Shine A Light


Once again the Rolling Stones rock the house. First in Berlin to open the 58th Berlin International Film Festival and now around the country. I’m not talking about stadiums, but rather Martin Scorsese’s new concert film Shine A Light. Scorsese was instrumental in inventing the rock ‘n roll concert film genre as an editor on Woodstock and the director of The Last Waltz. Now he continues his passion for the art form by teaming up with none other than Mick and Keith to bring you up close and personal with the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band.


This isn’t your average production. Scorsese pulled together an Oscar-winning crew, headed up by cinematographer Robert Richardson (The Aviator, JFK). Cameras were manned by a crew that included John Toll (The Last Samurai, Braveheart), Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong), Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano, The Painted Veil), Robert Elswit (Magnolia, Good Night and Good Luck), Emmanuel Lubezki (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sleepy Hollow) and Ellen Kuras (Summer of Sam, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Live recording was handled by Grammy-nominated recording engineer Bob Clearmountain. Rounding out this ensemble was editor David Tedeschi, who most recently had worked with Scorsese on the acclaimed Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.


I caught up with David Tedeschi as he was wrapping up the bonus features for the Shine A Light DVD. Tedeschi is a New York-based editor who mainly works on feature films, documentaries and music projects. He first hooked up with Scorsese on The Blues, which was being posted at the same time as Scorsese was working on The Aviator. Something must have worked, because Tedeschi was tapped to cut No Direction Home: Bob Dylan and now Shine A Light. David filled me in on Scorsese’s approach to this production. “Marty didn’t want to film a Rolling Stones concert in a huge arena. There have been many Rolling Stones concert films – mostly in stadiums and large venues. He wanted a smaller, more intimate stage and that’s where the idea to film in the Beacon Theater in New York was conceived. This gave Marty a chance to show these guys for who they are – and lend an immediacy to the performances. It’s really a very positive and exciting film about how these four guys go out and make music. They are the real deal, with Mick singing and moving around on the stage like a 20-year-old – and Keith, Ronnie and Charlie going out there every night with great passion. That really comes across in Shine A Light.”


“Marty has a very clear vision of what he wants as a director. He’s a great film historian and is inspired by a lot of films, but at the same time he always wants to do something fresh. Marty decided that adding the element of comedy would give a concert film something different – another way to see rock ‘n roll. The behind-the-scenes footage and the archival clips are often funny.” Some of that can be seen in the Shine A Light trailer, as Scorsese’s reactions are juxtaposed with comments from Jagger and others for a very humorous result.


18 Cameras – No Waiting


Shine A Light was filmed in a smaller theater over two performance nights. Given the resolution of modern HD cameras, you would think this would have been a natural application for the Sony CineAlta models, as Robert Altman had done on A Prairie Home Companion. Instead, Scorsese and Richardson opted to stick with film. In fact, seventeen 35mm cameras rolled along with one Panavision Genesis during both nights. More than 100,000 feet of film ran through the gates – as much as a typical dramatic production, shot over several weeks and months.


The edited film is about two hours long, based largely on the running length of the songs in the concert. Tedeschi explained, “Getting to the two hour length was an intuitive process. We had planned to lose one song, since the entire performance would otherwise be too long. That was easy, but then it turned out that we actually had to lose two songs, which was a tough decision. At least people will get to see them in the DVD extras.”


David continued, “They had actually scheduled four days of rehearsals for the cameras, but in the end, the first night really ended up being like a dress rehearsal. The second night was a much better performance, so 98% of the cut comes from that second night.” I know from experience that no matter how many cameras you have, you still run into situations where you want another angle. David laughed, “Yes, I ran into that, too, but the truth is that Bob Richardson is a bold, dynamic cinematographer. The footage was beautifully lit and working with this team of such great talent was a pleasure, because they delivered superb footage. They did have a modified zone coverage plan for the cameras and Marty was in radio contact with them, of course. But he had such faith in them that he was able to trust their instincts and let them explore, as well. As a result, the performances and the shots they were able to get were more spontaneous than just a series of planned camera moves. In fact, there was a Plan B involving a back-up shoot. The concern was that we might need to shoot some extra angles, such as really tight shots of the Stones, because there weren’t any ‘in your face’ handheld cameras on the stage during the actual performances. In the end, everyone was happy with the material we were able to capture and there was no need to use Plan B.”


