One year ago, on Nov. 13, 2015, terrorists opened fire in Paris’ Le Bataclan music venue and took 90 lives in an unprecedented, shocking attack. A month later, U2 — who had been set to play Paris that same night — returned to the City of Lights and delivered a stunning concert, which included members of Eagles of Death Metal performing Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”
That concert was filmed live for HBO as Innocence and Experience: Live In Paris, with most of the production crew returning to Paris to finish what they started.
In addition to speaking with concert film director Hamish Hamilton (whose Done + Dusted production company has tackled everything from the 2012 Olympic ceremonies to the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show), Billboard also spoke with Innocence and Experience: Live In Paris producer Jim Parsons. The veteran U.K. producer — who has produced live concert films for artists as diverse as One Direction, The Rolling Stones, Coldplay and David Guetta — reflected on what it felt like returning to Paris after the terrorist attacks and how what happened in Le Bataclan changed the live music realm forever.
How did you get involved as producer on the U2 project?
I’m a freelance producer so I was called by Done + Dusted. I’ve worked with Hamish on projects a number of times over the years. I work almost exclusively in live music. They asked, “Do you want to do U2?” and it was like, “Obviously the answer is yes. It’s a no brainer.”
They’re renowned for such innovative stage shows. Was that inherently difficult to film?
It was exciting. Filming concerts is what I do but when you’re live to air and they’re the stature of U2, it’s that much more exciting. There’s not many bands that have been on their level — the success and the influence they have — for the length of time they have. Also, it’s not often you see staging for arena shows where you’re like, ‘that’s really clever.’ Everyone’s got video, everyone’s got pyro, but when I saw them in London, it was first show I’d seen for quite a long time where I was knocked out how it worked and the design of it. Hamish and I spent a long time discussing [how to film it]. Because the show was physically focused and in the round, but also in the center. There’s a TV term ‘crossing the line,’ which means when you do interviews you have both cameras on same sides of the interview, otherwise when you cut from one to the other, it doesn’t look like they’re looking at each other. It’s only when you get it wrong that you see it. Normally in concerts you don’t worry about crossing the line, but with the screen down the middle [of U2’s show] and Bono being in the screen, you have to worry about the line. It would be weird if he’s walking left to right and suddenly he’s walking right to left. And it was a real challenge to capture it because it’s a narrative journey. It starts with Bono going to rehearsals, then there’s the punk section, then the innocence when they’re in the middle section inside the screen, then the experience part where they play the big hits, then it goes back to the beginning. I think we managed to capture it but it took a lot of planning.
Billboard recently interviewed the drummer, Julian Dorio, who was playing with Eagles of Death Metal during the attack. He said playing drums with U2 that night was the first time he had returned to a drum kit since the attack. Was there any concern that fresh off this tragedy, the survivors might have difficulty performing?
I think yes, everyone was slightly concerned. I didn’t talk to the band any great extent prior to the performance. I know they had lots of conversations with Bono and Edge. It’s hard to imagine. We were in Paris on the night of the Paris terrorist atrocities but quite removed from it in a strange way. We were two miles away, which is not far, but we were taken out of the venue, bused back to the hotel, and we didn’t see or hear anything apart from sirens all night. What we saw on TV and the Internet was the same as everyone else. We got back to the hotel that night, the next day we went to venue and derigged, packed the cameras up and went home. You can’t imagine what it’s like for those performers. Bono said it beautifully when he said “this is the first direct hit on music.” It was the first time we had been attacked in that environment. So I think whatever [Eagles of Death Metal] did would be a cathartic moment for them. Even if they didn’t play, it didn’t matter. Just to have them onstage and wave would have been a statement and a triumph in its own right.
And I’m sure if you asked them, they would say they had to do it. We asked our crew on the filming side, “Are you ready to do this and go back to Paris?” with the basis that if they didn’t want to, that’s fine. I think there was a couple that couldn’t because they had other jobs but the rest were like, “You have to finish what you start.” If Jesse and the band and Bono and Edge are prepared to get on and do it, as a crewmember, it would seem to me there was no question. I’m not getting on stage in front of people, I’m just in the background.
I’d imagine it was still a small catharsis for you.
Yes, but I wouldn’t… it’s strange going back and being there. Finishing the show was something everyone felt needed to be done. Like Bono said, you can’t let hate triumph. You have to carry on with life. It sounds trite, but it’s true. For me it was more the proximity to it and connections to people at the U2 show. If we’d finishing rehearsing earlier we might have gone to the Bataclan. Some of the guys on tour are all friends.
If two, three different things happened, some of us might have been at the venue. Elaine, who did local catering for us, was there, and she was with Nick [Alexander], the merch guy who was killed. Even though you’re not super connected, it’s the glue that keeps us connected. Everyone has one connection to the people there.
It’s strange to think, and hard to believe there are people that didn’t come home that night. I can’t really put it into words… I’m glad we did it, glad the Eagles of Death Metal got to get back onstage in Paris and, if nothing else, exorcise their demons. I can’t imagine how horrific it must have been to be in that venue. The only thing I can think of in my career is when Darrell from Pantera and Damageplan was shot on stage. That was a big turning point — that’s not supposed to happen. You go to gigs to let your hair down and enjoy yourself. I’ve gone to gigs since with my kids and you kind of go in and look around the venue, think, “If something happens what am I gonna do?” Which is a sad state of affairs but it’s what came from that tragic day. Things will never be the same again.
When I was young, gigs were my church, where I went to get whatever the rest of the world wasn’t giving me as a teenager. That’s why I do what I do. To have any negativity around that changes things. That’s why the show had to go on. As Bono said, you can’t let hate win.