"We know even six months out that we could be on show day and have 12 inches of snow."
One might think that after producing the Super Bowl halftime show for 12 years straight, Kirshner Events founder Ricky Kirshner and his team might be able to run the thing more or less on auto pilot. But, as he points out, with a different location each year come different challenges for country's most-watched music event.
Case in point: With Super Bowl LII taking place in Minneapolis this Sunday (Feb. 4), Kirshner's crew is dealing with snow and freezing weather conditions outside the U.S. Bank Stadium while putting together Justin Timberlake's performance indoors. That's a stark contrast from the mid-70s they saw in Houston last year, creating new difficulties when you have just eight minutes to assemble the stage. Whereas in Houston they had a long train of carts that were lined up outside and brought inside for rehearsals and the actual show itself, that sort of staging area wasn't possible this year.
"When designing the show you need to take into account the venue and we know even six months out that we could be on show day and have 12 inches of snow," says Kirshner, who has also produced the last five Democratic National Conventions and the last 15 Tony Awards. "So this show's designed more to try and get our stuff in the building prior."
As Kirshner describes it, putting together a production of this scale is the result of more than half a year of planning and many teams working separately across the country before finally coming together for three days of rehearsals ahead of Sunday's game. After initial meetings at the stadium in June to discuss the venue's technical capabilities, the Kirshner Events team met with Timberlake last summer and began collaborating on the show's concept, which came together based mostly around the songs.
"The music drives everything for me," says Kirshner, the son of famed music exec Don Kirshner, who hosted the weekly televised Don Kirshner's Rock Concert program throughout the 1970s. "You have to hear the music and follow where it leads you."
In the weeks before the Super Bowl, Kirshner's team of professionals traveled to Minneapolis to begin working with about 400 local contractors to put the stage together and prepare that system on-site. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Timberlake was practicing his routine in a rehearsal hall with what Kirshner calls "amateurish" cameras to edit together what the show will look like on television. At separate high schools and colleges all over, students had been working on the choreography that they finally brought together last weekend at the stadium for a dry block ahead of this week's rehearsals. And, all the while, at Kirshner Events' office in Manhattan, team members were preparing graphics that will appear on the jumbotron screens, wardrobe, pyrotechnic cues and more. Needless to say, with all of that and more going on, it helps to have some strategy in putting things together.
"Strategy's a big word -- we more have a system of figuring it out," Kirshner jokes. "We're not smart enough to have a strategy. Actually, maybe we should get one."
When you're coming up in the business, you have no idea where it might lead you. I grew up in the music business, but funny enough I have an accounting degree from college and my first job was at ABC News as an accountant. Life just leads you in the right direction
It's good to have any background. There are so many kids who come out of college from these great communication schools and they have great technical skills, more than I could ever have. I can't edit on Avid and I can't run a camera, but they don't see the big picture. They don't see that you have a client that you have to relate to, you have a budget that you have to adhere to, you have time you have to adhere to -- whether it's eight minutes to set up a Super Bowl or three hours to do a Tony Awards show or whatever. Time, money, client relationships, talent relationships, relationships with your designer, or running a staff. I mean we have over 250 people just on staff and over 2,000 people participating in this show. And you can't learn that in college. You just can't.
A good idea comes from anyone. It doesn’t have to be yours. The Lady Gaga thing with drones last year came from Bob Barnhart, our lighting designer. And I'm not too proud to say that it was his idea. He had seen these drones somewhere and said, "What if we did this really cool thing with drones? Do you think we can ever convince her to do this shoot and jump...?" So you really have to trust the creativity and teamwork of people.
The great thing about this business is every day is different. And most days are great. You get to deal with many, many fantastically talented people.
Spotlight is a new Billboard.biz series that aims to highlight those in the music business making innovative or creative moves, or who are succeeding in behind-the-scenes or under-the-radar roles. For submissions for the series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.