As he prepares Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show, Hamish Hamilton isn’t free with details about what its millions of viewers should expect.
Except for one.
“I’m fairly sure that the lights will stay on for the entire Super Bowl,” Hamilton said, the Grammy-nominated director of this year’s show, which will feature singer R&B singer Bruno Mars and rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers. “I would be surprised if that happened again.”
Moments after Beyonce finished her performance last year, the New Orleans Superdome went dark for 35 minutes.
“Not guilty,” says Hamilton, a native of Blackpool, England, who began his career with the BBC.
“The only thing I can say with certainty was that the electricity going out had nothing to do with the halftime show because we were on generator power,” said Hamilton, who also produced last year’s show. “It was a conscious decision, and it was an excellent decision.”
More than 110.5 million people worldwide watched the halftime show last year. Only 2012’s performance by Madonna drew more viewers, and Beyonce’s performance — and the blackout that followed — generated 229,000 tweets per minute on Twitter, its second most-tweeted moment ever.
The production is something of a technological marvel in and of itself.
Last year, 700 people transformed the field at the Superdome into a concert stage incorporating lasers, strobes, pyrotechnics and a preprogrammed stage floor that rose to become a 24-foot by 32-foot video wall.
Hamilton is no stranger to such on-the-fly productions.
In addition to several Super Bowl halftimes, he’s directed the Academy Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards and live concert films for artists such as the Rolling Stones and U2. In 2012, he worked with movie director Danny Boyle, heading up the televised versions of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.
This year’s Bruno Mars production will be no less complex than last year’s, said Hamilton. But don’t be surprised if the high-tech nature of the show isn’t in your face the whole time.
“With the kind of stuff that I do, technology is amazing. But at the end of the day, stories are way more powerful,” he said. “So, if you’ve got somebody on a stage crying because an award means so much to them, or an artist on stage singing an incredibly powerful song to an audience that’s with them — sometimes you just need one shot, one light and an amazing performer.”
“Technology’s massively important,” Hamiltion continued. “You rely on it.” But even as the technology at his disposal has improved, Hamilton says he’s come to look at it differently.
“Back in the day, I let the technology lead me,” he said. “Now, I always prefer the story or the music or the show to lead me. Now, in my own head, it’s the story first, the concept first, and the technology is second.
“Technology allows you to do things now you could have never done before. So there’s definitely a yin and a yang to it.”
In some ways, what Hamilton does is simultaneously the same and the exact opposite of what a movie director does.
For a movie, a shoot can last for weeks, or months, with weeks more of post-production after that. On the flip side, directing a live event means months of preparation, followed by a shoot that lasts for just a brief time. In the case of the Super Bowl show, that’s about 12 minutes.
It might seem like that would be a chaotic 12 minutes. But Hamilton said that with enough preparation, the opposite can be the case.
“When I was shooting the (2013) show, I actually said very little,” he said. “Because what we were doing was shooting a show that we all knew precisely what we were doing.
“We knew where Beyonce was going to be at all points. We knew when the crowd was going to go crazy. We knew almost exactly the show we were going to get.”
But Hamilton, who is also working on a Peter Gabriel concert film he shot at several concerts last year, will have one new X-factor to deal with this Sunday.
This year’s game will be at MetLife Stadium at the New Jersey Meadowlands — an outdoor venue. The Northeast U.S. already has been clobbered this winter by storms that have dumped more than a foot of snow in places and brought temperatures in the single digits — a full 15 to 25 degrees below normal before what was already predicted to be the coldest Super Bowl in the game’s history.
Last week, 10 inches of snow fell on MetLife Stadium. The early forecast for Sunday in Northern New Jersey is for clear skies and milder temperatures, but you never know.
“The weather’s an enormous factor,” Hamilton said. “But, in every Super Bowl, it has its unique challenges. And from those unique challenges, you create something great. If every situation were the same, the shows may not be as diverse as they are.”
Hamilton hinted heavily that the open stadium will be somehow utilized in Sunday’s halftime show.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, in each set of circumstances … we find creative solutions,” he said. “We’re tested and pushed in this direction, as opposed to another, and that’s kind of exciting.”