Shine a Light: Scorsese and Mick Jagger

Shine a Light documents an astounding stage performance by what is indisputably the worlds greatest rock n roll band, shot by Americas preeminent director and an all-star crew of the film industrys leading cinematographers. The film came together in a unique moment in time when all these stellar forces aligned in New York City and were able to unite to capture a great performance on celluloid.

Origins of Idea

The idea for the film originated with the Rolling Stones Mick Jagger, who was in the middle of the bands planet-circling Bigger Bang tour. The idea, at first, was to make a film about the tour. Jaggers original concept was to shoot the groups biggest concert ever. At the beginning, I was thinking we would be doing some kind of film of this tour, says Jagger. And because we were doing this big concert in Rio de Janeiro on the beach, I started thinking it was going to be different than the normal concert. It was going to be a big event, a million people on the beach, a huge audience, a big occasion. There was going to be a lot of material in there to shoot. We even did a budget for that, to shoot that on film, in various methods.

Scorsese Fans

Once the steel wheels of this colossal enterprise were in motion, the logical next step was to find a director equal to the task. To Jagger, the answer was obvious. We started to think, if were going to do this, we might as well start with a really top-flight filmmaker. Its good to start at the top, Jagger says with a laugh. Scorsese is perhaps the most talented American film director and the Rolling Stones, you know, a good rock band, with a vintage approach to things, the combination of the two would hopefully make an interesting couple hours.

Keith Richards is also a major fan of Scorseses and says hes studied every one of his movies. Some of them I know most of the dialogue, he says. All I heard was that Marty might be shooting the Stones, and I said, Yeah! Given the opportunity to get a Stones show shot by a master, whos going to say no

And what was Scorseses response to the proposal I think it was just, Absolutely, Pearman says. At first I got the call from his manager saying, Great wed love to do it. And then we started having meetings, and a lot of discussions, and I think at one point because they were doing such an enormous world tour at the time, the logistics of getting everyone together, what city it should be done in and whether it should be the biggest concert ever, which was the Rio showit was very complicated getting everyone in the same place at the same time to even talk about it.

Jane Rose, Richards manager of 25 years, who is the films co-executive producer, describes the guitarists process: When we knew that Marty was interested in doing the movie, he met with Keith, and they proceeded to have a long conversation about film history. Keith has so much respect for him and was so thrilled that the director of Goodfellas would be directing him. He just puts his faith and trust in the director.

Once Scorsese was on board, the producers followed. Steve Bings participation with the financial and filmmaking muscle of his Shangri-la Entertainment hed whetted his concert-film appetite when his company financed Neil Young: Heart of Gold and that of Concert Promotions International topper Michael Cohl himself a producer of some major Stones documentaries iced the deal and moved the project forward.

Meetings were held to iron out the details of the shoot. We had this stunning meeting in my hotel room, says Jagger. There was a storm, the wind was blowing, there was a window that wouldnt close, the curtains were blowing and the chandeliers were wobbling and we were all sort of laughing about it. We talked about shooting in 3-D, and shooting in IMAX, because it was such a big event. I was focused on this big event because I thought it was different. Marty seemed very excited by this idea.

Seeing the Stones on Tour

Jagger invited the director to see the Stones on tour, which he did. However, the notion of shooting a big concert film began to give way to another approach. Every time I saw them perform sometimes further back, sometimes theyd actually bring me on stage I became more and more obsessed with getting it on film, says Scorsese. We did talk about making an official tour film but at a certain point, I thought making something more intimate would be more suited to me as a filmmaker and would also facilitate a more personal connection between the audience and the band. Plus, Scorsese adds, a Stones concert is already such a spectacle, he thought that showcasing them in a smaller venue might offer a different point of view of the legendary rock n roll band. I went to see the show again and Im sitting there, and the band is this small on the screen, theyve got 50 cameras already what am I going to bring to that he says.

Smaller Stage

Scorsese then thought: what if I can convince them to play on a smaller stage, the Beacon Theatre in New York, with the best cameramen in the world And convince them he did. Though Jagger struggled a bit with letting go of his initial large-scale idea, it was hard to argue with the directors plan. Marty came back and said hed been thinking about it and what he really wanted to do was shoot something more intimate. So wed come around completely Id gone from a million peopleand hed gone tosomething small. I said, you know Marty, the other problem is, we dont have any intimate places booked on the tour. We have lots of non-intimate places but we dont have an intimate place. We have a fully booked tour schedule you know, how are we going to do this

And he had to convince me he said, this is kind of my fort, is to shoot these intimate things. Thats what he likes to do, thats what he wanted to do. So, it took me quite a long while to get used to the idea because I was rather fixated on this huge show. In my mind, it was an amazing thing for a filmmaker to shoot because there was so much stuff in the event in Brazil. On the beach there was so much action, and there were so many people, there was so much music of every different kind.

