Gibson Amphitheatre Managers Working Hard, Hoping For Quieter, Fire-Free Movie Awards

Mark Sidlow and Rick Merrill are not only the Senior Production Manager and General Manager of Universal Studio’s Gibson Amphitheatre respectively, but they are also two of the vital vertebrae in the spine of the MTV Movie Awards. Every year, the duo are among the many who work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to make everything look so spontaneous on your TV screen. And with Sunday night’s live broadcast getting closer every minute, they are once again hard at work.

“This year, we finished a multimillion-dollar renovation and we got rid of a fire curtain and some ceiling obstructions that we’ve had through the years,” Merrill explained to me backstage on Wednesday as they prepared this year’s massive stage (get an insider’s tour of the Gibson Amphitheatre here). “So, we’ve hung over 200 chain motors that hold the MTV set, and there’s been approximately 70-80 men working non-stop.”

“We’ll go for about ten days worth of load in, a couple days worth of rehearsal, a show day, and two days to load it out,” added Sidlow, who also helps oversee dozens of concerts each year by the biggest acts in music. “So, [the Movie Awards] is about a two-and-a-half week run.”

With any luck, Sunday will go a little bit more smoothly than the way Merrill remembers waking up last year on show day. “I happened to get up at about 5 o’clock in the morning and turned the TV on,” he recalled. “And I saw the news that there was a fire on the lower lot of Universal.”

“I said, ‘Wow, that’s going to be a mess for our day; I’d better get down there and see what’s going on.’ So I threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt figuring I’d go down for an hour or two and then go back home and get my clothes and have a normal day,” he grinned, remembering the events of that morning. “The whole lot was sealed off, I couldn’t even get on the property; I had to talk my way in…fire was literally right outside the backside of the Amphitheater and the flames were coming all the way up. You could see the flames, and helicopters were flying around, and it was a massive fire.”

“The whole show was in jeopardy; it was a horrible morning,” he continued. “We had to deal with the fire inspectors and police and Universal executives who decided they were going to shut the entire property down; the theme park was closed for the day…But with the cooperation of everybody we actually were able to do all the elements. We got the show, we got the people in, we got the arrivals done, we got the parties afterwards done. But it was touch-and-go the entire time. It was something I’ll never forget.”

With any luck, the only thing on fire this Sunday will be host Andy Samberg. And, as the duo joked, after last year’s experience they’re ready for anything.

“This year we’re gonna have an earthquake,” laughed Sidlow. “Maybe a tornado.”

What’s your favorite MTV Movie Awards moment of all-time?