12 December 2011

Truth or Dare – Toby Phillips speaks

In anticipation of the tentative 2012 Lionsgate release of Truth or Dare remastered on Blu-Ray, the beats within follows up the exclusive interview with Truth or Dare Line Producer, Lisa Hollingshead, with part two of my exclusive interview with cinematographer, Toby Phillips.

Read about Toby’s work as cinematographer of the stunning Blond Ambition concert footage, filmed for Truth or Dare, touring, technical problems, ticking-offs and techno pigs! Plus, WE find out about the W.E. director learning her craft and the real reason why she ditched that Blond Ambition pony tail – finally!

** Go to Pud Whacker’s Madonna Scrapbook for Pud's take on the age old question - ponytail or curls from his amazing Madonna archive **

** Click here to read part one of my interview with Toby, where he talks about his work as cinematographer of The Girlie Show – Live Down Under, technical problems and “ra – aaaaaa – in” **
** Click here to read my interview with Lisa Hollingshead, Line Producer of the Blond Ambition concert footage, filmed for Truth or Dare. **

the beats within: How did you get the job as Director of Photography of the concert footage shot for Truth or Dare?

I had been shooting a lot of different live rock & roll shows. Although I hadn’t worked with Lisa Hollingshead (Truth or Dare Line Producer) or Alek Keshishian (Truth or Dare Director) before, I guess I had got a bit of a reputation. I forget who it was, but either Lisa or maybe even Jay Roewe (Truth or Dare Producer) called me up to see if I would meet Madonna at a concert that she was performing at the Meadowlands, New Jersey (at the Brendan Byrne Arena, now the Izod Center). So, I went there and saw the show and then the following night I met her when she was getting her make-up done prior to the show and then I saw the show again. Although I thought I was already on the job, I think that was my audition!

So, they hired me and I went on to work out the best plan for shooting the concert component and although another DP (Director of Photography) had been hired to shoot the black and white 16mm documentary component, the concert was a different kettle of fish. We planned to shoot that in Paris at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy over three nights.

the beats within: Do you know why that particular venue was chosen to shoot the show for the movie?

I think it was that they probably had looser restrictions on where the cameras would be placed. The floor was standing and not seated and that makes things a bit easier, and it wasn’t too big a space. I think the capacity for concerts was somewhere between 18 and 20,000.

We went and did some prep, watching the show again in Gothenburg, Sweden whilst we were setting up – I think that was the show that was immediately prior to the Paris dates. We had a rehearsal day during sound check where we talked strategy a little more.

the beats within: Can you remember specifics, like how many cameras you used to shoot the show?

I forget how many cameras we had in total, I think it might have been somewhere in the area of 12 to 15. We shot over three nights and the plan that I used was to switch the cameras around over the three nights, so you’ve got different shots from the Louma Crane and different positions for the dollies. So, over those three nights you’ve got coverage that came from different areas of the arena, with slightly different angles.

I operated both the camera in front, as well as the Steadicam. When I wasn’t on the Steadicam, I would jump down in front and get a low angle, close-up. Once again, for those three nights I would cherry pick the songs where I would go onstage with the Steadicam. A lot of artists don’t dig having the Steadicam around. Madonna was cool with it, provided I didn’t run into her or anyone else, and I felt good about that.

I actually came from being a child performer on stage, so I had a good sense of stage and choreography and what was going on. At a certain point at that time I decided I was more comfortable behind the scenes and that’s where I stayed.

the beats within: Lisa Hollingshead told me about an accident that occurred while shooting the Paris shows, which caused some technical problems.

That caused a little controversy later on. The Louma Crane hit one of the receivers for the wireless mics and took out Madonna’s – I don’t know if it took out someone else’s as well. On the first or second night – I think it was the second night – the Louma Crane swung around near the audio booth that was over to “stage left” and took out one of the receiver antennas and her mic went dead.

the beats within: Footage of which was actually included in Truth or Dare...

Yes, and there was also a whole thing where someone’s getting reamed for that in the movie, but I don’t think the real reason is established. What the movie does is make the viewer think that the concert footage is throughout the entire journey of the tour. But some things that happened live during that concert are sort of slightly out of context in terms of how they’ve been paired with the documentary aspects of what was filmed throughout the entire tour. But it’s done in a fairly good way and it wasn’t demeaning to anyone. It was what it was and accidents happen.

Madonna was slightly feistier at that stage in her career when I met her and much less feisty on The Girlie Show. But I can’t remember whether I came and addressed it or not. Lisa was the Line Producer, Jay played probably more of the executive role in dealing with Madonna and Freddy DeMann and people like that, so he may have gone to her. I can’t remember whether we had a meeting about it. We probably had a meeting with the stage manager and the audio guys. The camera was moving the next night anyway, so we probably moved it to a position where it couldn’t happen again.

the beats within: Can you tell me more about your strategy meetings with Madonna?

Madonna generally used the sound check as the forum for her meetings. So, if there was something she wanted to talk about – like a song where I was going to be on stage with the Steadicam – on that day she would stop and ask to talk to me while she was standing on the stage. It was probably the thing crew people feared the most!

We were there for a short window of that tour, so I would come in and spend a pretty big chunk of time talking to the lighting designer in terms of adding, probably a significant number of, lights and making some pretty big changes to the way the front light is used and what level it’s at. In general it usually needs to be less bright, in terms of the light on the performer’s face. That way there’s more balance on the film and you have to get the colour temperature right for skin tones.

What you see as an audience member standing there in the arena is dramatically different to how it would be captured on film. I told Madonna that we would be reducing the amount of light on her face and she said, “So, what happens to the audience? How are they going to see me?” I said, “Well, you know it’s not going to be that much different”, and she said, “Well, how different?” And I said, “Well, if you walk into a dark room and there’s a light on in the corner and the light is lighting someone sitting in the chair underneath it, you adjust. The audience will adjust. In fact, they probably won’t even notice. They’ll be seeing a bright Madonna.”

Otherwise what would happen is if you left it as it was, they’d see you looking normal, but all of that background lighting and everything that’s gone into making that whole set look fantastic could get very dark. So this concept of getting a balance means that the set will look great and you’ll look great as well.

Most often, lighting designers would use two Followspots for a performer but that often gives no shadow, which isn’t that appealing. Especially when she had the head mic, you could get a double shadow from that. I got the strongest Followspot we could in the arena and we softened it as well, which made it difficult for the Followspot operator to use. Basically, I put what’s called a cosmetic diffusion on the Followspot and we used one, not two. There’d also be another guy there as back-up, in case that one went out. In general that’s what was used and it goes slightly off-angle, so you get a bit of detail and shadow in a cosmetic way. That became the thing that I did on all of the concerts, starting with her. Madonna’s was probably the only one where I elected to use the cosmetic diffusion.

the beats within: For an artist such as Madonna, obviously her image is very important, so were there any other technical challenges in presenting Madonna in the best light on the big screen?