Richards, too, was amenable to the smaller venue, where hed performed with his solo band the X-pensive Winos. The idea of doing it at the Beacon was great and very warm to my heart since I worked there with the Winos. We did five nights there so I knew the room. A more pressing concern for Richards was in regards to the possible clash between the band and the filmmaking crew during the performance. I asked Scorsese, Do you think you can shoot it without us being as much as possible unaware that its being shot. That would be the ideal situation. Otherwise, youre shooting a movie and not doing a show. And you wouldnt get that spontaneity if everyone was aware they were being shot by Scorsese.

Beacon as Setting

For Scorsese, the Beacon was the perfect setting big enough to provide enough room for the cameras and lights and dolly tracks but small enough to capture the Stones ineffable chemistry up close. I liked the Beacon Theatre in New York. The stage was tight enough for me to film but it also gave the Stones enough room to move and also enough room for our cameras. And so then it became an issue of how we bring the two processes together the film and the Rolling Stones on stage. I wanted to capture the music and their interaction on stage, I wanted people to feel like they were on stage with them in the film. In editing it, it was clear that each song had its own story to tell, it was as if we were hearing them for the very first time. The way they work off of each other and off of the audience something happens and it takes you out of yourself. Its fascinating to see that kind of power and excitement that transcends ancient, shamanistic -they cast a spell, something primal but very orchestrated, each character in the Stones having his own personality and way of relating to each other and to be in the best position to see them perform and how they just wrap up the audience in their hands and basically take them away, Scorsese says.

Scorsese caught the electricity of the show with the help of more than 18 cameras panning and zooming in on every conceivable bit of the action. Those cameras were manned by some of the top directors of photography in the picture business, including Albert Maysles, who had directed the Stones in Gimme Shelter, and two-time Oscar winner John Toll, all working under the collective leadership of Scorseses director of photography, Robert Richardson, who has won two Academy Awards (one for Scorseses The Aviator and the other for Oliver Stones JFK) and been nominated three additional times. Richardson also came up with some of the key dramatic lighting schemes, such as a wall of light that Jagger bursts through on his entrance through a door at the rear of the theater.

Everything clicked, and Jagger credits Scorseses loyalty to his vision and his steadfast directors hand in maintaining tight control of the elements in a very small space. I think thats why Marty didnt want to do it with the big stages, says Jagger, because on the big stages youre quite removed from a more intimate relationship between the audience and the performers. I know that Marty had seen our IMAX film and he felt that you dont really see much in the relationships when you see a big movie like that. Also, he wanted to be in a very confined space with a lot of cameras and a lot of different angles, which gives you more control than being in a very large space.

This is not to say that filming the more contained concert was easy, for the filmmaker or for the band–in fact, over two nights at the Beacon, the first served as a bit of a dress rehearsal and most of the footage came from the second. We did discuss all the cameras and the only problem we had really was that every time you go to a camera that moves, it takes up a lot of room. Marty and I wanted a lot of tracks and cranes and cameras but there wasnt a lot of room in the theater and not a lot of room on stage. If you put two big cranes on a stage, theres not a lot of stage left, so we had to cut down on them. But we had a lot of tracks and learned a lot on the first night. We were much more efficient on the second night, Jagger reports.

Creative Tension

The process of documenting the Stones on stage generated a bit of creative tension for Scorsese, something he reveals with wry humor in the opening frames of the film, and it played out behind the scenes. I wanted to see the music but you have to be cognizant and aware that if you put five cameras in front of a person and youre moving one way and he another, there is a good chance he will run into the camera. It was a matter of trial and error and, at times, very funny especially when you factor in that they were constantly on tour and I was finishing up The Departed, so it was impossible for us to be in a room together for a concentrated period of time until maybe a week before the shoot. So there was a lot of trying to figure out how much movement I could get from the cameras while they too were in motion. I didnt want to inhibit them in any way but we also wanted to get the best shots we could. best shots we could.

Then there were potentially opposing artistic styles–Scorseses legendary painstaking approach vs. the Stones unbridled spontaneity. I prepared meticulously but I also knew that 75% of it wouldnt be that way to capture their spontaneity, we couldnt get in the way, but on the other hand, we wanted to get it right. The camera had to be in a good position to capture it. That was the tension. Ultimately, there were certain crane moves and moves I specified for certain lyrics and we got those, Scorsese explains.

He also prepared for the Stones on-stage impulsiveness by careful use of his
myriad, renowned cinematographers and multiple cameras. Once we designated which directors of photography had which of the Stones and once they figured out if, say, Mick was going to dash out onto the runner and we were going to pan left with him, then we saw who could photograph what. I knew if he went out of John Tolls camera range, he could be picked up by another. I had a big video monitor in front of me and if something went really off, I could tell camera number 15 to pick up where camera number 12 left off. Primarily, though, once we knew the parameters of movement panning, tilting and who they could keep in frame and where that became our foundation. All those cameras also helped us with our focus issue because the Stones are so quick and wonderfully spontaneous so it would be a pity if we got the move but it wasnt in focus. So, if we had a designated camera position, Richardson would say, Lets have a back-up right above it, and the double camera was primarily for focus. The primary images camera came from maybe seven or eight cameras and the rest were filling in, helping and hoping and trying to get the best compositions in impossible situations, Scorsese explains.