This Is Rutherford
This is Emmy Award Winner Chris Conti
Updated: Apr 3, 2019
by Jennifer Ersalesi
It’s not every day you get to spend time with an Emmy Award winner who also happens to be an asset to our community in so many ways.
Using his many talents, Chris Conti is not only an amazing professional, he is also the type of friend everyone wants to have. Jeff Jordan, architect, Rutherford Downhill Derby founder, and one of Conti’s friends, told TIR, “When I had the idea to start the Downhill Derby in town, the first person I discussed it with was Chris Conti. Not because he is a great friend and a cool dude, but because he is one of those rare people who, when presented with something that is fun, challenging and will benefit others, jumps right in and says ‘how can I help?’. He spent years on the road touring with Coldplay and is still responsible for the lighting of the Super Bowl halftime shows, major rock concerts and Broadway acts. His experience putting on events and willingness to take on challenges is a huge part of the Derby's ongoing success and frankly we couldn't do it without him.” TIR spoke with Conti about his life and career.
TIR: While attending Wittenberg University, you received your BA in Theater. When do you recall becoming interested in theater and theater production?
CC: I actually had a bit of a nefarious start in theater. While in Junior High I got caught supergluing someone’s locker shut. I ended up serving a Friday detention during which I was made to hang lights in the theater. I actually enjoyed it quite a lot and continued on with it in High School and into College. While at Wittenberg I worked in the theater as well as on a lot of concerts. I had a bit of an ah-ha moment working on a concert that featured the Gin Blossoms and Hootie and The Blowfish. The first cue of the show all the lights turned on, changed color and panned out into the audience. The crowd went nuts and I was mesmerized as it was something totally different than the traditional theatrical lighting I had been doing. As it turned out those concert lights were from a company called Vari-Lite whom I went to work for upon graduation.
TIR: After you graduated college, you began a career with Vari-Lite in NY. What type of company was that? What was that experience like?
CC: Vari-Lite specialized in supplying automated lighting- computerized lights that could move and change color. I went to work for them in the shop learning how to set up, trouble shoot, and repair all of the equipment. It was a great experience because it quickly expanded my technical knowledge and gave me the technical fundamentals to be able to go out and do shows with that equipment.
TIR: Since 2004, you’ve been with PRG working on concert tours, TV shows, corporate events, trade shows and special events, like the Olympics and Super Bowl halftime shows. What have you enjoyed about working with PRG so far?
CC: The diversity of the projects we work on is amazing. No two projects are ever the same and that really keeps it fresh and exciting.
TIR: You worked on this year’s Super Bowl halftime show, what was the most exciting about working on that production? What was the most challenging?
CC: I have been on the field for 7 Super Bowl Halftime shows and without a doubt it’s one of the most unique, scary, challenging, and stressful shows I have ever worked on. What makes it such a pressure cooker is that we have six and half minutes to push the staging out onto the field and set it up. During that time we have to also plug in over a 100 cables to provide power and control to Lighting, Audio, Video, Pyro, and Staging. There are 70-80,000 people in the stadium watching and another 100 million people watching the show on TV, which adds to the pressure. The show itself is only twelve minutes long so there is little to no time to diagnose a problem, never mind to fix it should one occur. We try to mitigate the risk of problems occurring through months of planning, having redundant systems in place, rehearsing multiple times, doing all kinds of systems testing, and ultimately having a highly knowledgeable and experienced crew. Regardless, it’s live TV so anything can happen.
TIR: What are some of the concert tours and TV shows you have worked on throughout the years?
CC: Coldplay, Guns & Roses, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Katie Perry, Lady Gaga, Roger Waters, N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Marc Anthony, Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, MTV Video Awards, The Tony Awards, David Copperfield, Elton John & Billy Joel, Robin Williams, Tommy Hilfiger, Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Ellen DeGeneres, Jennifer Lopez, Friars Club Roast of Hugh Hefner, Sean John, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, NFL Kick Off, Christmas in Washington, John Deere, Mrs. USA, Mattel, Visa, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center, Survivor, Austin City Limits, and the New Year’s Ball Drop in Times Square.
TIR: In 2007 you become the Product Manager at PRG and you have been leading other engineers in the company. What have you found rewarding about this experience?
CC: It’s been a great opportunity to take my show experience and use it to help guide our engineers to develop better equipment.
TIR: You are also an inventor on 15 US patents. This is another huge accomplishment!! How do you go about inventing something new? Where do you get your ideas?
CC: Rarely is it ever a lightning bolt. I usually look for pain points, things people are struggling with. From there it’s an evolutionary process of slowly developing a piece of technology until it solves a particular pain point or problem.
TIR: In 2017 you were named to StudioDaily50 for your work in advancing technological achievement in the entertainment industry. Studio Daily50 is made up of top creatives and technologists. To what do you attribute this recognition?
CC: Without a doubt it’s the people I work with. My colleagues and I have been able to really push the technology envelope for live events.
TIR: 2018 was a super special year for you!! You won an Emmy…A Technology and Engineering Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The Emmy was for “outstanding achievement of engineering development of the PRG Ground Control Folllowspot System. Where is this Followspot System used?
CC: Some of the shows the system has been out on have been Bruce Springsteen, The Grammy Awards, U2, Madonna, The Billboard Awards, Beyoncé, The Oscars, and the MTV Video Music Awards.
TIR: What did it feel like to win an Emmy?
CC: I have worked on a variety of awards shows over the years but always backstage and in the wings. So it was a little different to be up at the podium, under the lights, making a speech in front of cameras. It was surreal!
TIR: Where do you keep the Emmy? Anything we might find surprising about the actual award?
CC: The Emmy is on my fireplace mantel at home. It’s surprisingly heavy. When they handed it to me on stage I nearly dropped it!
TIR: Not only are you an incredibly hard worker in your profession, you also dedicate a lot of time to the community. Tell us more about the groups and organizations that you participate in.
CC: Well I am on the Rutherford Downhill Derby Committee, I coach both the Coed K-1 and 2/3/4 Boys Lacrosse Teams, I am on the Rutherford School Facilities planning committee, and I am a Den Leader in Cub Scout Pack 168.
TIR: What are some of your other interests and hobbies?
CC: Skiing, watching my kids play sports, and hanging out with friends.
TIR: Tell us a little bit about your family.
CC: Well my fabulous wife is Kimberly Conti and we have two awesome boys, Charlie, 10 and Cooper 7.
TIR: What do you enjoy about living in Rutherford?
CC: I love the strong sense of community. I also love the fact that I can go grocery shopping, out to eat, or to a sporting event and always see people I know.