Dallas company leads the way on Tournament of Roses Parade
Tuesday January 3, 2012
Dallas Morning News – by Cheryl Hall
Ringo H.W. Chiu/The Associated Press
“Just Imagine…,” the Wells Fargo float, moves down Orange Grove Boulevard during the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
If you caught the beginning or end of Monday’s 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade, you saw the latest handiwork of Jim Kirk and his creative troops at Dallas-based Corporate Magic Inc.
Known for pushing extravaganzas to the max, Kirk and his company produced the kickoff and grand finale of the world-famous parade.
Corporate Magic wrote the music; choreographed and orchestrated it; hired the bands and performers; taught them the music and their moves; designed and built the props, sets and the first two floats; and worked with all three networks carrying the live broadcast.
“This is California, right?” Kirk says, enjoying the afterglow Tuesday. “So people think, ‘Oh, this must be a company in L.A.’ No, it isn’t. It’s a company in Dallas. And we pulled in a lot of Dallas resources, as well as resources from around the world, to pull it off.”
They did, in fact, says Lance Tibbet, vice president of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses executive committee.
“Corporate Magic provided an exciting, colorful overture to kick-start the parade,” Tibbet says. “The closing finale put an exclamation point on it and sent everyone off on a high-energy note.”
Kirk jokes that his only previous experience with roses was that he once sent them to his wife.
Well, not exactly.
The executive committee hired Corporate Magic in 2009 to come up with ways to make the 2010 parade more broadcast-friendly without sacrificing its deeply revered traditions.
“This is a great American institution — obviously, being 123 years old,” Kirk says. “It actually started with horse-drawn carriages. One of the biggest concerns they had in those days was that the horse would get spooked when the bands played.
“We came up with a lot of ideas — all kinds of technology and cool things that could happen. They did not want to go that far.”
But the committee did like the idea of an opening to kick off the 2010 parade, which had previously just started to roll without fanfare. The group loved the production but went with another producer for budget reasons in 2011, Tibbet says.
Kirk says they knew they’d made a mistake before the petals were pasted to the floats. “They called us a few days before the  parade and said, ‘We want you to come back next year and handle it.’ They also wanted a finale to wrap it up.”
Kirk says he and his team walked a fine creative line to prevent the parade from coming off like an “overproduced event” like Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Macy’s has many elements that they produce days before and then play during the parade to make you think that it’s live. They don’t want that,” says Kirk, who hopes to tinker with the 2013 parade to make it even more entertaining for TV watchers. “We’re taking baby steps.”
“We love to work with Corporate Magic,” Tibbet says. “They’re wonderful, professional folks.”
Moving to the Ranch
Kirk is the sole owner of Corporate Magic after buying Gaylord Entertainment Co.’s half-share last summer. He intends to move the tournament parade work into a new broadcast company, Magic Ranch Entertainment, that will focus on televised parades, as well as produce other broadcast programming.
His company also produces Dallas’ Children’s Medical Center Holiday Parade, and Kirk wants to bring home some of the magic they’ve learned in Pasadena. “Our dream is that the Children’s Medical Parade will one day be an absolute monster.”
Corporate Magic, which brought in about $20 million in revenue last year, has 14 employees, eight of whom worked on the tournament parade. There were about 40 contract workers hired for the project, along with about 150 musicians and performers.
It’s a small parcel of business for Corporate Magic — under $300,000 — but one that holds a special bond.
“We make a lot of money off of other projects and a little bit of money off of this,” Kirk says. “This is one of those projects we love to be involved with.”
What you see on TV is a fraction of the work involved, he says. There are security issues, and the timing for television has to be worked out to the second.
“When I hear what companies in New York and L.A. want to charge to do this, it’s crazy high,” he says. “We have learned how to produce high-quality, super-focused, creative elements in cost-efficient ways.”
Petals to the metal
It was the first time the Dallas special events production company had ever done floats with flowers. There was a definite creative learning curve.
“We produced the big opening,” Kirk says. “Once that moved on down the street and the rest of the parade was rolling, we had to get everybody ready for the finale.”
There was one hitch. The finale was supposed to be on the TV broadcast, but the final float, a tribute to Roy Rogers, stopped in front of the cameras instead.
The finale was performed just down the street but fortunately still within camera range.
“It was shot from a little more distance than we would have liked,” says Kirk, who says he doesn’t know what caused the hang-up. “Those are the type of things that you go, ‘Well, heck.’ But the show must go on.”