Roy Bennett helps Paul McCartney get edgy
Paul McCartney was always the “cute” Beatle, and in no logical world would one associate him with Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails, except for the fact that they've all worked with lighting designer Roy Bennett. Indeed, it was Bennett's diverse résumé (which includes shows for such disparate artists as Stone Temple Pilots, Faith Hill, and Seal) that attracted McCartney. “Paul wanted a really edgy show and he wanted it to be new and fresh,” says Bennett, who was McCartney's production designer as well as LD for the Driving tour, which recently concluded. “And I think the fact that I did work for Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson proved that I can do edgy stuff — I think he got a big kick out of that.”
While some artists are meticulous about every aspect of the show, dictating every element of the design, Bennett had free rein going into production. “My marching orders were just that they wanted video and lights,” explains Bennett. So he began with the video: “I've done so much stuff with video lately in all different configurations, I just wanted to do something that obviously had to be big — this is Paul McCartney, after all — so it had to look big in its presence, but it also had to be flexible.”
To achieve this goal, Bennett designed an enormous video system that dominated the show, which contained LED modules onstage as well as a curved wall of modules running from stage right to left, provided by Nocturne. “The video is all on moving VarioLift motors, so we managed to get many, many different looks and different feels for each song,” notes lighting director Wally Lees. “The different configurations you can get are fantastic, and all the looks onstage are relative to each other — it's a total balance between video and lighting.”
Sir Paul himself provided archival footage for the video extravaganza. Video producers Jay Karas and Andee Kuroda of Kanpai Pictures, both friends of Bennett's, had decades of material to view for consideration. “We were allowed to dig into archival material; they had free access to all of Paul's vault,” he notes. The result is an eclectic mix of old and new, color and black and white, mixed with traditional IMAG. “We combined old black-and-white footage with new graphics,” explains the LD. “The way the visuals are broken up on the screen constantly reshapes the look of the show,” he adds.
Since the show's set was essentially the video, that's what dictated Bennett's choice of fixtures. “I was dealing with a lot of screenage that was very, very bright, so I had to get the most powerful lights I could,” he explains. Consequently, the show was awash in light from LSD Icons, Vari*Lite® VL2416s™, VL2402s™, and Martin Professional MAC 2000s. “As temperamental as Icons are, they're also the best at what they do in that particular hard-edged light,” Bennett asserts.
The truss configuration for the show was simple: five triangles — three upstage, two downstage — filled with Icons and VL2416s. The practical aspects of configuring the triangles were worked out by LSD vice president John Lobel (see sidebar, next page) and resulted in the creation of a new system for transporting and hanging automated fixtures. “Because the triangles were angled (the trim heights are 35-37' [10.5-11m]), you could get a layered look of light when they were all on — basically it was cascading layers of light,” Bennett explains. Each triangle held 10 Icons and 10 VL2416s. Upstage, there was a curved truss that held an iridescent 3D backdrop as well as 21 MAC 2000s. There were an additional 21 MAC 2000s on the floor to light the bottom half of the drop. “The MAC 2000s light the backdrop, but they can also shine downstage,” comments the designer.
One of the elements of the show that didn't make the final cut was Bennett's early idea of using Syncrolites. “I was going to have some 3kW Syncrolites, but because of budget concerns I didn't use them. But they would have been an interesting extra layer,” he declares.
Overall, the show did retain a cutting-edge aura, thanks in some part to the MAC 2000s. “Since they're the furthest upstage and the highest, the MAC 2000s shined through the truss triangles and blasted through the LED walls as well,” Bennett notes. The MAC 2000s also highlighted the almost 80 lighting and sound points that hung eerily in the air, reinforcing the industrial feel of the rig. “The system is actually really basic, and the reason why I chose to keep it really modular and very simple, while still having as much power as possible, was because we had to set up the lighting very quickly during load-in,” he explains. Lighting was usually up and done by 11am, giving the rest of the afternoon to the undeniably more complex video hang.
Bennett's color palette was naturally tied to the video content. “All the colors I used were only to enhance the video,” Bennett explains. “It was done as all one working unit.” One of the more intense moments of the show was the pyro-laden “Live and Let Die,” which Bennett says was “red, black, white, full-on, in your face.”
Undoubtedly, the high points of the show are the classic Beatles tunes. “The Beatles songs are either black and white or more psychedelic,” he says. “I Saw Her Standing There” is very basic, and has minimal lighting cues — approximately four used in rotation — while “Sgt. Pepper's” is understandably more colorful. “‘Sgt. Pepper’ is full-on psychedelic; it's an oil-and-water show.”
For spotlights, Bennett used three truss spots and eight front-of-house spots loaded with color correction, lavenders, blues, and ambers. “I was originally going to have a spot bridge and some audience lights out there, but that didn't happen,” he confides.
So, what was the biggest challenge in getting McCartney's Driving tour on the road? “The fact that we had 36 songs and a short amount of time to program it,” the designer states. “In fact, Wally and I put in almost two weeks of 20-hour days,” he adds. Lees agrees completely: “The most challenging part was getting the project done in the time we had and getting it done right,” he says. Bennett started talking to McCartney and his creative team at the end of January, and, six weeks or so later, they loaded into Sony Studios in Los Angeles. “Then we had a two-week period of tech/band rehearsals, and that was it,” Bennett explains. From a programming standpoint, Bennett and Lees were under the gun. “We did all the programming in a 10-day period,” explains Lees. “We didn't sleep very much, Roy and myself,” he adds with a wry smile.
McCartney's Driving tour concluded in Ft. Lauderdale in late May. One can only hope that it was a good experience for Sir Paul (who performed for well over two hours with no intermission) so he'll grace the stage again and visit some of the cities that weren't on this itinerary.
Paul McCartney Driving
|42||Martin Professional MAC 2000s|
|3||Lycian Starklite 1.2kW HMI followspots|
|3||underhung spot seats|
|4||Reel EFX DF-50 hazers|
|6||Altman MR-16 striplights|
|9||Chainmaster VarioLift 1-ton hoists|
|32||Columbus McKinnon 1-ton chain hoists|
|1||Columbus McKinnon 2-ton chain hoist|
|1||LSD Icon Console|
|4||LSD UGLI modules|
|1||Clear-Com intercom system|
|1||LSD power distro|
|1||ETC Sensor 24-way dimmer system|
|10||8' Total Structures Minibeam truss sections|
|2||10' Minibeam truss sections|
|6||10' Minibeam truss sections|
|3||8' LSD D3 truss sections|
|7||8' LSD D3 Intelligent truss sections|
|6||LSD D3 Intelligent truss corners|
|9||8' LSD D3 truss sections|
|4||4' LSD D3 truss sections|
|6||LSD D3 truss cubes|
|15||8' A-type truss sections|
|15||A-type truss corners|
|20||Chainmaster VarioLifts, double reeved|
|1||VarioLift Computer Controller|
|9||Columbus McKinnon 1-ton hoists|
|9||Columbus McKinnon 2-ton hoists|
|6||Columbus McKinnon 1/2-ton hoists|
|10||10' Minibeam truss sections|
|9||8' LSD D3 truss sections|
|4||4' LSD D3 truss sections|
|4||LSD D3 variable-angle corners|
|20||LSD D3 hoist brackets|
|20||LSD D3 bag brackets|