Tom Krueger has been a fan of U2 since The Unforgettable Fire back in 1984 - and now he’s directed ’U2 360° Live at the Rose Bowl’. In Part 1 of a two-part interview for U2.com, we spoke to Tom about he got first came to work with the band, his role during the live show and how he ended up shooting the Rose Bowl show for the DVD/Blu-ray.
How did you get involved with U2?
I shot some very intimate portraits for the band for the video of Original of the Species, and they liked the way those looked. It was a leap of faith on their part then to make me director of photography on the 3D movie. But I think they felt they had found someone who understood their aesthetic. So, we did U2:3D, which was a very intense and intensive process, and as that went so well Willie Williams, the band’s Show Director, asked me to design the photography and video coverage for the 360 tour. That was an incredible challenge: to figure out how to cover the four band members at all times, through 360 degrees, in a dynamic way - not just in the usual way that most bands have employed, until now, with a lock-off, long-lens camera on each member of the band. Willie has since told me that it was my lack of experience on a rock-and-roll tour that persuaded him I’d be the right person for the job, because I’d approach it in a different way. And I’d ask for things that no one with experience would ask for, believing I’d get them.
How did you know where do you start?
I worked closely with the band to design the way it works. We built cameras into the stage – rail cameras that elevate, called ‘televators’. They can go almost entirely around the stage. I have 13 cameras altogether, just for the show. It was as important to put on a great show for the people at the back, as the people down the front. It’s a different show at the back, but great nonetheless.
Are you hands-on, during a show?
Stefaan Desmedt – aka ’Smasher’ – makes sure all the cameras are working by day, and is the vision mixer by night. I provide a connection to the band. So I watch, take notes, talk to the band after, discuss how they can change the choreography - and then I work with Smasher to make it happen next time.
There must be pressure, to get it right on the night…
There is high expectation from the band that we do great work. At the end of the night, they watch the shows back - especially Bono and the Edge. Bono is all over it, always wanting to better it, to capture every important moment. He remembers them. I’m shocked at the details of the choreography he’ll discuss, and then nail next time.
Was directing the DVD a natural step for you, then?
Absolutely. Our in-depth and thorough experience with the live show and its design was indispensable as we set about designing the DVD. If you tried to bring someone else in and install a second shoot on top of the existing one, it would have been a mess. And we would have missed out on some of the things we’d worked very hard to establish and achieve: which was this incredible intimacy, on a grand scale.
It must be a challenge, logistically and artistically, to capture ‘intimacy on a grand scale’.
t’s what the band and Willie have always wanted – and it was our role to capture that. That was the base from which we built the DVD shoot. The cameras round the edge of the stage are the most intimate. In most DVDs and shows, cameras are further away, with a much longer lens. You get a separation. With ours, you feel like you’re standing feet away from the band, because you are. You hardly see these cameras, yet they’re right there in U2’s faces, and they perform to them. A huge difference between this DVD and most others is that the band is performing for the viewers. That was the approach of the entire film.
It doesn’t feel as if it has been chopped about too much – it feels like a film, not a music video.
The intention was to capture the band members interacting with one another. And this is another benefit of the way the cameras are situated. We’d begin an edit by observing closely what was happening between the band – their looks, their gestures - and between the band and the audience. We’d then build our edits around that. So you feel not only the performance they’re giving to their audience, but to each other. It’s palpable. That was a mandate laid down by the band.
So that’s the intimacy. What about the ‘grand scale’?
Thirteen cameras capture the close-up aspects of the show. But you’re not seeing ‘the show’ itself through them - you never see the claw in any one of those cameras. For the DVD, we needed to sweep with cranes up and above the audience, capture the crowd, the claw, the screen… So I added more cameras; I had 27 in the end. Primarily, the others were there to capture the audience perspective. But then, all that technology had to ‘interface’. Some of those cameras were being used both for the DVD and the show; that’s an incredibly complex feat, to have two switchers going at once. I had a vision mixer working in the truck with me, and we were getting all 27 cameras. Meanwhile, Smasher was still doing his show in the stadium. On top of that, I was filming the show live for Youtube...