At the 2020 Billboard Music Awards, Post Malone—the artist with the most nominations that evening—rocked a high-quality production of “Circles” and “Tommy Lee” featuring Tyla Yaweh, from atop an elaborate structure at an industrial wash plant near Los Angeles.
Creative directors and stage designers Travis Brothers and Lewis James wanted to explore a space that was beautifully unannounced. “We wanted to bring life and energy to something that is otherwise raw and rooted in industry,” James explains.
Designed in layers, the lighting accented the drama of the structure, both its shapes and its shadows. “We made use of external rear lighting to cast the entire structure into silhouette against the backdrop of the atmosphere we made, while at moments revealing the frame in a contrasting way,” describes James.
With Brothers and James in New York and London, respectively, the design needed some boots on the ground. The pair called on L.A. based lighting designer and director Dan Norman to step in. “The shadows were always an important part of the artistry, making sure we lit the talent enough, but also have negative space to create mystery,” notes Norman.
Using site visit photos and drone screenshots, Norman created 3D models of the structure in Maxon Cinema 4D and then exported them into Syncronorm Depence 2 to previsualize the lighting looks created in Vectorworks software. He programmed the timecoded lighting cues on an MA Lighting grandMA2 lighting console.
“A particular challenge of this performance is that unlike a traditional broadcast stage,” says James, “it has no set direction in terms of framing. Post and Tyla walk through and around the structure much like a maze led by the camera, so being able to previsualize helped a lot.”
Three pods of 48 GLP JDC1s suspended from 55' Telescoping Forklifts, supplemented by periodic drone lights, illuminated the general area and metal exterior of the structure. Strategically positioned inside the structure were 48 TMB Solaris Flares and some Astera Titan Tubes to emit variations of light from the center and above. PRG also provided four Ground Control Bad Boy HPs and eight Bad Boy HP Frame.
“Thankfully, the structure decking was all grating,” explains Norman, “so we could simply place the Flares on their face or angle them straight through the floor or on the ground, and they lit through several levels.”
Brothers and James provided feedback via FaceTime during rehearsal, and come showtime, Norman called the spots and adjusted lighting levels on the fly for the camera. Shades of cool blue and cyan coated the structure for the deep emotions of “Circles,” while amber and hits of white sold the high energy of “Tommy Lee.” High contrast, bold hits of lighting with strategic pockets of darkness allowed the pyrotechnics to shine.
“It was key for us to be playful with the atmospherics, allowing us to form an ever changing and evolving backdrop,” says James who worked with Brothers and Ron Bleggi of Pyrotecnico on the special effects, which included Airburst Fire Balls, White Mines, Red Lighting Mines, Red/Silver Comets, Red Tracers, Red Lightning, and Sparkle Cannons. “These were all delicately picked and considered together to create varying compositions in the frame.”
“Dramatic camera work and use of tons of fog definitely helped capture the light and shadows so it was not flat,” adds Norman. Fog machines were positioned on all levels of the structure to get fog in the corridors and out by the forklifts. PRG supplied 12 Martin Jem ZR45 fog machines and 12 Martin Jem-AF 2 DMX fans. Two grandMA2 full consoles and a grandMA2 lite were set up at FOH and the back side of the plant so Norman could program from either side.
The site itself was a challenge. “Most of the ground around the structure was wet sand, while some areas were deep pools of water and even quicksand,” recalls Norman. “This required more time to move cases and gear from A to B, either by hand or all terrain forklifts.” Additionally, the plant only shuts down on weekends, so the crew were up against the clock.
Despite the challenges, Post Malone’s performance was, nevertheless, an unforgettable display of creative vision and brilliant execution.
- Post Management - Dre London, Austin Rosen
- Post Road Manager - Jay Santiago
- Tyla Yaweh Management - Tes Siyoum, Bobby Greenleaf
- Creative Management - Bobby Greenleaf
- Creative Direction - Travis Brothers, Lewis James
- Tour Management - Angela Warner
- Production Management - Dennis Danneels
- Stage Design - Lewis James, Travis Brothers
- Assistant Stage Design - Dan Norman
- Lighting Design - Lewis James, Travis Brothers, Dan Norman
- Lighting Director / Programming - Dan Norman
- Musical Programming / Director - Wow Jones
- Mixing / Programming Engineer - Willie Linton
- Audio Supervisor - Joe Hellow
- Monitor Engineer - Travon Snipes
- Styling - Cathy Hahn
- Audio / Lighting - PRG, Burton Tenenbein
- Lighting Crew Chief - Ron Crume
- FX - Pyrotecnico
- Local labor - Big Finn Productions
- Directors - Lewis James and Travis Brothers
- Live Shoot Director - Christo Anesti
- Video Production - HPLA
- HPLA EP - Ryan Hahn
- HPLA Producer - Chanel Urban
- 1st AD - Jesse Hays
- DOP - Chris Probst
- 1st AC - Rob Royds
- Gaffer - Nizar Najm
- Key Grip - Eric Budlong
- Drone - Skyecam
- Techno - TCC
- Steadi - Xavier Thompson
- Editor - Emilie Aubry
- Colorist - Kaitlyn Battistelli