Jim Digby

Profession: Producer, production manager, mentor, philanthropist, founder and chairman of the board of the Event Safety Alliance

Date & Place of birth: July 1963, San Jose, California, US

You’ve worked in the entertainment business for over 30 years, what was your first job in the sector?

While in elementary school I was fortunate enough to be under the tutelage of a wonderful teacher who inspired my passion for entertainment production in a school district with a heavy emphasis on the arts. After a brief stint in college, I completed technical trade schooling in electronics and aged 19 I went on to work as a technician in a 2,500-capacity theatre and nightclub.

You’re now an expert in your field – how did your interest in live event safety begin?

In 1983, on the evening of the press opening at the aforementioned nightclub, a large special effect lighting fixture fell from the ceiling very near to my operators location and took the life of a patron within eyesight at the bar. This moment scarred me forever and created a deep situational awareness of safety, which would later be reignited by the tragic outcome of the Sugarland incident in Indiana. Though not involved with this event, I was struck hard by the news. In the immediate aftermath, the emotion of the 1983 incident came rushing to the surface. I felt compelled to do something about it.

After a few roadblocks and false starts a small group of us began having routine discussions with similarly minded folks in the industry, all of whom helped to keep the fire of change burning and motivated the birth of the non-profit Event Safety Alliance (ESA). Determined to not let the loss of life from 1983 and more recent events be in vain and driven to set a course that prevents unnecessary tragedies in the future we continue to elevate the mission of the ESA and it’s importance for all of us.

What’s been the biggest step forward in recent times for the subject?

We were able to gain permission to use the Purple Guide as an outline for our own version of the Event Safety Guide, thanks in large part to the help of Tim Roberts. We were able to compile the first written collection of good practices relating to events in the North America and beyond.

Since then we have had two successful three-day ‘event safety summits’ on the Rock Lititz campus, bringing experts from around the globe, primarily England, to help us understand the great work and science being done elsewhere that directly correlates to needs we face. We continue to build a tremendous following and have begun outlining the next revision of the guide and learning opportunities in safety.

In early January the ESA gave its first Core Safety Training class to 66 people. The training is similar to that of the Safety Passport programme and we have received indications that the class may quickly become an important barrier to entry in the event production space.

Your role with Collaborative Endeavor Group (CEG) allows you to fully cater for the live events industry. What are your key business strategies that allow CEG to be a success?

Easy: it’s the recognition. As the CEG company name suggests, that the work we do is and always will be a collaborative endeavor.

During the early days of my production-related career, the culture was different and departments rarely recognised or conveyed respect for one another; in-fighting was prevalent.

Though we all worked together in close quarters for long hours on the same project with the same deadlines there was an overwhelming ‘us-against-them’ culture among the departments. Finding this to be extremely counterproductive and a frustrating environment to work in, it was one of the first changes I cultivated when I began in the role of adult in charge.

The simple truth is that this is not a business where one man or woman will have accomplished a successful live event alone, it will have taken a team from all walks of life and all variety of skills to have been successful.

Admittedly I’ve had to evolve to this mindset. I’ve had my fair share of days behaving badly, but as I grow older I grow fonder and more committed to the philosophy and find that my life and that of everyone we touch is remarkably easier after instilling a culture of collaboration.

You’ve toured internationally as a production manager. What has that job taught you about relationships on the road?

Every bit of it is about the people! If you manage your team respectfully there are very few obstacles that can’t be overcome. Positive leadership is self-perpetuating. Once you set the wheels of positivity in motion and temper the egos of those unable to recognise its value, anything is possible.

You’ve written before about the constant juggling act between family and touring life. What’s the answer?

Sadly there isn’t a one size fits all answer or I suspect we’d have a lot less problems in the world and we’d likely be a great deal more boring. What works for my family is a recognition of who’s in charge – and that’s my wife! It’s about realising that you’re in a relationship where the other party is holding down the fort – keeping the kids from killing each other, the pets fed, and the household in order.

It’s not that the one who travels can’t have a voice, but the home is a production unto itself and the visitor who comes and goes may want to consider wearing a ‘guest’ sticky pass while there to remind them of their proper place.

This mindset seems to work for many definitions of relationship, but it does require two confident and trusting partners and a full appreciation and respect for each other’s needs.

On your day off, where would we find you?

Hopefully at home with my wife and children. When that’s impossible, I look for the opportunity to wander around the historic districts of the places we are fortunate enough to find ourselves in, getting an opportunity to understand the local traditions and finish the day at the nicest, oldest restaurant we can find, having one of those European-style three or four hour meals with meaningful conversation, laughter, great teammates and good wine.