Behind the scenes, high school graduation is a big production

Saranac Lake Central School District Superintendent Diane Fox addresses a large crowd at the high school graduation ceremony June 28 in the Saranac Lake Civic Center. (Enterprise photo — Kevin Shea)

SARANAC LAKE — The setting was lavish last Friday, with red and white drapes circling the hundreds of seats that faced a stage set with flowers, a podium and a red and white school emblem.

Two large screens hanging to the upper left and right of the stage showed live shots of the crowd, the graduates and the speaker. Behind it all was a small crew that had been building the scene for five days.

This was the Saranac Lake High School graduation. This was no joke. When the 87 seniors crossed the stage, few might have realized the work that had gone into it.

The event is a combined effort between the school’s facilities team and Good Guy Productions, based out of Bloomingdale. The setup begins early in the week, according to Good Guy owner Eric Wilson.

“We get in there Monday, and we gotta get it done for Wednesday,” Wilson said.

Eric’s crew sets up the pipes and the drapes and makes sure the wiring is in place. The school’s facilities team sets up the chairs and the screens.

Thousands of dollars go into the event. The piping alone cost Good Guy $12,000 when Wilson bought it six years ago, when his company first started running the event. This year he invested $4,000 in technology to better control the sound. For the public school district, the event’s cost came to a little less than $5,000 this year, according to Superintendent Diane Fox.

When Wilson’s company covers weddings, it tends to be more personable. But these graduations are packed with pressure, he said, even if it’s one of the least difficult jobs he has. Everyone knows each other in the graduation, even Wilson, and failing to deliver on a powerful performance could be devastating.

Wilson does what he can to prevent disasters. Last year the building lost power just before graduation. Wilson found a way to hard-wire directly into the building this year.

“As long as we don’t lose power in the town, we won’t lose power in the ceremony,” he said.

The event itself is simple but stressful. Stationed around the enormous room, three cameramen point their cameras at the speakers and the crowd, blowing up the action audience members at the far end of the room. Those standing close enough to the cameramen could hear the commands from Wilson.

“Are your ready to pan?” he might ask, or, “We’re coming back to you,” or, “OK go to camera 2. Find me this; find me that.”

The event is also livestreamed. People from all over the world can enjoy the spectacle. Wilson said a large population from Florida, mainly retired teachers, checks in. He said they were once part of the ceremony, and now they can still enjoy it in the comfort of their Florida home.