purchased from DWR Distribution.

An optimist and patriot, he only opened shop in 2018 and still survived the pandemic, giving praise to his hard‐working and talented team.

Wearing a cap and a jacket branded with his company logo, Chris Norwood looks more like a racing driver than the owner of a production company. As an avid extreme motocross and downhill mountain bike racing enthusiast, his ability to break the mould has given him the ride of his life.

At 17, sporting a head of dreadlocks, Chris discovered his passion for the music and entertainment industry, with one of his first jobs working as a doorman, selling tickets for his muso brothers. Soon he was on tour as a drum tech and stagehand, upping his skill to work as an audio engineer for bands like Cutti ng Jade, 16 Stitch and Tweak. A colourful career saw Chris working in Seychelles for Palm Tree Events and he fondly recalls, “I went in as an audio technician. We worked super hard and learnt how things should be done perfectly.” To this day, you won’t find a faulty cable at the Norwood Productions warehouse. For ten years he worked at a production company before establishing Norwood Productions in 2018, to offer a full technical solution where attention to detail would set him apart, no matter how big or small an event.

“I had relationships in the music scene but not in the corporate environment. Now 90% of our clients are corporate based but because of our love for music, we still do bands,” says Chris who regularly mixes for Fuzigish and many other artists, just to enjoy the magic of live music and what it means to an audience.

Chris initially relied on freelancers when he started his company but by early 2020, before the South African Covid‐19 lockdown and whilst touring with the electric string quartet The Muses in India, he saw the writing on the wall and how the pandemic was affecting the rest of the world. To survive, he knew he had to hold onto the skills, talents, and expertise of his crew members.

While many South Africans in the live events industry were laid off or relocated to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Chris employed the freelancers he usually worked with, offering a small retainer, and then paying them as jobs came in. “It allowed us to get through this tough and challenging time where we had to adapt to survive,” he says.

His business strategy changed. He invested in film gear and bought Black Magic Streaming Solutions, knowing that Norwood Productions would either have to focus on streaming or go bust. “We were fortunate that it worked and with the streaming hardware, we started building up people’s expectations of online events. Instead of letting clients cancel shows, we tried to encourage them to scale down.

Initially, we did a lot of free work for bands. This free work helped build the skills we lacked. At the time I didn’t know anything about cameras or shooting but we had to learn a new trade and have something to offer to the market.” Their first streaming production was a ‘hack’, he admits, but very soon the team had their head around the system. “We offered a full solution and while every quote sent would start with a camera it would ultimately include other gear,” says Chris. “Hybrids are still massive and anyone who thinks we’ll only do live in the future is completely misguided.

Now events can have internationally based presenters and you don’t have to buy a plane ticket. Financially it’s a very viable solution and streaming will be with us forever. For me, it’s crazy to think that it took Covid‐19 to use technology that was always there.”

While Norwood Productions started with a studio based in Melville, Johannesburg, the premises were continually being broken into. "And for events like live panel discussions you don’t need a studio,” said Chris. A mutual benefit saw Norwood Productions and the newly built Blueberry Hills, a boutique hotel located in Honeydew, Roodepoort, working together. “We rented meeting spaces or conference rooms and kitted them out. We put in our Absen LED screens, a stage and draped the space. It looked like a studio and offered accommodation on‐site if needed.

Everything was there, and the hotel had a generator and internet. No one was occupying rooms at the hotel at the time due to the Covid‐19 restrictions and while we had a solution to meet our needs, we also helped generate an income for the hotel. They are a great group of people to work with.” The initiative didn't make billions, but it kept bodies and minds busy during a challenging time.

“What kept me positive was my team,” Chris emphasises. “Your staff are everything and having all the gear in the world means nothing without master technicians to run it and make it sound and look good. They are also with me when I buy the kit and because they know the value of every item, they never disrespect gear. We’ve had our Absen LED screens, which I believe are a game changer for corporate events, for close to five years and I’ve never had one dead panel. My team treat the kit like gold and that’s the good thing about having a great staff.”

Chris follows a basic equation that dictates whatever gear he spends the most on renting from other technical suppliers, is what he ultimately ends up purchasing. “It’s all about investment and returns,” he adds. “I think for the price, both the Robe and Claypaky units are great for diverse events and don’t draw a lot of power. The reason I buy certain equipment is the support I receive from DWR Distribution and people like Marlene Riley and Dylan Jones.”

While the Norwood Productions artillery includes a range of products from Robe Spikies, LEDBeam 100s, Nitros, Prolyte and Absen, there is now additional gear which will be available for dry hire. There are 16 new Axcor Beam 300, each unit weighing 20kg, measuring just over 500mm, and delivering a high light output with 17 gobos on two wheels, including seven high‐quality dichroic rotating gobos.

The Robe LEDBeam 150s, Norwood Productions own eight, needs little introduction and is a popular choice offering fast sweeping beams and a wide, quality wash. The SL Nitro 510 is a cutti ng‐edge LED strobe luminaire that delivers intense bursts of light and dynamic effects. Norwood Productions has bought four‐white and two‐ coloured fixtures.

What stands out about Chris Norwood is his contagious optimism. “I believe South Africa is the future of Africa and with many people leaving Johannesburg it opens an opportunity for me,” he smiles. “People just have to work hard. We have space and we have freedom. I’ve heard someone say that the grass is greenest where you water it. If you live a good life, work hard and water the grass, it will be green.”


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