In June this year, The Who celebrated their 50th anniversary with a concert performed before a crowd of around 65,000 people in London’s Hyde Park as part of The Who hits 50 Tour! And director Chris Rule was there to capture all the energy and excitement on film. Now, that footage is being shared with audiences around the world with the cinema release of The Who Live in Hyde Park.
In addition to featuring the entire performance of that special show, the film also includes interviews with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as well as Iggy Pop, Robert Plant, Peter Weller and more.
As the director pointed out to me in our recent interview, this is not the first time he has worked with the iconic British band. Chris has had an ongoing collaboration with the The Who since he was brought in to help out with the visual aspects of their Quadrophenia tour in 2013. “It was a very theatrical reimagining of Quadrophenia. I came in and just basically consulted on that and helped produce the screens with some of the other guys that had been commissioned to do it.” They must have been impressed with his work as Chris was then asked to do a filming of the event at Wembley in 2013. It was his first time filming a live event, his main focus being commercial projects, music videos and short films.
“It was my first live event and stepping in right in the deep end, I’d say. It was hugely exciting and hugely intimidating,” admits Chris. “I’m used to directing one camera at a time, not sixteen but the benefit of the Quadrophenia show was that it’s a concept album that flows in one particular order without any variations so I could actually view the show a number of times. I knew it very well anyway and I could construct my camera work and almost choreograph the cameras beforehand and then just execute that on the day so that was a little bit more in my comfort zone whereas the ‘Live in Hyde Park’ one was very much more a traditional live shoot. The crowd, the atmosphere… everything was a big part of the show and so that was shooting from the hip. That was very exciting.”
Of course, there were a number of challenges with the project, not least of which was the venue itself. “Hyde Park is a huge location,” he tells me. “We’re talking about 80,000 people and, with that, come its natural complications of where you can put cameras. Naturally, where you want to put a camera is where the expensive seats are and they don’t want their view blocked in any way. So you’re constantly rearranging your camera plot to suit the organisers whereas I don’t come from a ‘live’ perspective. I want to create a more cinematic, photographic end result. I naturally wanted to have my cameras in the places they didn’t want me to have them in so there was an ongoing discussion about which cameras where and how many? Plus there were Health and Safety issues. It goes on. The benefit I had was that I have an ongoing close relationship with the band and the tour. They were very willing to let me put cameras on stage in places that you wouldn’t normally get. So they were very accommodating of my needs. The other real challenge was that most of these shows are shot on multiple dates so that you can shoot from the stage on one and shoot towards the stage on another and not have too many cameras about at any one time. If anything goes wrong, you have the edit possibilities but this is a one day event. This is it so, as it happened, I knew at any moment I was going to have to cut to something. So that was a big challenge. There was no area for mistakes.”
The weather could have also been a challenge. Luckily, conditions were kind on the night, although it seems that it might not have been such a bad thing if the heavens had opened up. “Indeed,” Chris confirms. “In fact, I’d spoken to Roger Daltrey before the show and he actually expressed a hope that it would rain and not, in any way, because he wanted the crowd to have a bad time. It was purely because of the atmosphere it creates. On such huge stages and such huge venues, you don’t really get the level of atmosphere that you get on smaller ones and that creates a real visual impact and obviously we didn’t get that but we got it in other ways. We got a fabulous red sky as the sun was setting. We got some really great moods from it all but I think that’s something about Roger that I was struck by was his visual understanding of film making and the atmospheres and all of that which he’d like to present in the film which is quite interesting.”
Chris says that he had a very positive working relationship with the band and crew. “The tour manager has always been very helpful,” he says. “Tom Kenny the lighting designer is very involved, very welcoming . He’s very helpful to us whenever we’ve worked together. He brings everyone together which is great.”
And Roger and Pete? “I worked very closely with Roger on Quadrophenia,” he explains. “Then with this one, he allowed me to go off and do it in the way that I wanted. He had a few particular things. Both of them are not very keen on having their eye line into the crowd interrupted which you can understand because, as a live band and live performers, they love to perform and they like to have a connection with the front row and the other rows and the back. They want to see their crowd so they don’t want to have cameras in their faces. Those are pretty much the only kind of restrictions they put on me. I think basically they’re a lot nicer and a lot easier to work with than perhaps their reputation suggests.”
It’s been reported that this will be The Who’s last tour. “At the moment, they’re still talking about it as being their last tour on this scale,” he reveals. “I can’t pretend to know what’s going on in their heads so I wouldn’t know. All I know is that Roger’s not been well and he’s on the road to recovery so they’re planning on starting the tour again in spring in North America and as soon as this tour gets rolling again, who knows when it will end?”
It was a personal connection that allowed Chris the opportunity to work with The Who in the first place. “Basically, Roger’s charity is the Teenage Cancer Trust and my brother-in-law organises a run of shows for him every year. I have done some screen visuals in the past for that and so the collaboration has started from some time back and so that’s basically where the understanding of the visual aspect came together and that’s how I was invited to work on Quadrophenia.”
So would he undertake a project like this again? Chris is certainly keen to do it again but he admits to having some reservations specifically because, as he says, “It’s a very difficult position to find yourself in because when you’ve started at the very top, where do you go from here?” He laughs at the thought of having such a dilemma. “I think the point is that there’s a love now of shooting the energy and being involved in that real live moment and I suppose the size of the act isn’t the important thing; it’s the opportunity to capture an important moment on stage so yes, absolutely, I’d love to do another.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2015. All rights reserved
The Who Live in Hyde Park screens in selected cinemas for a strictly limited season on
Wednesday 21st October 2015 and Sunday 25th October 2015.