There was another conversation that Madonna and I had about her hair. She had often used that I Dream of Genie hairdo, with her hair pulled back in a tight bun at the back of the head and it was my feeling that for the movie, that was a little severe. I thought that she looked a good balance between commanding and a little bit more feminine with the blonde bob look. I don’t know whether I talked her into it, but I told her which one I preferred.

In truth, she probably could have done both. Thinking about the way it was edited, it wouldn’t have been bad to have a show where she did it with one look and a show where she did it with the other look and then through the cut, put in a bit of both. So, I’m not sure who decided that she just did it all the same way.

the beats within: Was it a challenge coming in towards the later stage of the tour and requesting changes for the purpose of filming the show?

The difficult part for a Director of Photography coming in to work on a show that’s well established is sometimes the lighting designer isn’t on the tour anymore and so there’s some politics in getting involved. There were two guys credited with the lighting and both guys were working on both shows [Blond Ambition and The Girlie Show].

I already had a good reputation with the lighting designers when I’d come in to do a shoot. Generally, there was often some friction towards someone like me coming in and telling the lighting designer, “I want to change the lights here, and make an adjustment to this scene and add some lights here and there”. I mean, if it was me I’d say, “Go fuck yourself!” But if you could show through experience and from some other shows that you’d done a good job, then generally I was well accepted.

By the time I got to working with other lighting designers, they all knew that I’d done Madonna’s show and other shows, and they would embrace what I wanted to do. On Pink Floyd, I think we added about a thousand lights for their show in London. For them it was like, “This is fun” Now we’re doing something huge!” In general, I added to what they were already doing.

In the arena in Bercy we had to add audience lighting, which can be a bit confronting because the performer usually doesn’t want to see the faces of the people in front of them. Only for the encore do they usually light up that strip of lights across the front of the stage and light up people’s faces. I would use ACL can lighting and position the trusses further back, so that they all became sort of “rim-lit”, so that it would work for both cameras at the back and cameras at the front – and make something that looked a little bit more attractive and less obvious to the performer.

Generally, after the first show of almost every tour we did where we wanted to light up the audience, the performer would come back and say, “Can you do less of that tomorrow night?”

the beats within: And a lot of artists also don’t like having the Steadicam on stage either...

Yea, I think it was great that Madonna allowed the Steadicam on the stage, as some people don’t at all and it’s an absolute no-no.

the beats within: By using the Steadicam, it seemed that you were able to film the show in a way that concert films had never been shot before.

The Steadicam shot that I did on Truth or Dare that Steadicam guys often talk about, is the part during Live to Tell, where there’s a shimmering, blue light that goes down across Madonna’s face and the camera goes right around her. A lot of Steadicam guys would talk about that particular shot. That was a decision to do that on one night only. Out of the three nights I chose the time to step on to the stage and just make that one 360° lap around her, and then step back off the stage again. So, in a way, that choreography of mine, along with the way that the cameras moved from night to night, ensured that we got that different kind of coverage. It was the same with other songs that had more choreography from all of the dancers and back-up singers. My camera would be there for one night on the Steadicam to capture an element of that choreography and then I would disappear.

the beats within: Did you use the Steadicam for every song on the show?

We probably didn’t use it for every single song on the show. We probably didn’t use it for Like a Virgin on the bed.

the beats within: Really? There’s some really super close-up shots during that number used in the movie...
Those shots would just be from the long lens, positioned sort of mid-way in to the arena. We were using a re-worked lens that we called the “techno pig”. They were sort of new at the time, but they were a faster techno zoom and it was a massive, big lens. It was a little bit faster in terms of speed, so that I didn’t have to juice up the lights any more – and working wide open, it makes the focus pretty for those guys. We would have been using a Canon 300, or something like that, that was sort of just stuck on a long tele-photo like that.

There were some guys that I brought from London as camera operators. Generally, there would be a team of guys who had experience to operate all of these cameras – some were better on the dolly, some were better on the long lens and some were better on the Louma Crane. Each guy was hand-picked to operate the particular camera and although the camera on each night would move, they would still operate that particular camera, but in a different position.

It wouldn’t be mean in saying that Alek didn’t have a huge wealth of experience in this area, so he leaned heavily on me to orchestrate, collect and build the coverage that would then give the editor good choices from the three nights of shooting.

the beats within: With Blond Ambition, Madonna really raised the bar in terms of how rock concerts were staged. Were you aware at the time, that the show was so groundbreaking?

I was really impressed with the lighting and the staging. It was the most theatrical of all of the shows that had been out there and it was very appealing to me because of how theatrical it was. The lighting was already at a place that was genuinely great and I wasn’t going to need to make significant changes. My job was to capture it and just make the best out of it. That carried over I guess into whoever decided to hire me to go and do The Girlie Show.

the beats within: Were you involved in the post production of the concert footage for Truth or Dare?

Only in the colour correction stage. I had seen some of the edits of different songs as they came along. I did sit in with the Editor a couple of times. There was probably about a solid week where we did the colour corrections in LA.

Madonna would come to some of those days – I can’t remember if she was there every day. It was about a week were we would go in and spend all night colour correcting. I know Madonna was there on a few occasions, but I don’t know if she was there all the time. She really didn’t say anything too much – she was just there to watch.

I would give my direction to the colourist and back then there was still quite a lot you could do – there’s a huge amount more you can do now. But the technology afforded us to make significant changes to the way the film looked, so once again it was a case of using that technology and using the tools to make the best looking film. In general, for most DPs that’s their role, to go in for that final colour and give it the look of what we’d set out to do, which was to do a pretty strong representation of the show.

If you put aside the way the film looks, there is a lot of work that goes into getting those camera angles, doing camera moves and getting the right camera operators to do those moves. The director can’t really call all the of shots – a lot of the time it’s very difficult to hear in the environment, most times the camera operators are all on headsets and they’re getting some feedback, but in general it’s all about creating visual vibrancy.

For me, visual vibrancy is what the concert experience is all about. That’s where you really get the benefit. If the performer gets so comfortable with the concept of the show being filmed that they actually “work” the camera, then you add that vibrancy that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

I did a lot of work with Garth Brooks with the Steadicam and he got very comfortable with it and he would often come up and look right into the lens. During the song Friends in Low Places, where everybody starts singing together, I’m standing in front of him and he moves over and starts singing with some of the other performers on stage and next thing he grabs me and pulls me around next to him, so I’m being filmed by another camera, singing with him. Luckily I was wearing a cowboy hat - it added to the realism!

Another time, I was working with Ozzy Osbourne on a live show in Moscow. He talked to me before the show and told me to make sure I was there for a particular moment and he would give me the nod to come racing out on to the stage. As he hit the climax of the song, I ran out on queue and he just spat all over the lens. It sounds disgusting, but it’s so completely Ozzy and it’s so completely great that he knew how to do that and make it look completely, spontaneously ugly. In his world, some people might think he did it because he hated the camera being there on the stage, but the truth is he planned it.

