New Zealand powerhouse spreads it wings
Hooked on Power – Twenty years of keeping quiet pays off
By Jenny Barrett.
Hooked on Power provide power generators, air conditioning and lighting towers to the film and live entertainment industries. Not just any kind of generator, aircon unit or lighting rig. These are designed and purpose built for environments that require the equipment to be quiet, flexible and mobile. Well established in New Zealand, Hooked on Power is now being equally well-received off shore, in the Pacific Islands.
Jeff Benton, the founder and very hands-on Managing Director of Hooked on Power stumbled across the gap in the market back in 1995. Working as an automotive engineer, access to a call-out was blocked by a film crew. Having agreed to wait until they had finished shooting, Jeff was invited to join the crew for lunch and got talking about what the film industry required of a generator, as you do if you are of an engineering ilk.
The studio’s dream generator could easily be moved to up to four different locations a day, eliminating the time and expense of a Hiab constantly relocating the unit. And critically for shooting, they craved as little operational noise as possible. Jeff accepted the challenge and absorbed himself in sound engineering. Soon after he developed a unit that correlated the use of acoustic material with clever design to limit how much sound would bounce and be absorbed. He added specially designed exhausts together with isolating engine mounts into the acoustic enclosure then mounted the unit onto a truck.
The truck opened up other possibilities including storage for heavy power cables and extra fuel tanks for the generator. Later, Jeff sourced and fitted a light tower he found in Italy designed for fire trucks/emergency vehicles. The towers lie down flat on the roof of the truck and are controlled remotely.
Jeff’s generators took off and word of mouth saw Hooked on Power become the point of call for the film industry. Work included major pictures from ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘King Kong’, to the more recent Jason Stratham shark movie ‘Meg’. Plus good old Shortland Street and Power Rangers amongst other TV series and numerous commercials providing many an opportunity to do some very cool stuff.
Jeff recalls a car shoot in Queenstown, “We used three Honda EU70 generators from our rental fleet and fitted them with our own parallel connections so that the output was 21kVa. No one has ever done that before. Together they ran two huge 6000watt and two 2500watt HMI lights, load sharing between the three of them.
“Two Honda EU20s generators on top were also paralleled and used to run the camera and the sound equipment. With the actors in the vehicle and loaded with crew, the truck then drove around using the Glenorchy fantastic scenery for the back of the shot.”
Since then, Hooked on Power have sent three Honda EU65is and the link kit on several shoots in the Pacific Islands notably ‘Mr Pip’ starring Hugh Laurie and they currently have three EU70is and a special link kit full time in Fiji, “They are perfect for film shoots on the isolated islands or even as emergency power to a resort when their generators fail.”
In 2012 whilst working on Spartacus, Jeff broke into air conditioning, helping out some damsels in distress. Or at least eight naked ladies in a bathroom in winter. The film studio needed to keep the actresses warm but without creating any noise. Jeff set to work, using his experience designing the silent generator, met the brief and the subsidiary company, Hooked on Air was born.
Air conditioning currently accounts for 30-40% of the business and is showing every sign of catching up to the generators.
Hooked on Power also offer a power relocation service where their technicians are a part of the team that relocates anything up to a 60-vehicle convoy that typically makes up a large production shoot. This crew of trained people turn up at the end of the day’s shoot, pack everything up, travel to the new shooting location and put it all down again, no matter what time of day, rain, snow or on the odd occasion even sunshine,
“Our technicians handle the power side of the relocates, making sure that the next location has the power set up correctly, the make-up bus has power and the toaster/coffee machine is working – and stays working!”
Whilst the film industry makes up the majority of Jeff’s work, about a fifth of Hooked on Power’s work is in the live entertainment sector. Jeff describes their niche, “Our gear is all specially designed and built. You can’t buy what we have off the shelf”.
