We have to put the whole show on the field in six minutes.
February 5, 2018 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Ever wondered what it takes to produce a concert-like experience in a football stadium with only 6 minutes to set the stage? Let sound engineer Patrick Baltzell tell you all about it...

Includes link to and discussion of Prince's 2007 halftime performance.
posted by msbubbaclees (23 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Techies, yo. We rule.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:21 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


I love this.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:26 AM on February 5


OMG this is fucking brilliant.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:28 AM on February 5


Because of my misspent delightfully-spent youth working as a stagehand (specialized in lighting), I'm always goggling at the technical setups for big shows like this. Even--or especially--when I don't care at all about the performers.

The expertise and effort that goes into the halftime show in particular is utterly amazing. And it often seems almost thankless... the sort of thing where people will only notice your work if things go wrong, and if you do everything right, you're invisible. (Though never to me. ♥)

I also appreciate him giving us little glimpses of how the sausage is made, not just in the various physical challenges and setups, but also in working with performers and their staffs. Must take a hell of a lot of diplomacy...not to mention the spine to finally be like "Okay here I'll turn it ALL THE WAY UP" in rehearsal and then simply not do that in performance.
posted by theatro at 11:33 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


Must take a hell of a lot of diplomacy...not to mention the spine to finally be like "Okay here I'll turn it ALL THE WAY UP" in rehearsal and then simply not do that in performance.

I think I've told this story before, am telling it again - a costume designer confided in me that she called this kind of thing a "French repair". When some cast member was fussing about something on their costume being wrong, and she had checked and rechecked it and everything was fine, but the cast person was still fussing, she'd say "Okay, let me try a French repair on it." She would take the costume away, hang on to it overnight, then give it back unchanged and say "how's that", and invariably the actor would be satisfied.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:41 AM on February 5 [42 favorites]


Dang that's a nice mixer board. I want it. Why the hell do I want to buy that mixer board so bad?

Oh oh oh it's got a bowl of fruit on it.
posted by rlk at 11:55 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]


My dream of dancing at the Super Bowl came true. And then I became Left Shark. "We had been rehearsing for a month, five or six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day."(!)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:56 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


It's also known as a French seam or french alteration. If you like that, you should try the orange doorknob trick. When you've got a client that always wants to change things (esp at the last minute :[ ) then you do the job the best you can (ie the way you like) then add an 'orange doorknob' (can be anything awful really: big tacky bow, plastic banana, you name it.) Then the client sees it and says..."well it's great...except for that..[$orange doorknob]" so you pop it off and then you're done.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:00 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]


"That doesn't work for Prince."
posted by agregoli at 12:05 PM on February 5 [3 favorites]


Another reason to love the Stones. I would love to be in the room when someone tries to tell Keef he'll be playing air guitar to a pre-recorded track.
posted by raider at 12:14 PM on February 5


It's also known as a French seam

Not to be confused with an actual French seam.
posted by jedicus at 12:15 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


It sucks that he puts that much work into what musically is becoming the equivalent of surfing the radio in the car. "Ooh, there's the part of that song that I know and like. And oooh there's that part of that song I know and like". I would bet before too many years all that gets cut and everything is just played over the PA system and more budget is put towards ever fancier dancing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:20 PM on February 5


The artists don’t get paid
Huh.
posted by clawsoon at 12:22 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


I had never heard the term French Repair (or alteration &c.) before! Looks like my youth was not misspent enough.

I had heard some different coinage for the orange doorknob... I think it was something like "hairy hands"? ..okay, a brief web brainstorm-search tells me it's actually "hairy arms", which is apparently specific to graphic design/commercial art.
posted by theatro at 12:23 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


~The artists don’t get paid
~Huh.


But, it'll be great exposure for you!
posted by Thorzdad at 12:30 PM on February 5 [11 favorites]


Heh; am now reminded of a couple of great Moments From Tech Rehearsals in the past. Usually the director and stage manager are in the rehearsal studio with the actors all the time, and the light, sound, etc. designers only drop by for visits early on - and then about a week or so before the show, that's when the light and sound designers bring their things in to try out. This is always tedious as hell for the cast because there's a lot of the cast just getting up to a certain point in a scene and then the director stops them and gets into a lengthy conversation with the lighting designer, tweaking things. Sometimes the director asks for something the equipment can't do, sometimes the director pulls rank and the lighting designer has to come up with some way to make it happen. Of course, there are also sometimes some legit issues ("yow, I think that we need to bring the lights up sooner becuase the cast legit can't see"), but most of the changes are....artistic. And the stage manager is sometimes sitting by the lighting designer while all this is going on, because that's how I learn what the lights are "supposed" to look like. So I'm taking notes and changing them as the conversation goes on and the cast stands around looking bored.