When you have an artist like that who’s very cognisant of what they can do with the camera, then it takes it to another level. With Madonna, the staging and the lighting was fantastic, but it was really all about her, where she was and what she was doing along with the singing.

the beats within: Having filmed both shows, how do you think Blond Ambition and The Girlie Show compared to one another?

The Girlie Show was very different and it was sort of vaudeville and burlesque. It was on a much tighter and controlled stage and you didn’t have as much depth or width. There was additional depth in the thrust stage that Madonna would often come out on to. But the only thing that I would say was the same, was that it had a huge amount of great choreography and it had Madonna – they were the only similarities.

In terms of tone and delivery, they were very different shows. I liked them both, but they both they had their own merits in different ways. I liked the sexiness of The Girlie Show, but there was equally as much vivaciousness in the Blond Ambition Tour too.

** Special thanks to Toby Phillips and
Nick at Pud Whacker’s Madonna Scrapbook. **

19 November 2011

The Girlie Show Live Down Under – Toby Phillips speaks

With credits in movies, TV, advertising and dozens of music videos to his name, Toby Phillips has continued to “test the boundaries of conventional film-making” throughout an award-winning career that has been recognised by Kodak, when they named him as one of the finest cinematographers in the world.

Toby first worked with Madonna back in 1990, when the W.E. director hired him as the cinematographer of the concert footage for her movie producer debut – the fly on the wall “rockumentary”, Truth or Dare. (Following my exclusive interview with Truth or Dare Line Producer, Lisa Hollingshead, read more about the filming of the Paris Blond Ambition shows for Truth or Dare, exclusively at the beats within...... Behold, I am coming soon!)

In the first of my two-part interview with Toby Phillips, he talks about the filming of The Girlie Show – Live Down Under, Madonna’s M.O., technical problems and “ra – aaaaaa – in”...... 

** Stay tuned to Madonna-TV.com over the weekend for exclusive rare Girlie Show, Sydney TV footage, taken from webmaster Jamesy’s archive **

the beats within: Having worked so successfully as cinematographer on Madonna’s Truth or Dare, you were hired in the same role for the shooting of Madonna’s following tour, The Girlie Show.

“The producer was Marty Callner, who was a director in his own right. Madonna had chosen another director (Mark “Aldo” Micelli), who had been doing the video screens throughout the tour. So, he was hired as the director, with Marty coming in as the producer. I don’t know if it was done by default or not, but at least it was a good back-up for Madonna if things didn’t work out. I hadn’t worked with Marty before, so someone must’ve said to call me. So, I got a call from him and not the director, but I think I knew the director from Truth or Dare. So, in a way, I sort of had these two different directors to work with.

I flew down to Mexico City to see the show (at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez) and meet with Madonna and talk about it. I’m pretty sure Marty didn’t go to that, so it was really just Madonna and her team. Her whole M.O. had changed since the Blond Ambition Tour and she was much less feisty and much more embracing of what everyone could bring to the party. She was very, very cognisant of trying to get angles and lighting to make her look good.

That was my meeting and first view of the show and we went on to film it at the Sydney Cricket Ground. It’s a beautiful venue, but it was the first time ever that they were putting on a rock & roll show at the hallowed cricket ground. In getting prepared for that, they had bought thousands and thousands of square feet of this stuff that I think was called Terra-Plast, which was this thick waffle board with holes in it that they laid down over the turf to protect the grass – yet still allowing it to grow. So, the entire Sydney Cricket Ground had to be covered in this stuff. You would think that this stuff would’ve protected it, but being their first ever rock & roll concert at the ground, they had this rule that if there was too much rain that they had the option to cancel the show. And that’s exactly what happened!”

the beats within: But you still managed to film one of the shows at Sydney, which wound up being broadcast on HBO and released as The Girlie Show – Live Down Under.

“Yes, here we were having shot our rehearsal show, but it was still the live show. There were two nights planned at Sydney and HBO was supposed to go live, on a two hour delay from New York time, but that was supposed to have been on the second of the two nights. So, luckily we shot the first night too. We had all the cameras and even a helicopter came in.

On this particular show, because it was video (and not film); we weren’t going to use a lot of Steadicam. But I elected to hire a separate Steadicam operator and I worked in the lighting booth. I had planned to go and shoot something on the actual “shoot night”, but on this “rehearsal night” I was in switching between cameras up in the lighting booth and telling the camera operators what looked good, not that it mattered because most of them were ISO recorded anyway. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “OK Camera 7, let’s plan on moving you about 10 feet to the left tomorrow,” and then talking to the lighting guy saying, “Let’s turn those lights off tomorrow night, it’s not looking good”.

We had a huge amount of lighting on the towers to light up the audience and it was a really hot night that first night. Suddenly, we get word that the colour changers aren’t working on some of the lights. Because it was so hot, there were thousands and thousands of moths out and about and they landed on the colour changers. The colour changers were on a roll to change from one colour to another and, as the roll was triggered, the moths would roll around and get jammed in the motor roll, causing it to freeze.

So, in the middle of the show I’ve got some of my electricians climbing up the towers, shaking out these moths! Someone had the great idea to get some clear gel and stick it over the whole light and that way the colour changer would work underneath and the moths would sit happily on the outside on another piece of gel – and it worked!

So, throughout the course of the evening we were having this conversation about trying to fix the colour changer and how it was a great idea to keep the moths at bay and it wouldn’t happen tomorrow night. There were a lot of tomorrow night conversations – but tomorrow night never came!

We turned up to work that afternoon and although the rain had stopped, Sydney Cricket Ground had deemed the turf too wet and they cancelled the show. Everybody was hugely disappointed and there was great consternation as to how to save what we had. At that point Marty Callner stepped in and said, “We have to get the show on the air!” I had lived in Sydney for five years before I moved to the US, so I knew quite a few post production facilities and so we went into a post production facility that I recommended. They opened up that weekend and they spent every hour that they had up until the supposed “live” air time and we edited together those ISO recorded cameras, along with the live cut feed and enhanced what had been shot as best possible. Basically, what got sent by satellite was an edited version of our shoot.”

the beats within: I’m guessing there were probably a million things you would’ve changed if the show had went ahead on the second night as planned.

“There were a zillion things! The great thing about having that “rehearsal” and those plans means you can work towards it. When we were doing Truth or Dare, what happened was you finessed things over the three nights when you were shooting on film and there was no expectation of “live”. Basically, you’re capturing everything on all these cameras and each night you’re finessing as you move the cameras around.

So, here we were “rehearsing” for what we thought we were going to finesse the following night. But we never got the chance to. The funny thing is that the two lighting guys and I won an Addy award for The Girlie Show – Live Down Under. We were laughing to ourselves on the night of the awards ceremony – who would think you would win an award for the show that wasn’t the show – it was the “rehearsal”!”

the beats within: Thankfully, you filmed and recorded it...  

“It was such a work in progress and I only had that one chance. Basically I’d only seen the show once in Mexico City and then I saw it again during sound check (in Sydney), although that’s really only seeing a part of it. Seeing the first of the live shows was really the first time I could really work out how we were going to do it. I think we used 19 cameras on it and all 19 cameras were all over the place, knowing that would be their one job for the one night and they had their one chance of rehearsal – luckily we recorded it!

There was actually a time when we weren’t going to record that rehearsal. It was an additional cost to have the machines and the operators and to have everything up and running. I know Marty Callner was talking about not doing it. The whole thing could’ve been a wash out!”

the beats within: After the cancellation of Madonna’s second night at Sydney Cricket Ground, the girlie would take her show to Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide, before returning to the hallowed Sydney sports ground to play the final two Aussie stops on The Girlie Show World Tour on 3 and 4 December 1993.

** Stay tuned for part two of my exclusive interview with Toby Phillips, and read about his work as cinematographer of the stunning Blond Ambition concert footage, filmed for Truth or Dare, touring, technical problems, ticking-offs and techno pigs! Plus, WE find out about the W.E. director learning her craft and the real reason why she ditched that Blond Ambition pony tail – finally! **

** Special thanks to Toby Phillips, Jamesy at Madonna-TV.com and Nick at Pud Whacker’s madonnascrapbook.blogspot.com. **

** Stay tuned to Madonna-TV.com over the weekend for exclusive rare Girlie Show, Sydney TV footage, taken from webmaster Jamesy’s archive **

3 September 2011

Jellybean Wotupski!?! reissue update #2

Gold Legion have contacted me again with an update on the mis-pressed re-issue of Jellybean’s Wotupski!?!, featuring Madonna’s Sidewalk Talk:

“Just wanted you to know we have the new pressing of the Jellybean Wotupski!?! CD with the correct bonus tracks today. Everyone who already has a copy will be sent a CD alone to replace the incorrect pressing. Anyone who is still missing the item will be mailed out now. As you already know, we stopped the shipments once we learned about the issue with the bonus tracks.”

If you haven’t yet ordered your copy of Wotupski!?! you can still do so at http://www.goldlegion.com/

Truth or Dare – Lisa Hollingshead speaks

Lisa Hollingshead was Line Producer of the spectacular concert footage of the Blond Ambition Tour, filmed for Madonna’s 1991 documentary, Truth or Dare.

The Blond Ambition Tour was artistically light years ahead of its time and the concert footage from Truth or Dare, filmed at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, remains among the most stunning live concert footage – ever!

Earlier this year Madonna’s manager – the brilliant Guy Oseary – Tweeted that he has talked to Warner Bros about the possibility of a future release of Blond Ambition and other classic Madonna concert tours on DVD / Bluray. The Blond Ambition footage from Paris is arguably the most fan-demanded of all of Madonna’s filmed concert tours, and so fans are waiting with bated breath for an official update...

Until then, forget all the Internet-invented conspiracy theories and read the real deal from the Line Producer of the concert footage, Lisa Hollingshead:

“I worked for Propaganda Films since its inception, for eight years. We had produced a lot of music videos and we'd done a lot of videos for Madonna at Propaganda already. A couple of years before that, I'd become known as a woman that produced multi camera concert films. It used to be very difficult when we would have to do concerts on film and there weren’t any girls back then that travelled round the world with all of the big bands and did concert type film shooting with a lot of cameras. So, I was kind of known as a girl that did that.

It was funny back in those days, doing music videos for Propaganda. I was in movie production before I worked there and I just kind of stumbled into the place. All of a sudden I was hooked because it was kind of like the Wild West of a new era; a new kind of film making that hadn't been done before.

Propaganda was the crème de la crème. They were hands and feet above any other music video company that existed in the world then - in my opinion - and so many amazing things were happening. You were meeting every single rock star that you imagined and admired in your entire life – and you’re shooting with them; doing all of these things that no one’s ever done before.”

thebeatswithin: Including working with Madonna...

“It was kind of just another one of those things to me, everybody was like, “You work with Madonna!” I was the cool .... on the block for years and it wasn’t just that one. There were so many other ones and so it just seemed like another one of those great things.”

thebeatswithin: How did you get involved in working as Line Producer on Truth or Dare?

“David Fincher had done a lot of Madonna’s videos; post Mary Lambert (Borderline, Like a Virgin, Material Girl, La Isla Bonita, Like a Prayer). Fincher took over and did all of those amazing videos (Express Yourself, Vogue, Oh Father, Bad Girl) and he also worked at Propaganda obviously. They were going to just do a concert type film in Japan and they went over to shoot just a concert, with Jay Roewe producing. David came back and decided not to continue with the project. I was on another job and they called me and said, “You need to step off the other job you’re on now and fly to Boston and meet with Alek Keshishian”.

They decided they would continue this concert-based movie with Alek. He was kind of new to Propaganda and he had written his thesis about Madonna. I think she was very impressed that he had written the thesis about her and he had a good music video reel (including all of the videos from Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel).

I jumped on a plane and I went to Boston on the “red-eye” and I was to meet her (Madonna) and him (Alek) that morning. I sat there all day long in this hotel in Boston and they never showed. I was just about ready to get out of there and, as I was walking out the front of the hotel, up comes a taxi and out pops her and out pops him. I knew Alek already – he’s a nice guy.

She looked me from head to toe and she didn’t really say much of anything. Alek said, “Lisa’s going to produce this” and she looked me up and down, like she was checking out my clothes. It was all about the style then – cowboy boots, black leggings, leather jackets and all that.

My plane went home and I started the next day on what was to be a concert film. She had said, "I'd like to have a film crew follow me around and shoot documentary style footage". So, the film was to be like a concert film, with a documentary crew filming as well. But at the end of the day it turned out to be much different from that, so it was fortunate that they brought that documentary crew. I thought the emphasis had always been on the concert and that's why I had been brought in - to shoot the concert. I never realised at the time that the film would have so much emphasis on the documentary."

thebeatswithin: Cutting back to David Fincher’s involvement in the original concept of doing a concert movie – did he actually shoot any of the shows in Japan?

“Yes, he shot all of the Tokyo shows.”

thebeatswithin: On 35mm film?

“We always shot on 35mm film in those days. The concert was shot on 35mm and the documentary was shot on 16mm in black and white." 

thebeatswithin: So, as Like Producer you would’ve put the production team together.

"Yeah, I put together the team of who was going to shoot the concert portion and supervised what it was going to look like. I brought in a guy named Toby Phillips, who shoots the most amazing concert footage and he’s the best guy and I brought in Martin Coppen, who also was known as the best guy.

Madonna's lighting designer was Peter Morse and he was a great guy. Martin Coppen and Toby Phillips worked very closely with Peter because they speak the same language. Martin Coppen, I think he originally came from rock & roll and he understood all of those lights, because they use completely different lighting systems.

When you go to a concert they have all the lights and it’s all about how crazy beautiful the concert looks. But when you’re shooting it on film, it doesn’t balance. You have to have someone who’s really, really specific to that and knows how to balance the lighting without ruining what is the stage lighting look - because they’re apples and oranges somewhat. There were very few people back in those days that did it specific to that type of situation.”

thebeatswithin: Peter Morse has said that the Blond Ambition footage shot at Bercy is his favourite footage of anything he’d ever been involved in.
“I have done lots of concerts and I was beyond belief when I saw it. I watched it like 9,000 times when we got it done! We must have been colour correcting it for about a month when we got back to LA."

thebeatswithin: Sorry, I cut in – we were talking about starting work on production...

“I did a lot of work in Europe at that time because I had done so many concert shows over there for various artists. I think I had nine camera crews and all of the complimentary people that went along with it and we set up to start shooting. We were going to shoot the show at the Bercy Arena in Paris. So, for about a month, maybe two – I don’t remember, it was a long time ago – we travelled with her to all of her shows to talk about how we were going to film the show.

So, Toby, myself and Martin Coppen and the crane operator went to New York and Sweden – and various dates she had all over the place – to watch the show and plot out our plans on how we were going to film it over the, I think four or five nights, at Bercy. (thebeatswithin: It was actually three nights).

After having done all that, we met with Alek and told him how many cameras we thought it would be good to have. Alek directed from a room with a bunch of monitors and he had the ability to talk to all of the camera operators and tell them where to punch in, or punch out, etc. We experimented with it during rehearsals and he was able to create a shot list of where he wanted the emphasis placed during each song; where he wanted the drama."

thebeatswithin: At what point did Madonna’s plans to make a concert film evolve into more of a tour documentary?

“When Fincher got back from Tokyo, she had come into Propaganda. I can’t really remember what happened – the only person who would probably know the details is Steve Golin (Supervising Producer on Truth or Dare and co-founder and former CEO of Propaganda Films).

I believe she was very much involved in getting the thing made into what would be a "movie". Only Steve Golin can provide you with the proper financial details."

thebeatswithin: Did you shoot the full shows on all three nights at Bercy?

“Yeah, we shot the full concerts over all three nights and the footage was the most phenomenal concert footage ever shot, without question. I was super proud of that.

I did not continue with the post production on the job. I went to Greece and Jay Roewe went on with the post production.”

thebeatswithin: What were the logistical challenges involved shooting Blond Ambition at Bercy?

“The logistical challenges on a thing like that are really big. You can’t get the kind of shots you want from sitting at the back of the arena with a camera. In that era, you would need to have a long runway to put a Louma Crane on. A Louma Crane is a crane that is pushed along a runway by men and it has this very long arm that goes high up in the air, which is operated by a joystick. It’s the only way that you can get up over people, or dancers or other factors, to get those close-up and very complicated shots, without disturbing everyone watching the show.

I also have another platform, which I have to make for a big regular camera dolly. So, you’ve got two platforms every night and the rest of the cameras you plant. In terms of logistical things that are hard; you have to put the cameras somewhere in these concerts, but these concerts were sold out months in advance. So, my biggest battle – I call it “the battle of ages” – is that there’s nowhere to put the cameras.

You have to knock out a lot of seats to put in the big, long Louma Crane track every night. Every night you want to change the position of the track to get certain angles on her on one night, and then you’ll want to move it somewhere else for the next night and then maybe move it right to the front to run across the stage for the next night.

That’s the biggest drama because Madonna herself doesn't own all the seats, so she can’t just say, “Yeah, take those seats for this night and those seats for that night” because she doesn’t own them. The seats were usually the best seats because they were closer to the stage and they’re already full. The promoter of the show is the French promoter and they don't want to give up too many seats, as seats are pre-sold."

Freddy DeMann has control of a few seats and some of them can be given up because you've got VIPs of whoever else is supposed to be sitting there – and they don’t want to give up their seats. It was a really hard thing to do and it was hard on her shows. It was a huge challenge in that particular film because nobody wanted to give anything up.”

thebeatswithin: How many cameras did you use in total?

“I think we had 13 cameras, Toby Phillips might remember. We did it in the best way that we could. When you shoot with 13 cameras, it’s beyond belief how much footage you go through – approximately 40,000 feet per camera, times 13, times three nights, that’s a lot of film! That’s a lot of film and processing, believe me! (thebeatswithin: That’s 1,560,000 feet to be precise!) There’s a lot of it, but I don’t know where it is.”

thebeatswithin: Would that amount of film used have been typical of shooting a concert of that scale during that era?

“Yeah. One was hand-held and the rest were all planted, or on a dolly, or on a Louma Crane. David Hennings was the senior Louma Crane guy of the day and he was brilliant. Toby was the master of all lighting, making sure that the lighting was all correct. Martin Coppen worked with Peter Morse to change the lighting enough so we could shoot it, but not to impede the look.”

thebeatswithin: Was Madonna also involved in that process?

"I didn't talk to Madonna at all, I mean, of course I talked to her, but it was Alek's job to communicate with her. We didn’t really have a lot to do with her, but I spoke to her occasionally.

She did not give us any problems at all. We had one little incident with her, but everything else was golden because I suppose she trusted what we were doing. The Louma Crane hit her microphone on the last night we were shooting and that was the only time that I heard that she was upset about something. They had those things with the big ball on it (headset microphones) and it (the camera) just nicked it (the headset mic) and I don’t think it knocked it off, but it just pushed it. She wasn’t happy about that. I mean, I only heard about the fact afterwards. But that was the only mishap. Click here to watch a mishap at Bercy – go to 7:22

I think she was pretty trusting in what we were doing because she had the best people. No one else could do concerts better – she had Alek, Toby, me, David Hennings; she had all the right people. Alex wasn’t a concert shooter – he was a regular music video director, which is an entirely different beast. But she had the best people around her and didn’t really give us any problems at all. Alek did a great job.”

thebeatswithin: Was it a challenge working with a French crew?

“I didn’t speak French, so I had a friend of mine with me. Her name was Nancy Sprague and she was my interpreter. She was also a make-up artist and so I had her travel with me to do ancillary make-up. I didn't tell the French promoters that I had someone with me who could speak French, so I just let them think I didn't understand them. Then she would tell me what they were really saying and that they were making some reference to me being a silly American girl."

thebeatswithin: I imagine that your schedule must’ve been pretty crazy on that project.

“There was a lot of travelling, we were all over the place and the hours were crazy. We’d finish the shows by about 1am or something and then you have to come down, so by the time I’d get to bed it would be about 4am. But I had to get up during the daytime to do logistics for the shoot before we started in again, so I didn’t get a lot of sleep. But we did have a great time over there. We always went out to dinner after the show sometimes with a couple of the back-up dancers, so that was a bit of fun and there was always crazy stuff that went along with that.

By the time I was done shooting that thing, I was so exhausted, I went straight to Greece and I rented one of Pink Floyd’s houses that they had there on Lindos and I just lay on the roof for about two weeks!”

thebeatswithin: The Blond Ambition Tour remains one of Madonna’s most critically-acclaimed concert tours. Did you realise while you were working on the concert film that the tour was so ground-breaking and that it would be so influential in terms of changing how concert tours were staged?
“It was absolutely truly stunning and I knew that we were involved in something. I watched the show every night and every rehearsal and I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve shot a lot of concerts for a lot of big major artists and I’ve also seen a lot of concerts, but that one just blew my mind. It was mind blowing! It wasn’t just like a concert, it was dramatic. There was an element of drama in it and stories, instead of just getting up there and doing songs. It was amazing! I thought Like a Virgin on the bed was phenomenal.”

Click here to watch the Truth or Dare compilation promo video for Like a Virgin and tons more amazing Truth or Dare TV footage at the amazing Madonna-TV.com by Jamesy (He may be young at heart, but he knows what he’s sayin’).

For stacks of Truth or Dare press coverage, rare images and more, visit the Madonna Scrapbook, by Pud Whacker (Don’t stop him now, no need to catch his breath, he can go on, and on, and on).

26 August 2011

the dark side of la mujer – Mac Quayle speaks

Ten years ago today, HBO broadcast Madonna’s Drowned World Tour, live from The Palace of Auburn Hills, in Madonna’s home state of Michigan.

Produced by Marty Callner and directed by Hamish Hamilton, the live broadcast differed from the official DVD, which is a more polished re-edit of the original live HBO broadcast.

In 2007 I spoke with Mac Quayle, whose Dark Side Mix of What It Feels Like For A Girl that he remixed with Victor Calderone, inspired Madonna’s live performance of the Spanish version of the song, Lo Que Siente La Mujer, on the Drowned World Tour – one of the many highlights from the HBO broadcast:

thebeatswithin: The Dark Side Mix of What it Feels Like For a Girl you did with Victor Calderone was a real departure from the typical house style of of remixes that you did with Victor for Madonna. What was the inspiration behind you and Victor producing a more downtempo remix for Madonna?

“It came from Madonna’s camp. That song was at a tempo that made it difficult to turn it into a house record. It’s hard to get the vocals to sound good in the speed that you need it to be on a house record. We said, “This is difficult to turn it into a house record, maybe we could do a different type of mix”. They came back and said, “That’s great; why not do something really experimental and different?” So, we went into the studio and we came up with a remix, which we really liked. We sent it to her, but Madonna came back and said, “It’s not weird enough”.

So, we went back in the studio and started over and did the remix that came out. So, there’s actually another mix that was never released, which was totally completed and I thought it was a really good mix. It’s slightly downtempo and I don’t know how to describe it, except that it’s not so weird. That mix that we did is definitely kind of experimental and this one was a little straighter and didn’t take so many chances.”

thebeatswithin: The remix inspired the arrangement of Madonna’s performance of the Spanish version of the song, Lo Que Siente La Mujer, on the Drowned World Tour. Did you see her perform that song on that tour?

“I did and I thought it was cool. I’d heard that she was going to do that and then she did, and I thought it worked well. What was interesting was that they ended the live version with the ending that we had done for the other remix that wasn’t released. We had brought this acoustic guitar, kind of coming up under the beat in the very last part of the remix, and when the beat faded out; it was just the guitar and her vocal. That’s how the remix ended and at the show that I saw, that’s what they did live and I thought that was cool. That’s the type of thing that would be great for them to release like they did with U2 on that iPod release, with their entire catalogue on it; including unreleased stuff.” [thebeatswithin: I couldn’t agree more Mac!]
Click here to visit the brilliant Madonna-TV.com and watch Madonna’s stunning live performance of Lo Que Siente La Mujer, taken from the original live HBO broadcast.

17 August 2011

Jellybean Wotupski!?! reissue update

Gold Legion have contacted me to update me on the mis-pressed re-issue of Jellybean’s Wotupski!?!, featuring Madonna’s Sidewalk Talk:

“We have corrected the pressing error of the bonus tracks on Jellybean Wotupski!?! We expect the new pressing to be in on 26 August. We will then go ahead and mail out a replacement CD to all orders that have been purchased and mailed out from our site. The replacement copy will be the disc alone in a paper sleeve, as the artwork is correct. If anyone purchased multiple copies, they will get replacements for each copy purchased. Any new orders will be shipped once the new pressing is in stock. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please contact Gold Legion at orders@goldlegion.com. We apologize for the inconvenience and will take care of this as quickly as possible.”

If you haven’t yet ordered your copy of Wotupski!?! you can still do so at http://www.goldlegion.com/ 

6 August 2011

the sidewalk talk on Jellybean's Wotuspki!?! reissue

*** UPDATE 8 Aug ***

Thanks to those who have left feedback about the Wotupski!?! reissue CD, I have listened to the CD and can confirm that all versions of Sidewalk Talk on on the CD are actually same Dance Mix and not the different mixes as listed on the CD's track listing. I've contacted Gold Legion to point out this error and will post an update.

I guess this mis-pressing is a bit of a collector's item now.


“If you’ve listened to Madonna sing Holiday, Borderline or Lucky Star, then you already know what “wotupski” sounds like. It’s a time and place; a cityscape. “Wotupski” is New York City in the 1980s. Disco nights and neon lights. “Wotupski” is the thumping vibration of boombox beats and makeshift dance floors in playgrounds and parking lots. Made of cardboard and clouds, it personifies desire and ambition in songs, in sweat, in sweet dreams and in street cred. “Wotupski” is a firecracker and a shooting star. Never meant to be a memory, it was meant to be a moment lived forever in music.”
– David Nick Ybarra, 2011.
Last month Gold Legion reissued a limited edition CD of Jellybean’s debut album Wotupski!?! featuring Sidewalk Talk, written by Madonna. Mastered from the original master tapes, the limited edition CD contains the original five track album, plus four bonus tracks – including the Funhouse Mix and the Dance Mix of Sidewalk Talk. The CD’s 16-page booklet features a 5082 word essay written by David Nick Ybarra. The following extracts from Ybarra’s comprehensive essay on Wotupski!?! focus on Sidewalk Talk:

“Whether Sidewalk Talk was planned for Wotupski!?! or added at the 11th hour is debatable. The press kit notes for Wotupski!?! make no mention of Sidewalk Talk nor any of the other four cuts from the album except for The Mexican. In fact, when the album was pressed, the customary advertising sticker adhered to the cellophane wrap stated “Features the single The Mexican” conspiciously excluding Sidewalk Talk which would have been an obvious selling point. Nevertheless, its inclusion on Wotupski!?! remains the most critical aspect of public interest in the album’s longevity more than The Mexican or any of the other cuts on the album, regardless of their qualities.