As a result, each item comes in at about three times the price of your regular hire generators, so they work predominantly on events where resource consents or the production itself require noise control. Musical events in built up areas such as ‘Pleasuredome’ which was in Avondale, Auckland or council Christmas parties in parks.
That said, Jeff is pleased to say, “We do get a lot of repeat business from clients such as Laneway who just appreciate our level of service and our expertise with power.”
Manolo Echave, Promoter, expands on the Laneway Festival’s relationship with Hooked on Power, “We go back to 2010 when Laneway first came to Britomart. It was a very contained area with bars, residents and businesses all around, so the resource consent required strict noise control. I heard that Jeff was the ‘top guy in the country’ for quiet generators and he came on board providing power and water connections across the whole site.”
The Festival is also “very compressed time-wise” as a part of the city has to be shut down on Anniversary Weekend, meaning that there is no access until the Friday.
Manolo appreciates the hard work that Hooked on Power put in, “Jeff’s a bit of a ‘site hero’ because of the amount of work that him and his team do. By the end of the three days they are the most shattered guys on site having done pack in, pack out and dealt with everything in between from the stage requirements to the food guy who said he just needed a kettle and a microwave and then tries to plug in a toaster.”
It was a logical next step for Manolo to bring Jeff with him on the Winery Tour, “When you’ve got seven or eight vineyards spread throughout the North and South islands you want efficiency and reliable gear. You get what you pay for. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. We’re happy to spend the money and know we are getting someone who is good at what they do.”
For Manolo, the tour also offered a chance to get to know Jeff a bit better, “Laneways was not really the place to stop and have a chat but the Winery Tour made me realise what a great guy Jeff is to have around. He’s always positive, no matter the challenge, perfect for a tour.”
Hooked on Power’s commitment to service includes offering to help design power and lighting plans as part of the deal, plus onsite technical support for the duration of your event. Jeff explains why.
“Councils are cracking down on noise and hazard control. Most require a power and lighting plan before you get consent to hold an event, so we’ll help with that to make sure everything is electrically correct, and hazards and exits are lit at night. There is nothing worse than your event being plunged into darkness when all the lights go out.”
However, that’s not where Jeff sees their role finishing, “We don’t want to see people get hurt and if you don’t know power you can get into a lot of trouble. Electrical shock is a real risk, it’s the silent killer. You can’t see it but its lurking everywhere.
” We have been known to cut the plug off a toaster that’s causing an issue particularly if it doesn’t have a electrical safety tag.” Jeff advocates getting power sorted early, “Some event organisers are reluctant to get us involved because they are worried about the costs but identifying potential problems and hazards early in the piece will ultimately save money.
“It will ensure that the event is safe and that everything will work and stay working even in the rain.” Now truly established in New Zealand, Hooked on Power is building operations in the Pacific.
“Fiji is offering the film industry a 48% tax incentive with no minimum budget so there’s a lot of potential over there, not only for the generators but also for the air conditioners. I recently partnered up with long term friend Mike Dennis who lives in Fiji. We just sent a 40-foot container load over of which half was pre-ordered for the US production of ‘Wrecked – Season 3’. They ended up using all of it.”
With an established base and Mike being located over there, Hooked on Power are picking up other work outside of the film industry such as the PGA Tournament in August and a ‘Coke event’ on Malamala Island in September. Grant Dewar, Unit and Facilities Manager for the Wrecked production explains why Hooked on Power is making inroads.
“In Fiji, it is critical that we have contractors and equipment we can rely on and who will be available when we need them, particularly if or when the unexpected happens. Hooked on Power assisted me to put together a gear list based on my site plans and mud maps to cover these and the inevitable unknown. I have placed our confidence and trust in them ever since.”
Next stop – Australia, USA, Mexico?
This article first appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of CX Magazine New Zealand pp.22-25. CX Magazine is Australia and New Zealand’s only publication dedicated to entertainment technology news and issues. Read all editions for free or search our archive www.cxnetwork.com.au
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