Let passion run the show
by Ada Ng
"I've enjoyed it immensely but didn't think it would turn into a career," he recalls. "I developed a passion for the theme park business, where people can go and forget about their day-to-day problems and just have fun."
Mr Hougland says he was particularly impressed with the production process and all the things that turn imaginative concepts into live entertainment. "It's exciting to work with so many different people, from technicians and costumers to production crew and to see it all come together."
While studying for a journalism degree, Mr Hougland let his passion guide his way and accepted a full-time performer position at Universal Studios in Florida, which eventually landed him a stage manager position. From there, he started producing a number of shows and entertainment events, including Universal Studios' Halloween Fright Nights. He then worked for several production houses and toured around the US and Europe before coming to Hong Kong.
Working at Ocean Park was not in Mr Hougland's career plan. Originally under a short-term contract, he joined in 2004 as an entertainment consultant to help grow the park's Halloween event. Consequently, the Halloween Bash became a huge success and one of the park's main events of the year, securing Mr Hougland's long-term stay with Ocean Park.
Now, he assumes the role of planning, production and execution of day-to-day entertainment and seasonal events of the park, leading a team of specialists including technicians, performers, designers, costumers and stage managers.
One of Mr Hougland's challenges is to motivate his team and involve them in brainstorming new ideas. He says Ocean Park offers the flexibility and dynamic atmosphere for event producers to keep creating and delivering new and exciting shows. "We constantly look to improve things and add new products so that our guests can always find a reason to enjoy another day at Ocean Park," he says, adding this is one of the factors that keeps his passion alive.
Despite the heavy workload—an event could take up to 10 months in preparation—Mr Hougland believes the effort pays off for him and his team. "All year round, we can see that our works contribute to the park's attendance, the guests' joy and laughter. We see the fruit of our labour every day and are always proud."
Among the events Mr Hougland produced, the Ocean Park Halloween Bash has made a mark in his career. "It probably has had the most dramatic impact on the park and in terms of the scale of the event," he notes. Since 2004, the event has quadrupled in size, from a production of five haunted houses with 80 performers to eight haunted houses, a dozen shows and more than 400 performers in 2009.
More encouragingly, the Halloween event has been designed to be uniquely Hong Kong. "We eschew the Western replica. Instead, we've broken the mould in how we scare our guests and interact with them," Mr Hougland says. "We introduced many Asian elements such as Asian haunted houses, Hong Kong's most talked-about horror stories and Chinese spirits and characters that are believed to be more relevant to the local customers."
While event planning is largely based on ideas and concepts, Mr Hougland points out creativity is not the most sought-after quality in the entertainment business. Rather, people wanting to tap into the field need dedication, job ownership and a customer orientation. He adds, "I'd like my team to be passionate about all the details of their jobs and have the desire to go the extra mile."
From brainstorming to budgeting, design, costume making and special effect production, Mr Hougland says there are hundreds of steps and processes that require a detailed mind. In addition, a typical project involves a vast amount of interaction with people from different backgrounds and disciplines so a personable disposition is necessary.
Event planners encounter obstacles at different stages of the project, which require a strong and creative problem solving skill. "Members of the team should also be able to visualise the big picture," he adds.
With an increasing number of social media and sources of entertainment, Mr Hougland says the production team is now battling for individuals' discretionary time and income. These emerging entertainment options are constantly vying for guests' attention, raising the bar for Mr Hougland's team to produce more exciting events and ensure Ocean Park remains top of mind in the market.
Taken from Career Times 23 April 2010, A16
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