The remix 7” and 12” single releases of Sidewalk Talk came about upon the unofficial buzz that Madonna had not only penned the song but also sang lead on it. The first part of the rumour was entirely true, but the second half continues to be a matter of debate amongst diehard fans. While Madonna’s vocals on Sidewalk Talk are prominent, the secondary lead vocal heard is the verse rap “sung” by Catherine “Catt” Buchanan. A mysterious figure in the Jellybean legacy, her lone credit as lead on so important a recording for Benitez is mildly baffling. Audrey Wheeler, who with Cindy Mizelle and Madonna were the only vocalists on the track, has no memory of her presence in the studio but offered the possibility that Buchanan’s vocals were recorded separately or added later. This poses the possibility that Sidewalk Talk was intended for Madonna’s debut solo album in 1983 but scrapped instead, making it available for Benitez to utilize for his own debut a year later. If so, Benitez may have recycled the rejected cut and replaced Madonna’s vocals on the “rap” verses with a suitable unknown singer who wouldn’t overshadow his own solo debut album lest Wotupski!?! be mistaken as a vehicle for another artist other than Jellybean. No singer was afforded more than one lead on Wotupski!?!
In fact, though Madonna is credited as the songwriter and vocal arranger for the cut, she is credited only as a “backing vocalist” in the credit details while “Catherine Buchanan” is listed as the song’s lead singer. As mysteriously as she disappeared, “Catt” Buchanan would re-emerge a final time some four years later with the self-produced European-released 12” single, Love Is, in 1988 for Arista/BMG Records. The spelling of her first name would be changed (or corrected) to “Catharine”, however a clue to her former ties to Jellybean would be revealed by her choice of co-producer, Michael Hutchinson. Hutchinson had been Benitez’s associate producer on Wotupski!?! Not only is the vocal on Love Is recognizable as the voice on Sidewalk Talk, but the former song is performed in a verse/rap style nearly identical to the latter Madonna-penned track. Even the melody of Love Is sounds like a slower-paced take on the melody for Sidewalk Talk. Craftily cropped images for the cover art of Buchanan’s single, Love Is, depict an attractive blonde woman’s face, hair and makeup styled in a studio look that is also Madonna-esque. It didn’t help. Copy “Catt” Buchanan faded further into obscurity while Sidewalk Talk made music history for Madonna and Jellybean.

(thebeatswithin: Click here to listen to the Club Mix of Love Is)

Label stickers for Sidewalk Talk finally included the selling-point “Written by Madonna” prominently in their advertisement but avoided any mention of her vocals on the remixes. It didn’t matter. Sidewalk Talk went running to the top of the charts anyway. The single would impact the Billboard charts four times in three years as a number one Dance hit in December 1984 and in February 1985, as well as a Hot 100 chart hitter in ’85 and best selling Maxi-single release in 1986.”


15 July 2011

jitterbug – Tony Shimkin speaks about unreleased demo

Madonna goes “all the way” as Mae Mordabito, jittering her bug with co-star Eddie Mekka – A League of Their Own director, Penny Marshall’s co-star in Laverne and Shirley

Exactly five years ago, this very week, I visited the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to listen to a number of Madonna’s rare unreleased demo tapes.

One or rather, two of the most interesting tapes on file at the LOC are what has become known in Madonna myth as “The Rain Tapes”. If you haven’t heard of them before, “The Rain Tapes” are two cassette tapes containing a number of demos from the Erotica album that were filed at the LOC by Madonna’s Erotica co-producer, Shep Pettibone – the existence of the tapes were first brought to light by my old friend, Bruce Baron in his 1999 article “Madonna – From Genesis to Revelations” in US magazine, Goldmine.

On one of the two Maxwell UD II 90 minute audio cassette tapes on which the Erotica demos are recorded (LOC reference: Pau.1.605.641/643), in between two demos of Thief of Hearts is a clip of a song called Jitterbug. The song is listed as “Jitterbug” Rough 1/17/92 on the handwritten cassette cover, spelt incorrectly with a “G” and corrected with a bold “J”. All songs on the tape are credited to S.Pettibone/M.Ciccone/T.Shimkin (Shep Pettibone, Madonna and Tony Shimkin).

When Bruce Baron visited the LOC, he was given a number of hours to listen to and review the demos. I was given permission to review the demos over a four day period, so my notes about the song differ slightly from Bruce’s original online report:

Madonna sings in a cartoonish/I’m Breathless style, “Jitter, b-b-b-b-b-bug, Get up, u-u-u-u-u-up”. The music is like a modern take on the swing music of the 1940s, but incorporates some house style piano and synth horns. The music continues and Madonna mock scolds in her best Cry Baby “Nu Yoik” voice, “That’s not how you do it!” (Do what – the jitterbug?) The music continues and Madonna says, “Is this gonna go on forever?” no less than twice and then says, “Somebody end this damn thing,” continuing, “There were some cute ideas in there”.

A few days after my trip to the LOC, I interviewed Madonna’s Erotica co-producer/songwriter, Tony Shimkin, at his office/studio in New York:

thebeatswithin: I heard a snippet of a song called Jitterbug when I visited the Library of Congress, which was on the same tape as the other Erotica demos, but sounds nothing like any of those songs.

“It was an attempt to do something for the A League of Their Own soundtrack where there was a jitterbug dance scene in the film and it was an attempt to try to do a jitterbug in somewhat of a modern way. So, it was a real, rough demo idea of how it would be and envisioning it.

Actually, if it had have been carried out, it probably would played out like the actual piece of music that was used in the movie. It was very Big Band oriented and, if it were to have been produced, I think it would have been produced with a full Big Band and a full horn section and all that.

We were trying to think conceptually was there a way to do a jitterbug in a cool kind of contemporary way and give it to her and see what kind of lyrics and melody she would come up with and it was never really explored beyond the initial demo music.
thebeatswithin: I only heard about 30 seconds of music. Was that as far as the idea went?
“Pretty much. There was just a really rough sketch – “How about something like this? Is this what you’re trying to do?” I think we were in the middle of so many other things at the time and maybe there wasn’t a necessity for it in the movie.

It was around the time we were doing This Used to Be My Playground and the Jitterbug thing was an idea then. We went to meet with her in Chicago when she was doing the movie, so that’s when that was done.”

thebeatswithin: Did you record that demo with Madonna in Chicago?

“No, we recorded This Used to Be My Playground in Los Angeles and Jitterbug, we did in New York at Shep’s house.”

Click here to watch the scene from A League of Their Own, that inspired Jitterbug. Incidentally, the scene uses the song
Flying Home, written by “The King of Swing” Benny Goodman, with Lionel Hampton, Sid Robin and Sydney Robin, and is performed by Doc’s Rhythm Cats.

4 July 2011

maybe you’re the next best thing – Rupert Everett unreleased duet

Happy Independence Day to all my readers in the USA!!!

When I interviewed producer Mark Endert in 2007 about recording with Madonna and William Orbit, he told me about an alternative version of the song Time Stood Still, from The Next Best Thing soundtrack, that remains unreleased:  

“We were set out to record Music at The Hit Factory, New York. William was there and we were all set up and already working on tracks for Music. She was in the middle of making the film and she said, “I have to do these other two songs”. I remember Time Stood Still because it was a duet with Rupert Everett. I think that was that song is that right?”

thebeatswithin: Didn’t he sing backing vocals on American Pie?

“That's funny! I never really followed that up, but were his background vocals used on American Pie?”

thebeatswithin: Yeah, he’s on that song and he even appears in the video with Madonna. In fact, I’m not sure if you know this, but Rupert released a pop album back in the 1980s (Generation of Loneliness).

“Wow! I didn't know that, but he could really sing actually. We did a song called The Next Best Thing. Did that get used?”

thebeatswithin: Yes, albeit that is the chorus lyric – the song was actually titles Time Stood Still.

“That's funny, because, as I recall Rupert also sang on that song. But there’s a lot of recording that doesn't get used.”

Click here to listen to the Rupert-less version of Time Stood Still, taken from The Next Best Thing soundtrack.  

2 July 2011

i’ll take my chance on a beautiful stranger – Mark Endert speaks

Mark Endert - to know him is to love him

This week, 12 years ago, Beautiful Stranger was at #8 on the UK Singles Chart – spending its third week inside the Top 10. The song entered the chart at #2; behind children’s TV sensation S Club 7’s debut single, Bring It All Back – not the first “novelty” single to keep Madonna from pole position.

More than a year after its release, the Grammy-grabbing Ray of Light was still hovering in and out of the Top 20 UK Album Chart. Tentative plans to extend the album campaign even further (with the single release of Skin and a remix album, Veronica Electronica) were shelved when Madonna recorded Beautiful Stranger for the soundtrack of Mike Meyers’ Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, with her Ray of Light co-producer, William Orbit.

On Beautiful Stranger, Madonna and Orbit take Ray of Light’s 1960s pop psychedelia flirtations to the next level with a “love-in” of Lennon/Ono proportions – much inspired by William’s Liquid Mix of Ray of Light, not to mention the 1967 single, She Comes In Colors, by US psychedelic rock band, Love. The song also features Madonna’s most unapologetic, outright pop hook since Vogue, sung in a voice that harks back to the one-woman girl group days of True Blue and Cherish, but with her Evita-trained chops ensuring effortless perfection.  

Such pop perfection resulted in an immediate UK radio smash and Beautiful Stranger quickly became one of the most played songs on UK radio ever – at one point receiving 2,462 broadcasts in a single week! A total of 16 weeks on the UK singles chart (seven of which within the Top 20) helped rack up sales of 520,000, making Beautiful Stranger Madonna’s tenth best selling single in the UK.

In 2007 I spoke to producer Mark Endert (Maroon 5, Rhianna, Savage Garden) who worked extensively with Madonna and William Orbit on recording Ray of Light, Music, The Next Best Thing soundtrack and Beautiful Stranger:

In between those two albums (Ray of Light and Music), I recorded Beautiful Stranger with her (Madonna) and William. William had decided to record Beautiful Stranger using a Pro Tools system, which he brought in to Encore Recording Studios (in Burbank, California). Before Madonna turned up, he said to me, “Mark, she’s just had nothing but problems with Pro Tools and we can’t let her know that we’re using it.” So, I was like, “What do you want me to do?” And he was like, “Mark, if you would be so kind to put the keyboard on top of the analogue remote, so it looks like you’re using the tape machine, but you’re pressing the actual computer keyboard. She’ll never know, but we’ll tell her afterwards.” Apparently her experience with Pro Tools had been so bad that she would’ve been pissed off if she knew that we were actually using it.
She thought it was too cumbersome and I think she lost some vocals or something got screwed up and she lost information – either part of a song, or part of one of her tracks. What we call “data loss” obviously isn’t good when you’re trying to be creative and make a record.
So, we recorded all of her lead vocals for Beautiful Stranger and everyone was happy. She was in a great mood, she was singing great and the track sounded really great. We’d all been there since early in the morning and we were all going to break for lunch. She comes into the room and she was like, “William this track’s really coming along,” and she said, “What’s this screen?” William was like, “Madonna, I wasn’t going to say anything until we were finished, but we’ve been recording to Pro Tools this whole time.” She was like, “William, you know I don’t like that thing” and she walked out of the room.
While everyone had gone to lunch, I hit play on the tape machine and we couldn’t get the session to play – at all. All of her vocals that she had just cut were locked in the machine. The session crashed, the file got corrupted and I had to spend two hours transferring the files onto an analogue tape machine. I got no lunch and it delayed the session by three hours. Also, Madonna came into the room every 20 minutes saying, “How long do we need Mark?”
So, she was understandably pissed because we’d used Pro Tools without telling her. I was scrambling to salvage her vocals, which thankfully I happened to do. We did rest of the session on analogue tape because the entire system crashed and I ended up working a 14-hour day with no lunch. Had we lost everything, I’m sure someone would’ve been fired. Her background vocals and everything were on the tape machine. So, she had her reasons why she didn’t like Pro Tools.”
thebeatswithin: Beautiful Stranger definitely seems to have been inspired by William’s remix of Ray of Light.
“It had such an awesome production and a lot of it is just William Orbit to a T. I remember that it was the first recording that he had done pretty much entirely in Pro Tools. He was living in Malibu then and he had a little studio at his house there. Of course, this was totally different than the Trident Recording Console and everything else that he had in London. I believe he put most of that track together in Malibu, unless I’m incorrect. But he had done all of it in Pro Tools, and he was very concerned with the sound.
William had always been able to get such great sounds out of his old outdated equipment and here he was on the latest equipment and I remember he said, “Do you like the snare? Do you like the backbeat? Is it okay? Does it sound right?” I said, “William, the backbeat on this is charming. It sounds like the 1960s!” And he said, “It’s amazing you used that word. I like that word – charming! It is a charming backbeat isn’t it?”

He was really concerned with the sound of Beautiful Stranger because it was the first one that he had done kind of on a completely new system.  The funny thing is that it sounded even more retro and even more organic than a lot of the electronic stuff done with the old equipment. He did the song on the latest gear that you could buy and it sounded like one of the older more vintage-style recordings.”

Click here to watch the Brett Ratner-directed video for Beautiful Stranger