The most nerve-wracking moment during Super Bowl XXXIX came not during the game but during the Halftime Show, when its star, Paul McCartney, removed his striped jacket to reveal…a red T-shirt. Crisis averted — there would be no repeat of 2004's notorious “wardrobe malfunction,” the exposure of the wayward mammary belonging to Janet Jackson that launched a thousand complaints to the Federal Communications Commission.

What the FCC and the National Football League — which, for the first time, decided to produce the Halftime Show on its own following MTV's now-infamous stab at the spectacle — may not have fully recognized was that McCartney's performance was, in itself, entirely naked. Stripped-down rock n' roll, that is, as the singer blazed through the standards “Drive My Car,” “Get Back,” “Live and Let Die,” and “Hey Jude” in about 20 minutes, minus the usual multiple acts and marching bands that had come to define the Super Bowl slot in recent years. “Paul rocks,” says LeRoy Bennett, who has designed McCartney's tours for the last three years and served as production designer for the Super Bowl set, which was watched by an estimated 86 million TV viewers on February 6. “He's never had any extra stuff around him.”

Bennett decided to extend that mandate to Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, FL. It was the designer's first appearance at the big game. “I wanted to take the stadium and turn it into a rock show in the middle of a football game,” says Bennett, who “got the ball rolling” on the program last July, before even Don Mischer Productions had been hired as executive producer. “The Super Bowl had tried to do this before by simply turning the stadium lights off, but this was never quite able to focus your attention on the performer. Past shows were always so confusing; you had no idea what you were looking at. Our intent was to create an environment that Paul stood in the middle of, surrounded by real fans [an estimated 2,500 of them] and not the usual rent-a-crowd you see at telecasts.”

Doing away with all of what Bennett calls “the razzmatazz” should have made the Super Bowl show, sponsored by the Ameriquest Mortgage Company, simpler to execute. But it turned out to be as complex as one of the New England Patriots' game-winning strategies. “The NFL had never produced one before, and they had hired Paul. And the scale made everyone nervous.” Not to mention the expense, which Bennett pegs as “three times more” than a prior Super Bowl show. “The biggest feat was convincing the NFL and Mischer that the amount of money was worth it. But it was the only way to wipe the slate clean, and they wanted to move on from the old format.”

To better make McCartney the center of attention, Bennett assembled his own team of gridiron talent. McCartney's production management, headed by Mark Spring, was naturally engaged. San Francisco-based Nocturne Productions was enlisted as video vendor, coordinating the scene-defining Barco units, for which Upstaging supplied five trucks to bring in. PRG handled a lighting package laden with Martin MAC 2000s, VARI*LITE VL5Arcs and VL2415s, and Syncrolites, while Pyrotek Special Effects Inc. of Ontario, Canada, periodically set the stadium ablaze, most spectacularly during the fiery performance of “Live and Let Die.” Lititz, PA-based Tait Towers created the set elements, which Camarillo, CA-based B&R Scenery put on customized rolling carts with aircraft wheels to facilitate movement on and off the field. The entertainment division of West Nyack, NY-based McLaren Engineering Group engineered the production elements, with Simi Valley, CA-based Kish Rigging entrusted with the rigging of lighting pipes, trusses, and followspot platforms where positions could be found to attach them in the stadium.

The staging vendors had roughly six minutes before and after the halftime show to position and dismantle the on-field gear before play resumed. “There was 30-40% more equipment than a Super Bowl had ever had on a field before,” Bennett says. “And they were heavier, larger pieces — nine in all — with just two small entryways, no wider than 15' across, we could get them through.” Load-in began the week before the game, with a full rehearsal the Thursday before.

For all its size, however, the production incarnated the back-to-basics approach of its star. “Everything was directed in at Paul; the ramps were angled up at him, the circular LED screens that were around him were all angled in at him, and all the towers, too. The full force of the stadium's energy went right onto the field toward him,” Bennett says. He adds that while he and McCartney had worked with video before, this was the first time the performer had actually stood on an LED video floor (a 14' square area), which was covered with Plexiglas, and had played in an in-the-round configuration.

Everything about the show was (in a manner of speaking) about going around in circles and rooting the viewer's attention to its center, Bennett says. “We ran the centerpiece LED unit, where Paul stood, in first, then fit everything else around it. [This centerpiece had a lift and sliding cover manually operated to reveal McCartney's piano and bench.] The four ramps (24' long) and the four sections of the ‘pie,’ where the band members stood in what we called their ‘salad bowls,’ came next. Outside of that were four curved arced towers (30' tall). Then, directly in line of the center hub were the four circular LED screens. There were also another eight straight-trussed towers (32' tall) that went around the perimeter and fit between all the circular screens.”

Undulating circles and other geometric patterns were also part of the video imagery that TV producer Andee Kuroda of Kanpai Pictures devised for the LED screens. These included autos for “Drive My Car” and the Statue of Liberty for the climactic, communal performance of “Hey Jude,” which was complemented in the stands by upraised pen lights and the thousands of placards distributed throughout the audience to spell out the song's choral “Na Na Na's” in red, white, and blue.

To best record this activity for all the armchair quarterbacks watching at home, “I worked hand-in-hand with Don Mischer on all the camera angles,” Bennett says. “He knew how Paul had to be framed off and what angles were good and how to capture the full scope of what this show was all about. The CableCam camera suspension systems are an awesome tool for that. Knowing football and how it's shot makes it easy to use those cameras perfectly to film a show of the Super Bowl Halftime's size.”

“What Roy most likes to see is everything working,” laughs Paul Becher, co-CEO of Nocturne, which provided the 13 interlinked video elements that were part of the program. “At an event like the Super Bowl, it's all live, and there's no time to troubleshoot and indeed barely any time to push it out there. A loose connection, which can take maybe five minutes to fix, can be catastrophic in a situation where you don't have five minutes.” But, outside of a mildly temperamental console that gave programmer Laura Frank brief grief at the beginning of the show, there were no hang-ups with either the video or the lighting presentation.