The Basement


Post production followed a rather unique path thanks to Scorsese’s frequent visual effects collaborator, Rob Legato (The Aviator, The Departed). Together with producer Ron Ames, Legato is a proponent of many desktop tools and operates a small visual effects facility out of his house, known as The Basement. Legato explained their approach, “Sparkle, Bob Richardson’s preferred colorist at Complete Post, transferred all the film dailies to HDCAM-SR tape in the 10-bit RGB 4:4:4 mode, which becomes the equivalent of a digital negative. He also provided SD dailies for David to capture into the Avid. During the course of the editing, we would take David’s Avid sequence and boil down the nearly 300 source tapes into only two main source tapes. These were basically clones of the originals, so there was no quality loss in this step.”


The Basement’s editor, Adam Gertel, used an Apple Final Cut Pro workstation and a Sony HDCAM-SR deck to do this. Their Mac is configured with a high-speed Ciprico MediaVault RAID and a Blackmagic Design Multibridge Extreme capture/output unit – ideal for handling the data throughput and preserve the color integrity of the 10-bit 4:4:4 media. The key to this method was to create new Avid-compatible logs so that it was easy to locate any shot on the new tapes, as well as find additional shots on the original transfer masters, if needed.


Legato continued, “Once the film was consolidated onto two tapes, it was easier to reconform the film in Final Cut as David and Marty made additional changes to the cut. Our final color correction was done on a daVinci. Since the source was tape and not media files on a hard drive, any last minute updates could be made in Final Cut, output to HDCAM-SR and then color-corrected on the daVinci in real-time. Although the HDCAM-SR format is only high definition (1920 x 1080) and not a true 2K film file, it’s still more than acceptable for a film-out. The format is still wider than the actual 1828 pixel width of a release print.” The Basement also handled about 80 shots that required some repair or treatment and called upon their Adobe toolkit (After Effects, Photoshop and Illustrator) to create effects and titles for the film.


Completing the Cut


Tedeschi did all his cutting on an Avid Media Composer Adrenaline HD system connected to Avid Lanshare shared storage. David explained the rationale to cut in standard definition, “I had to use the multicam feature all along the way and that simply works best on Adrenaline when you stay in standard definition. I needed the responsiveness for Marty and by staying in standard def we were able to see nine camera angles at any given time playing back in real-time. We did our screenings in high definition, though, using Avid’s DNxHD 175 resolution. We would do these screenings at least once a month – and sometimes once a week. The image looked wonderful.” The edit lasted ten to twelve months, but in spite of the time, David tells me there were no surprises. “Every decision was incremental. The band also believed in Marty’s vision, although they had their own insights into the material. We flew to Italy with Bob Clearmountain to screen it for the Stones while they were on tour. The screening was at Technicolor’s screening room in Rome and luckily it was a great sounding room!”


Music, of course, is the most important element to the film and this required plenty of interaction between the mix and the image. Tedeschi pointed out that, “As we made picture changes, it would impact the mix. Generally, Marty would try to accentuate an instrument in the mix if it was featured in a shot, so Bob Clearmountain ended up doing a number of remixes to adjust to our various versions. It’s a great track and all of the concert sound in the film comes from the live recording. In order to get the truest reaction during our screenings, we would present the film in 5.1 surround. I was lucky to have Nick Damiano as my first assistant. He used to work at Sony Studios in New York and knows the audio world extremely well, so he was able to help communicate with Clearmountain, as well as prepare the Avid timeline for our 5.1 screenings. Nick was especially helpful in the tricky sound transitions between the documentary sections and the concert.”


Shine A Light is being released by Paramount Classics as well as by Imax, however music films aren’t off the table for either David Tedeschi or Martin Scorsese. Even as the Rolling Stones echo in the background, both move on to their newest project together, a documentary about George Harrison.


Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)