The first panel of Production Live! explored what it takes to create the “22-minute miracle” known as the Super Bowl halftime show.


22-Minute Miracle

Host Charlie Hernandez ( welcomed Erik Eastland (All Access Staging & Productions), Joel Forman (production manager, currently for Bruno Mars), Baz Halpin (Silent House Productions) and Cap Spence (Nightwatch Management) on stage. Halpin, whose company won the Pollstar Live! Award for most creative stage production twice in a row, shared some insight into the Katy Perry halftime show of 2015.

“You say that you should never let the logistics take over the art. But at the end of the day, Cap [Spence] has got seven minutes to put this whole show on the field, and even less time to take it off. So the design of the show was born out of the logistic constraints.”

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“We went through the whole show about 50 times before we ever got to the stadium. We didn’t know what was going to happen that day, whether outside forces would impact it. We wanted to make sure that Katy and all the dancers and the band could do the show almost subconsciously. That no matter what happened, they’d go through the motions,” Halpin added.

Fifty projectors were used for the Katy Perry show. On the big day, the first two quarters went in record time, meaning that the sun was still up. As University of Phoenix Stadium has an open roof, that would have ruined the whole projector experience. “It was a miracle that the last [moments] of the game took 25 minutes to play. Two touchdowns, two penalties. We made sundown by about 30 seconds. I found my religion again that day.”

Forman revealed that Bruno Mars, who headlined in 2014 and joined Coldplay and Beyoncé on stage this year, was very involved in the creative process but understood that above constraints sometimes meant compromising on vision. “He’s an artist who doesn’t like big spaces. But he understands the idea that as much as this is a stadium with 75,000-plus people, it’s more about a hundred million-plus people watching it on TV,” Forman said.

Erik Eastland discussed the mechanical side of things, which set the parameters of what was possible.

“The finished surface is pretty much the most critical part at the end of the day. But it starts with the turf casters,” referring to the wheels of the carts that are used to transport the stage parts. “We have lighting carts, laser carts, pyro carts. So for us it’s pretty much the same every year, just reconfigured.”

“We try to keep it simple -- stone-age technology as much as possible. Painted plywood may not sound fancy to a multimillion-dollar artist. They’ll want the finest floor in the word. And if it’s indoor you can pretty much do whatever you want, but outside you have to be ready for the elements.”

No hydraulics are used for Super Bowl shows, as a possible leak would put an end to any event. So everything has to be moved electrically or by manpower. Having worked through the creative part and basic skeleton of the show, Hernandez handed over to Spence, whose job it is to make everything come together; to get several hundred team members to work as a unit on match day, when it comes to setting the individual carts up to form an actual stage.

“You’re high,” was his reaction when first confronted with the fact that everything had to be moved in and out in a matter of minutes. 16 years later, he mastered it.

“I forbid anyone working with the field team members to use terms like hurry, faster, quicker, run and all that. Strangely enough, it’s all about time, but it’s not about time. We approach it safely and with precision. If we focus on those two things, speed comes as a side effect.” Another way to make sure the team remains focused is to detach them from the “digital nipple,” as Spence calls it. “If you have your phone out, you’re not paying attention.”

“I bring them along by telling them all, that they’re in show business now; that they’re not a fan; that there’ll be no shrieking when Beyoncé walks out.”

Displaying a regard to keeping the field intact has been essential for developing a symbiotic relationship with the NFL, Spence said.

“If the NFL’s groundskeeping people had it their way, there wouldn’t be a game. I think they’d just recline on [the field], have a beer, and watch it grow,” he joked. Still, if the NFL feels the field is being damaged, it may cut down the allowance for rehearsals from four to one. Explaining that to the artists can be challenging, said Halpin.

“It changed how we treat rehearsals. Every rehearsal is treated like it is the last one,” Halpin said. The importance of the camera work was addressed by the panel as well. It goes as far as remodeling camera positions with a 3D visualization program in rehearsal. “Hollywood storyboarding,” Hernandez called this.

Halpin agreed: “It’s the only reason Super Bowl looks as it does.”