Live TV Report: Inside Look at HBO’s Production of U2’s Paris Concert

On the weekend of November 13, about 70 production professionals and OB facilities from United in the Netherlands were in Paris to create a live TV production of a U2 concert at the Accor Hotels Arena that would be broadcast live in the United States. But the day before the show, a series of terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people and, in the weeks that followed, created a scenario that not only showed the resiliency of the people of Paris but also the ability for the production team to shift plans. On the weekend prior to December 7, the team once again came together at the arena to complete the original mission. 

Bolke Burnaby Lautier, operations manager for United shared his thoughts on the experience with Ken Kerschbaumer, SVG co-executive director, editorial services; everything from rescheduling the production and the challenge of getting all of the pieces back into place to the emotions involved with a concert that not only brought U2 back to Paris but also the Eagles of Death Metal, the band that was on stage when the horrific attacks at the Bataclan theater took place.

U2 and The Eagles of Death Metal shared the stage at the close of U2's HBO concert special, recorded live in Paris on 7 December.

U2 and The Eagles of Death Metal shared the stage at the close of U2’s HBO concert special, recorded live in Paris on December 7.

A crew of 70 people, United’s OB14 production unit, Broadcast Rental (provider of Cobham Solo h.264 transmitters RF links for Sony F55 cameras and Cobham transmitter on a drum kit), VER (provider of the main live cameras and lenses), Photo Cinerent (based in Paris), EuroGrip, and Dutch Television Services) all played an important part in the efforts.

Kerschbaumer: Obviously it must have been emotional simply knowing that everyone was going to get a chance to complete the original broadcast. What was it like during the past two weeks, in terms of getting to reset and focus on making the show happen?

Lautier: It was different for everybody as people reacted all in their own way. For some, it was just work, and for others, weird and scary to go back. One thing they all had in common? They wanted to finish the job.

A big job like this always has a special vibe, and you need that to get the max result for the client and satisfaction for the team. So when a show like this runs in the ground, the hangover is massive in every way and getting the derailed beast back on track again is difficult and takes a lot for every body. Personally, I was afraid that it was close to impossible, given the circumstances, to get the team to point high point where they left it.

Kerschbaumer: So how did it go?

Lautier: They all proved me wrong. The team turned out to be technically the best and it was the fastest in-and-out show that also ended on a high spirit. I have been doing this for 20 years and have never seen a team of 70 work together as one like they did on this show. For example, they managed to rig 21 4K film cameras, scaffolding, intercom, monitors, and everything that is involved in five hours. And the move out the next day was even more impressive.

Kerschbaumer: When the original show was cancelled, what was the challenge in making sure all of the same personnel and equipment could be back at the venue only a couple of weeks later? Were there any changes in terms of staffing and/or equipment because it was not available?

Lautier: The truck was booked for other events like Champions League football, so we had to go to other trucks. There was a chain reaction that affected about five other jobs in order to make OB14 available again.

Some of the equipment is quite standard but the specialty equipment was a challenge. Sony HDC-4300 cameras had to come from all over Europe and also all of them had to be updated to the same 4K license and software level.

The biggest nightmare was the set of 15 Sony F55 cameras, lenses, and controls. We hired most of that package from VER (we work with them on all of our shows like this) and thanks to them we could park the complete camera, lens, and control package for three weeks. I don’t want to know what kind of a logistical nightmare that created for them.

Kerschbaumer: The U2 touring show itself has a very large video production itself in terms of cameras, etc. Where were the additional cameras for the broadcast show placed? Did you have access to the same camera feeds used for the in-house production?

Lautier: We had full coverage with our own cameras and we were shooting 35mm, recording at 4K, and did a live HD broadcast. So all of that did not match the tour cameras. We also wanted to shoot at 59.94 frames per second for the U.S. territory while the tour production was shown at 50 frames per second.

The only camera we used from the tour were in the places where we could not get to, like between the screens. The tour crew was kind enough to reset those cameras to 59.94 for us, and we converted back for them to 720/50 as that is an easier conversion.