Don Mischer has been behind some of the best Super Bowl halftime shows in recent memory, which have showcased performances by mega-stars like Prince, the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney.
Now, fresh off the heels of his directing duties for “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration,” Mischer and his two executive producers, Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss, both of White Cherry Entertainment, are knocking out last minute details for the production and direction of Bruce Springsteen’s first performance during a Super Bowl, which happens this Sunday (Feb. 2) in Tampa, Fla.
Mischer took time talk to Billboard about why Springsteen’s set list is a secret, why the Super Bowl takes longer to produce than an inaugural concert and setting up the halftime set in six and half minutes.
You directed “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration,” where artists such as Beyonce, Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder performed at the Lincoln Memorial. Are there any similarities between the inauguration and the Super Bowl halftime show?
I produced Sunday’s (Jan. 18) show with George Stevens Jr. We’ve worked with a lot of those artists but it was a different feeling. It was just an inspirational feeling that spread through the camp. We had two days with bitter cold and the crew would stay out there working for hours. Working with the talent and artists was so different from how we normally operate. They had to find their own way to D.C., get their own ground transportation and their own hotels. There were none of the glam squads you normally get.
The ironic thing is the Super Bowl halftime is twelve minutes and we’ve been working with Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau [Springsteen’s manager] for months. The inaugural show was two hours and we worked on it for two weeks. It was truly last minute.
The main difference is that in the Super Bowl the halftime show is simply one spoke in a wheel. There are conditions set up for us that we have to accept and artists have to accept. One of those conditions is that there is only six and half minutes to set up the stage. We have Springsteen and the E Street Band with all their gear, equipment and lighting. It all comes onto the field in 52 pieces. And we have to do all that in six and half minutes.
We have 550 to 600 people working on it. The set is in Tampa and they’re already rehearsing. They put the set together and they take it apart again and again and again.
We also have conditions like, we must protect the turf. Everything we roll out is on large low-pressure inflated tires so there is no creasing of the turf. Normally an artist like Springsteen, when they go out, they have complete control.
Walk us through the halftime show.
This is still in flux. We will probably not be announcing a set list beforehand because we are hoping to surprise people. We’ve been through three months of meetings and talked about how to approach it. Many of the events I’ve done in the past we’ve invited Bruce and more often than not he respectfully declines.
After the Janet Jackson debacle, the NFL changed their whole approach and we got involved. We decided that rather than trying these combinations of people who didn’t feel great about performing with one another we’d pick one artist and have them go out there by themselves.
The first one I did was Paul McCartney and he did four songs. I think the NFL has gained some respect from artists this way by not putting them into manipulated combinations.
Why is the setlist being kept a secret?
I don’t think we gain a whole lot by telling people what he’s going to do. When you say Bruce is playing halftime, everyone says ‘I hope he plays this or that.’ Obviously we don’t have time for everything but we want people to be excited if he does something like “Born In The USA” or “Born To Run.”
How many songs will he do?
Generally speaking the halftime show is 3-4 songs. Prince touched on six with his medley.
What does the set look like?
The set facilitates Bruce’s relationship with the audience. That’s all I can say. Our goal is to create an environment where Bruce feels at home and comfortable. We’re not going out there with big fancy things because that’s not Bruce’s style. It’s about connecting with the audience. We try not to overproduce things. Some artists lend themselves to that. Prince is more flamboyant where Bruce is a straight-ahead performer.
Did you try to get anyone else before Springsteen signed on?
No. He was the first one we reached out to.
Given the current economic climate, will we see a less elaborate halftime show?
It’s not stripped down. At the end of the halftime show we don’t anyone saying wow that was a great set. It’s about the performance. We want people to be electrified. It won’t be plain and simple. It’s a big stage and we have to make it work with 85,000 people.
I don’t think the economic climate has had an effect on the Super Bowl. Where you’re going to see it is all the parties and celebrations. Every year I’ve done it there are so many corporate events and ancillary events with other musicians. I think there will be less of that this year.
What brands will we see during the show?
When the show starts there will be an introductory graphic with Bridgestone Tires’ [which sponsors the halftime show] name, which gets us into the show but nothing during the show.
There were reports of you guys looking for volunteers to be on the field during his performance. Can you elaborate?
We went to Bruce Springsteen’s fan clubs for volunteers. The people who come out on the field and stage have to stand the entire first half in a tunnel. It’s a hard job and it’s not like they get seats and can watch the game. They’ve got to come to rehearsals and clear security early in the morning. We love people who want to be a part of history.
You’ve done many halftime shows. What will be different about this one?
It’s simply Bruce Springsteen. His music is so uniquely American and it really reflects the fabric of our country and what its like to live in this country.