Original programming. High definition. Full color. Groundbreaking. All of this describes not only HBO, but the events that Billy Butchkavitz has been producing for the channel since 1994.
Now, with the design and production of his two final Game of Thrones premieres looming on the horizon, we thought this was a good time for a Designer Profile on Billy and look back at some of his epic event stories of light, pattern and color. And, total disclaimer — we are happy to say we’ve had a supporting role in many of them!
A wandering troubadour of design, Billy roams the globe and in his travels he soaks in the fabric (literally) of different cultures, bringing back memories of color and swatches of texture and patterns which he then translates into wildly Technicolor “stories” for those HBO events. But these stories weren’t always so epic.
“When I was first involved with HBO, there were no large-scale events,” Billy says. “They were usually held in a suite at a hotel. We grew together.” HBO’s Golden Globe after-awards events, which Billy designs each year, found a home poolside at the Beverly Hilton Hotel where they are held each January. In the early years, the Emmy events moved to Spago in Beverly Hills, expanding there until they spilled out onto the street in front, and the parking lot in back with tenting. In 2003 HBO moved the events to a fully custom tent frame in the courtyard of the Pacific Design Center, and Billy’s canvas expanded in size, and in color.
“I’m all about color,” he says. “I love color and pattern. I usually start with two colors and add from there,” he says.
[Note: All photo information at end]
BUILDING THE EVENT TEAM
His process begins with meeting with the same tight team of professionals he’s had on almost every project. For his tents and custom carpeting, he relies on Town & Country Event Rentals. Each year for the Emmy after-parties, he orders a 100-by-100-foor clear vinyl top and sidewalls in a new custom tint to complement his design as well as a carpet to match the texture he wants to highlight.
Texture is also a big part of the lighting design and we meet early on with Billy to discuss those design elements as well as venue logistics and time line.
“One thing that makes Billy’s productions the success they are is the level of organization and detail that goes into pre-planning,” says Images by Lighting’s Curt Stahl who has provided the lighting design at all of Billy’s HBO events. “He has a vision and understands the execution process on all levels from construction to rentals and decor. In our meetings Billy shares his vision through story boards, pictures and samples of materials that will be used such as metals, fabric and carpet. These are the tools we use to inspire our lighting design. It’s a great collaboration.”
Collaboration with his team and knowledge of the brand underlines Billy’s success. “HBO knows I understand what wants to achieve,” he says. “I present my designs in this light and get approval. I show them what I’m doing and there is trust. There is always a budget in place. It’s setup well in advance. I’m in it for the long haul, not to make all my money on one event. My goal is to make them happy.”
FINDING THE IDEAL CLIENT
So how did he get such a dream client? “I was simply in the right place at the right time,” he says.
With a degree in broadcast journalism from Temple University’s School of Communications in Philadelphia, Billy headed to Hawaii for the waves and an internship at a local TV news station. The internship expanded into set design for local advertising campaigns along with stage design for hotels and resorts throughout the island. “They kept asking me to do more and I kept saying yes,” he recalls. This eventually led to a job with a catering/event firm. “It happened fast,” he says. “My first breakout event was in honor of Prince Phillip. Between 1987 and 1993 I began doing corporate and society events. My first international event was in 1990 and in 1994 HBO and I met in Hawaii.”
“I just always want a look that no one else has,” he says. Certainly, that’s been the case with the premieres for Game of Thrones. While not as in-depth, they have been just as unique as the Emmy and Golden Globe after-parties.
In fact, one could say they have run from hot to cold. In 2015, Billy asked us to bring a hot, golden glow to the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda and then in 2016, we worked in all blues and white to design a freezing cold winter look at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Whatever he has planned for the premiere of Season 7 this year, you know it won’t be lukewarm!
Clearly, Billy Butchkavitz and HBO have a lot in common and understand what it takes to create something truly original — having a vision, and then committing fully to it.
Photo Information [from top down]:
All photos by Gabor Ekecs
Game of Thrones Season Five Premiere, 2015
HBO Emmys After Party, 2015
HBO After Party Emmys, 2014
Game of Thrones Season Six Premiere, 2016
Game of Thrones Season Six Premiere, 2016
Game of Thrones Season Six Premiere. 2016
HBO After-Party Golden Globes, 2016
HBO After Party Emmys, 2013
HBO After-Party Emmys, 2016