Last year, more than 108 million people tuned in as Beyoncé danced, stomped and gyrated her way through the Super Bowl XLVIII Halftime Show at New Orleans’ Superdome. It was, by all accounts, a flawless performance—but behind the scenes, things were far from perfect.
“Halfway through the performance, we lost one of the cameras. The steady-cam literally broke in half,” explains the show’s director, Hamish Hamilton. “It just went dark. So there were 10 or 15 shots that we wanted from that camera, but when the camera went out, we had to make it up as we went along, which is difficult. But that’s the kind of thing you have to be prepared for.”
“You spend a year planning and it all comes down to 12 minutes,” he says. “Before you even blink, it’s all over.”
Mishaps during live performances are all in a day’s work for Hamilton, the Grammy-nominated British director who’s directed everything from the Academy Awards to The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Below, he talks about the dark side of his job, the most challenging show he ever directed and offers insight into this year’s performance starring Bruno Mars.
How far in advance do you start planning for the Super Bowl, and how many people are involved?
Thousands. The planning for next year’s show—2015—started already. Just some loose discussions. Things start to move once an artist confirms. That’s when things start to take a direction to his or her vision.
So that means the artist must have a significant amount of input.
At some of the earlier Super Bowls that I did, a lot of the concept came from the NFL and myself. But when you’re with people like Madonna, Beyoncé and Bruno, they’ve got very strong ideas. It really depends on the artist and also the people around them. Being an artist these days isn’t just about making great music—it’s about putting on great shows, making great videos and being engaged on social media. So they’re not just musical visionaries. They’re artistic visionaries as well. It would be completely unrealistic to invite an artist to play the Super Bowl halftime show and say, “This is what you’re doing.”
Which performers over the years really blew you away creatively?
This year Bruno Mars has surprised me. He sent me lots of references and said “this is exactly the shot that I want”—he has a very strong vision of what he wants to do.
Other than the Beyoncé mishap, have there been any others that really threatened the performance?
On the first show that I did with The Who, two cameras disappeared 15 seconds before we went on air. I planned a contingency with 14 seconds to go, and then with one second left, they came back up. For the Black Eyed Peas performance, we had L-O-V-E spelled out in lights, and the “V” went out.
Out of all the shows you’ve produced, which was the most challenging?
I’d have to say the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics in London was draining. And it was in my hometown, so the eyes of the world were upon us. As I left my house in the morning the neighbors would say, “Good luck! Don’t let the country down tonight!”
Do you thrive under pressure?
I don’t like the pressure side of it. I like the creative side of it. Sometimes the title of “director” overstates the role that you play. In a way, as the director you’re almost like the final link in the chain. If I cut to black or miss a shot or push a wrong button…that gives me nightmares at night. It literally gives me nightmares.
Do you remember your first major show you produced on your own? What was that like?
I remember shooting Prodigy in Moscow’s Red Square with 200,000 crazy, crazy fans. It was just nuts.
Any shows you’re most proud of?
Working with U2 for the first time was an amazing experience. They were on a mission to become the best band in the world again and I was on a mission to produce the best music DVD’s that I could. All of the Victoria’s Secret shows that I’ve done were amazing. We were given the task to bring a new look and feel to their show years ago, and with the use of new technology and clever ideas I think we helped transform the television aspect of the show.
You must have an incredible sense of relief after a show is over.
I can never predict how I’m going to be after a show. Sometimes you’re incredibly buzzed, like you’re the king of the world. And other times, you can feel incredibly empty. It’s like you’ve given birth but there isn’t this loving baby looking up at you. It’s just a black screen. I can go into some really dark places after a show. You’re so tired. The adrenaline leaves your body and then you’re left with all these bizarre emotions to deal with. And life kind of hits you. For a lot of these shows, you don’t see daylight, you don’t talk to your family. It’s intense. And then BAM! You’ll come out of the truck and you’ll smell fresh air and it’s like… it’s the weirdest, weirdest feeling.
Is there anything you can say about this year’s performance?
Just watch it. It’s going to be a really great show with a lot of things that are really different. All of the past Super Bowls have been quite epic, and this one is going to be no different.
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