So one show I did with a company I'd worked with a lot, we were starting this kind of rehearsal and it was a lighting designer I worked with a lot and got on well with. We caught up a bit; he was unusually busy and I asked how he was coping. He said he wasn't sure how, but he'd managed "get zen" about it all somehow. Shortly after that, we started; and after a couple of uneventful cues, we got to a cue that the director wanted to be a super-slow fade of lights. He'd set the board up to fade as slow as it could, and showed me where to excecute the cue. But before the cue was done - the director stopped us. "That's too fast," he said. "Can't you make it go slower?"

"I have the fade programmed to go as slow as it can."

"What if we start it sooner? I wanted it to start sooner."

"I can make it start sooner, but you'll lose the light entirely before you're done."

"....show me."

We brought the cast back to a certain point in the script, and tried the cue then. Sure enough the lights were out before they were done. "Whoa whoa whoa!" the director hollered. "What are the lights out for? When did you run the cue?"

"When you told me."

"Okay, let's do it back where you had it before." Wind back, do it again. "Wait, why aren't the lights fading yet?"

"If I fade sooner we lose the light."

"Can't you slow down the fade?"

"It's already as slow as it can go."

"....I need you to slow down the fade even more."

"....I'll see what I can do," said the designer. And then, very very quietly under his breath, before he started playing around with the board, I heard him say: "....I am a zen master."

He was the only one in the room who knew why I burst out laughing at that exact moment.


Another story, which I only heard anectodally as an exchange between a diva-ish modern dance performer and the lighting designer tasked with preparing her show:

DANCER (speaking as the lighting designer is typing cues into the board): I want the light here to melt into death.

DESIGNER (pauses typing for about two seconds, then): .....'kay. (resumes typing)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on February 5 [13 favorites]


Not to be confused with an actual French seam.

damndamndamn...you're right...a french seam is a real and common thing. What I meant to say is a 'french tuck'
posted by sexyrobot at 1:01 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


In computer programming we have the Orange Doorknob, we just call it The Duck Technique.

"This started as a piece of corporate lore at Interplay Entertainment. It was well known that producers (a game industry position roughly equivalent to project manager) had to make a change to everything that was done. The assumption was that subconsciously they felt that if they didn't, they weren't adding value.

The artist working on the queen animations for Battle Chess was aware of this tendency, and came up with an innovative solution. He did the animations for the queen the way that he felt would be best, with one addition: he gave the queen a pet duck. He animated this duck through all of the queen's animations, had it flapping around the corners. He also took great care to make sure that it never overlapped the "actual" animation.

Eventually, it came time for the producer to review the animation set for the queen. The producer sat down and watched all of the animations. When they were done, he turned to the artist and said, "That looks great. Just one thing: get rid of the duck."

posted by Wild_Eep at 1:15 PM on February 5 [8 favorites]


My dream of dancing at the Super Bowl came true. And then I became Left Shark. "We had been rehearsing for a month, five or six days a week, eight to 10 hours a day."(!)

This is a really great essay. I love how positive he is about the experience, and I really love that Katy Perry and her team were so nice and supportive about it as well. I could imagine this going very much the other way (with the performer being angry that this is what everyone was talking about) and it just makes me happy everyone was so cool about it.
posted by lunasol at 4:02 PM on February 5


It also reminds me of when everyone (well, you know, for certain values of "everyone") was talking about the Taylor Swift/Katy Perry beef over Katy Perry "stealing back" her backup dancers. I read an interview where one of the backup dancers in question was just like "hey, we consider Katy a friend, we love being on her team." It's pretty clear why she would inspire that loyalty.
posted by lunasol at 4:04 PM on February 5


This was great.
posted by latkes at 6:27 PM on February 5


Interesting. I'd like to interview him now, after this Super Bowl. I commented during Timberlake's show that the sound guy was having a real problem getting the mix right. But that could have been an NBC problem and not Baltzell's.

EDIT: no, I remember what it was. It was the mic. It was too hot for a minute, then faint, then he finally got it right by the end of the first song.
posted by surplus at 5:55 PM on February 6


surplus: I'd like to interview him now, after this Super Bowl. I commented during Timberlake's show that the sound guy was having a real problem getting the mix right. But that could have been an NBC problem and not Baltzell's.

Baltzell is in the clear:
Baltzell was not only in charge of the audio for the past 19 Super Bowls (excluding this year’s)
It would be interesting to know why he wasn't working this year's.
posted by clawsoon at 6:33 PM on February 6


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