What does it take to plan one of the most televised entertainment moments in history? A lot of hands, a lot of technology, and most importantly, a top-notch production design team like Tribe Inc. Beyond this year's Super Bowl halftime show (and the ones of the past eight years), they've produced the Watch the Throne Tour, ULTRA festival, Obama's election night acceptance speech in Grant Park, iTunes festival, and the Jay Z and Eminem concert at Yankee Stadium. In short, they are the industry's go-to studio for big time events that require equal parts magic and security to execute.
We talked to them about this year's performance with Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and what it took to pull off the most-watched halftime show in history. With less than eight minutes to execute and six minutes to take down, they let us know how the experts do it.
Bruno himself was involved 100% throughout the process. He's very visual.
What are the biggest obstacles in planning a halftime show and why?
The architecture and engineering of stadiums vary all across the nation. Tunnel sizes, people pathways, audience sightlines, whether it has a roof or doesn't have a roof, ventilation, power, fire marshall codes and other things all play into the pre-design challenges for a Super Bowl halftime show. Once the artist is chosen, we join with the halftime show production team to help the artist and his or her production team create the show.
Unlike any other televised, filmed, or live music performance, the Super Bowl halftime show's biggest challenge is the 7.5-minute time slot allowed for installing a stadium stage, followed by a 12-minute performance, followed by a 6-minute removal of the show elements so the game can go on. These time-frames are intense and challenging because the designs are required to be larger-than-life for a 200 million person TV audience and are typically very hi-tech. They incorporate the coordination and input of hundreds of people.
When our team gathers and huddles up for two weeks prior to the game to build and rehearse the show, it's a family reunion of some of the most colorful and professional people in the business who want the challenge. It's a lot of fun to be in the midst of it all. Also, the track records of the NFL, our producers, and the talent are second to none, so our biggest challenge is living up to what we know the audience expects.
Having done last year's show with Beyoncé and many other major events, what have you learned is the best way to start planning and then finally execute on the day of?
This show with Bruno is my 8th consecutive halftime show design, and each one has been an interesting process for different reasons. I find the best way to start the planning is to have an initial face-to-face meeting with a handful of important people in the room—the director, the executive producer, the artist, and any of his or her creatives—to lay down some basic boundaries about the given stadium and timeframes and to talk through some early design thoughts. Then it's usually best to allow the artist to go away and dream about his or her music in this setting for a few weeks so that by the second meeting we've all had a chance to think about what the show wants to be.
We continue with more design and cad work, folding in various lighting, fx, video, and show design elements, and through the course of the process, our collective teams generate visuals and storyboards to assist in that show creation. It's a great and intense design process with bumps and changes along the way. Everyone contributes. Bruno himself was involved 100% throughout the process. He's very visual.
Prince lead us through an amazing performance that night, even despite the battle of staging a show in a Miami thunderstorm.
Do you consider weather in producing an event like this? Have you ever had any nightmare experiences with inclement weather?
With the help of our producers, we check the weather at all times, even if the stadium has a roof. In the case of Bruno’s show, we had no roof and were prepared for a blizzard but ended up with beautiful weather. In the case of the Prince performance years ago, we knew we might have rain, and we did, but as we all know, Prince lead us through an amazing performance that night, even despite the battle of staging a show in a Miami thunderstorm.
How long did you have to plan this year's halftime show?
What is some of the most helpful technology that's come out in recent years for you as production designers? Is it difficult to keep up, even from simply a cost standpoint?
Our industry always finds the most cutting-edge technology to use no matter what scale of production is at hand. The halftime show is all about speed, so any technology that can connect and ramp up quickly is best. Video and lighting technology advances every year, so we always look to our lighting and video design teams to bring us the best, and we work it in where possible. As production designers, we look for any new tool to help pre-visualize the design, especially to show the artist and his or her team the way something will look before we get to the rehearsals.
What has it been like to be called upon for events as diverse and important as Obama's election night acceptance speech in Grant Park to AT&T's Global Olympic Village, ULTRA, and Jay Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne" tour?
It's exciting and always different. I have become somewhat addicted to the adrenaline of it all. These artists and powerful people operate with a different awareness than most, so when we get a chance to be part of these moments in time, we try to step up. The people behind the scenes are all show business folks who have one main thing in common: the desire to be the best and create the best show possible for whoever the audience might be. It feels good to give an audience something that moves them—something they will remember.
The artists live and feel their music best, so a lot of the job is finding ways to attach an evolving setting to their passion.
What has it been like to work with some of the biggest names in music, whether it be Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, and now, Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers? What is the most important part of putting their shows together, in your opinion? What is the most important part to them?
Bruno is one of the most passionate artists who works on both sides of his brain, so the show design process was easy and came down to visual finesse work and camera timing between him, his creative team, our director Hamish Hamilton, executive producer Ricky Kirshner, and our side of the production team. Each and every artist I have ever worked with has a similar passion. The artists live and feel their music best, so a lot of the job is finding ways to attach an evolving setting to their passion.
It's not always easy, but if the artist can work with you visually, and you can hang with them musically, a balance can always be found. I have so many design process stories from throughout the years. I once asked Johnny Cash if he was happy with a very simple set I had designed for him, which incorporated his face scenically blended into a forest of oak trees. His face would appear and disappear depending on light and camera angles. He said he loved it because I had found a deep feeling of his music, and it gave his audience something to hold onto in the back of their minds.
In the initial tour design meeting for Ricky Martin's "Livin La Vida Loca," I asked Ricky to give me four important things in his life so I could design icon totems that would grow up out of the stage, and he quickly, without hesitation, named off music, life, spirit, and love. Another time, in a tour design conversation with Bruce Springsteen, Bruce stopped me mid-sentence as I was talking about an idea for fire during a song. He said, "No thanks, our only special effect is called Clarence Clemons." Then, in our first halftime show creative meeting with Bruce, he started the meeting by saying, "Ok! Now bring on the pyro and fireworks, this is our halftime show!" Every process is different.