“Roy likes Barco for its quality and reliability,” Becher says, adding that two of the company's units were deployed. The LED ramps and the centerpiece were composed of its indoor I-6 product, 6mm LED screens with a “pretty bright” intensity of 1,500 nits. The LED “salad bowl” pods were made up of D7s, a lower-resolution, 14mm product for outdoor and underwater use, the latter quality of which came in handy for the rainy Thursday rehearsal but was not a factor under the clear Sunday skies.

Says Bennett of the video system, which was interconnected via nine Barco D320 Digitizers and nine Fiber Link units, “Video operator Mark Sanford was in the video truck with me during the show, working on coloring and shading for TV. Sports truck video ops don't shade for beauty,” he deadpans, “and I needed an artistic eye and finesse. We were trying not to use design elements as gimmicks but to evoke an emotion abstractly with lights but also through video content. You can more easily get certain colors out of video that you can't get from lights, like the deepest reds and magenta/purple textures, and some you can't get at all, like brown — unless the bulb is burning out,” he laughs.

Lighting burned brightly throughout the Halftime Show, from the hot reds and golds of “Live and Let Die” to the cooler, contemplative blues of “Hey Jude.” The package PRG supplied was extensive and, says Bennett, a little catch-as-catch-can to obtain, given the start of the auto show season and the many televised awards programs in January and February. Still, some 280 Martin MAC 2000 washes, 48 MAC 2000 profiles, 118 VARI*LITE VL5Arcs, 150 VL2415s, 36 Syncrolite SX7Ks, 36 Syncrolite SX3Ks, 12 250K Lightning Strikes! units, 12 Strong Gladiator 3Ks, and four Strong Super Trouper spots were mustered. Placing them was a challenge: “It's an open-roof stadium with no hanging points. We had to drill and put set screws and anchors into every single area where I could put them, which took two or three weeks. I had lights in every single vomitory, and to the east of Paul, where he was facing, there was just this huge line of MAC 2000s. The Syncrolites were hung off the eight individual towers in the stadium.” While Frank handled the field lighting, Troy Eckerman controlled the illumination in the stands on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2. Tom Beck was the lighting director, with Robert Cooper supervising the lighting system and Brad Hafer and Darren Langer as gaffers.

Bennett reports that McCartney was “over the moon” about how the show went, and that the once-and-forever Beatle and Wings man stayed to watch the rest of the game. He resumes touring in September. Bennett, who is currently putting Nine Inch Nails back on the road, says that the Halftime Show achieved its star's goal “to just go out there and get everyone together and build bridges.” The NFL and the FCC were equally pleased. “I think the only complaints came from the beer vendors, who were unhappy that people stayed in their seats the entire time Paul played and didn't get up to buy any beverages,” Bennett laughs.

Robert Cashill is a former editor of Lighting Dimensions.

SUPER BOWL XXXIX HALFTIME SHOW

Production & lighting designer: Roy Bennett

For Paul McCartney: Barrie Marshall
Robby Montgomery
Mark Spring

Executive Producer: Don Mischer Productions

Broadcast Director: Don Mischer

Producers: Charlie Haykel, Bill Urban

Video screen material producer: Andee Kuroda

Staging supervisors: Tony Hauser, Cap Spence, Gary Lanvy

Art director: Anne Brahic

Lighting director: Tom Beck

Lighting programmers: Troy Eckerman, Laura Frank

Gaffers: Brad Hafer, Darren Langer

Lighting system supervisor: Robert Cooper

Lighting technicians: Dave Hunkins, Chris Conti, Tim Schiavone, Robin Downes, Marty Langley, Nate Murphy, Mclain Moss, Rob Minotte, Dave Favorita, Kurt Kalivoda, Stan Kimberlin, Jorge del Angel, Steve Sligar

Nocturne Personnel

LED screens and live I-Mag
director: Paul Becher
AD: Marcia Kapustin
EIC: Dave Lemmink
Engineer: Dave Neugebauer
Lead LED Technician: Dave Panscik

LED technicians

Ron Proesel, Derek Burt, Eric
Geiger, Scott Grund, Steve
Ossler, Mike Lane, Carlos
Guitierez, Mark O'Herlihy, Tom
Braislin, Troy Baccheschi, Jeff Crane

Lighting Vendor: PRG, John Lobel & Robert Cooper

Rigging: Kish Rigging, Michael Weisman

Video Screens: Nocturne Productions
Paul Becher
Bob Brigham

Set: Tait Towers — James “Winky”
Fairorth & Adam Davis

Carts & Dollies: B & R Scenery, Brian Sullivan

Trucking For Nocturne: Upstaging

PRG provided: 12 trucks of lights, cable, and support gear including:

280 Martin Mac 2000 Wash
48 Martin Mac 2000 Profile
118 VARI*LITE VL5 Arc
150 VARI*LITE VL2415
36 Syncrolite SX7K
36 Syncrolite SX3K
12 250K Lightning Strikes
12 Strong Gladiator 3K Xenon
4 Strong Super Trouper Spot
1 VARI*LITE Virtuoso Console
1 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2 Console

EQUIPMENT — LED

4 22' diameter round LED Pods, Barco D7 — 164 modules
4 30'×12' LED Ramps, Barco
I6 LED — 144 modules
1 LED floor center stage under piano, Barco I6 — 36 modules
9 Barco D320 Digitizers
9 Barco Fiber Link units

EQUIPMENT — SYSTEM

1 Pinnacle Systems 9000 (rehearsals)
1 Pinnacle Systems 9000 (Broadcast)