The concert film has come a long way since the exciting days of Monterey Pop and Woodstock. Occasionally new ground is broken with the likes of the Sigur Ros film Heima, but the quality of the editing, effects and sound quality has, to the regular viewer, made little progress in recent years.
But U2 3D is a landmark in the documentation of live performances. As the first ever live action digital 3D film, it allows the viewer to see the band intimately, but with all the effects of a stadium gig and much of the same atmosphere. On paper it sounds like just another gig captured on camera, but the reality is something almost indescribable. Suffice to say, as a music fan – regardless of your opinion of U2 themselves – this is an experience that offers an exciting insight into what the future can become.
“Maybe a band doesn’t need to do a global tour of sixty-five, seventy-five or more dates.”
Producer Peter Shapiro’s background is in a variety of music-based film, ranging from the Grateful Dead documentary Tie-Died to hip-hop study And You Don’t Stop and early IMAX concert film All Access. He’s also the founding partner is 3ality Digital, the groundbreaking digital 3D production and post-production company behind U2 3D.
“So many people have seen rock ‘n’ roll shows, concert films and music on television the same way for a long time now,” he agrees. “You don’t see much live music on television anymore, there’s none on the music channels because it doesn’t get the ratings. My background is in filming concerts and we saw that they fall flat on television in 2D. It was clearly time for a new way to experience music.”
As a huge fan of U2, Shapiro pitched the idea to director and visual artist Catherine Owens who has enjoyed a long-standing working relationship with the band.
“We showed them tests, but we couldn’t show them a movie, so it was a bit of a leap of faith,” explains Shapiro, citing the then nascent technology as the obvious reason. He praises the band’s history of being willing to embrace emerging technology; “the next band that does a 3D film can watch U2 3D, but U2 couldn’t do that. Their willingness to experiment makes them who they were.”
Ideally, the emerging technology would’ve been used in a controlled environment. Although that would never be entirely possible when employed in a concert scenario, Shapiro gulped when he heard the band’s plan to shoot it in South America.
“They hadn’t been there in eight years and the band knew that the audience in South America is a different audience to that in America, Europe, Asia or anywhere else and you know that once you seen the movie. These people are just full-on – they’re almost tearing their clothes off,” Shapiro enthuses with seemingly the same excitement that he had when the project commenced. Instead of a controlled environment, the team found themselves using brand new equipment in a foreign land, surrounded by the added complication of 100,000 psyched fans.
The choice of location meant that logistically the film would be a huge undertaking. With the assistance of the band’s crew, the advanced equipment (“I’ve been told that we used more technology on this than on any other film set before,” he adds incredulously) and over a hundred people headed from California to South America for filming.
“We had eight of these 3D rigs that are extremely sophisticated,” he says as he begins to offer a sense of how radical the project was. “No-one had ever done a 3D concert film, and, to our knowledge, no-one had even done a 3D multi-camera ever before. This is the first digital 3D film in live action. We were on the edge and figuring out as we went along, pretty much, with very little room to make any mistakes. It added pressure.”
"Their willingness to experiment makes them who they were.”
Shapiro admits that the technology is close to impossible to comprehend in layman’s terms. Essentially, the footage is captured by camera technology with a left and a right eye synchronised with digital precision. “It’s complex stuff, because it’s replicating how you see,” he states with considerable understatement.
Finalised at a cost of approximately $15 million, the film’s appeal is twofold; U2 fans and the wider audience of musical obsessives excited by a bold leap forwards. “It might be that you don’t like the band or the music,” he says, with a slight sense that even that seems unlikely. “But you can’t see this incredible experience and say, ‘Well, I prefer the old way.’ That would be like saying you prefer silence over sound.”
It sounds like hyperbole, but equally, it’s very hard to deny. It’s not that it makes previous films redundant – there will always be a place for classic recordings – but once you’ve seen U2 3D, you’ll wish those recordings had an additional dimension.
The future of the technology is seemingly endless. Shapiro predicts that this approach can be applied to live events and even home entertainment well within a decade. He says that concert promoters have seen the film and expressed fear for their very industry.
“Maybe a band doesn’t need to do a global tour of sixty-five, seventy-five or more dates,” he prophecies. With the live industry in an expanding state of good health, it seems unlikely, especially as the digital 3D film, for all its brilliance, remains a far different prospect from seeing your favourite band in person. But as we’ve seen in recent years with regular concert films broadcast live to cinemas, there’s a market for it. And that can only expand when people see how much of a progression from the norm that the live action digital 3D film represents.
U2 3D is showing at IMAX 3D and Digital 3D cinemas now, released by Revolver.