3 September 2011

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).

No comments: