CHAM­PI­ONS AND CHANTS: BRING­ING LIVE AID TO LIFE

One of Queen’s big­gest per­for­mances proved an equally enor­mous task to re-cre­ate

Variety - - Focus - By IAIN BLAIR

“Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” is book­ended with one of Queen’s most iconic per­for­mances: a 20-minute set at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium out­side Lon­don for 1985’s Live Aid con­cert. Fea­tur­ing some of the band’s big­gest hits, in­clud­ing “Ra­dio Ga Ga,” “We Are the Cham­pi­ons,” “We Will Rock You” and “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody,” re- cre­at­ing the scale of that record­break­ing event — a sold­out crowd of 72,000 and a global TV au­di­ence of hun­dreds of mil­lions — proved an equally enor­mous task for the film­mak­ers.

“The film starts with Fred­die [Mer­cury] ar­riv­ing at the sta­dium and there’s this long track­ing shot of him from be­hind, as he walks from his dress­ing room through the back­stage area and up to the stage, and pulls the cur­tain aside to look at the enor­mous crowd all wait­ing for them, and then we cut to the whole back story,” says DP New­ton Thomas Sigel (the “X-men” fran­chise, “Drive”). “So it sets up the dra­matic arc of the whole film, and that sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment.”

But to get to that point took some do­ing. “Wem­b­ley had been ex­ten­sively re­mod­eled since Live Aid, and we ended up shoot­ing the se­quences at Bov­ing­don Air­field out­side Lon­don, where they shoot ‘Top Gear,’” Sigel says. “We built an iden­ti­cal replica of the orig­i­nal stage, down to the scaf­fold­ing tow­ers and the ban­ners, signs and mu­si­cal equip­ment. But it wasn’t that fancy or os­ten­ta­tious in terms of to­day’s stages and light­ing rigs, as the whole idea of Live Aid was to raise money, not spend tons on spec­tac­u­lar stag­ing. So that put more of a fo­cus on the band and the mu­sic.”

“[Queen mem­bers] Brian May and Roger Tay­lor were in­te­gral in mak­ing sure all the mu­sic was right and the ac­tors got the move­ments and look right through­out the film, but espe­cially in the Live Aid bit,” says pro­ducer Gra­ham King. “We spent a lot of time study­ing the ac­tual footage.”

King stresses that the Live Aid se­quence is “so im­por­tant to the story, be­cause their show grabbed peo­ple’s at­ten­tion around the world. It wasn’t that suc­cess­ful till Fred­die and Queen came on, and sud­denly peo­ple were pledg­ing all this money. They re­ally gal­va­nized a global au­di­ence in a way no one else had.”

Sigel and his team had one pre-shoot day to do all the aerial work for the au­di­ence scenes and sta­dium wide shots, “us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of cranes and then CGI for the crowd shots,” he says. “And then we shot for a whole week, re- cre­at­ing Queen’s per­for­mance, which ev­ery­one said was so tight and pow­er­ful that they also stole the en­tire Live Aid show.”

All the ac­tors sang live to pre-recorded tracks as­sem­bled by mu­sic su­per­vi­sor Becky Bentham. “That way, we got all the cor­rect fa­cial move­ments, which you can’t re­ally fake,” says Sigel. “We recorded live, and then in post, some of that got mixed with the orig­i­nal band record­ings to cre­ate the fi­nal tracks.”

Some chal­lenges in­volved deal­ing with “the typ­i­cal Bri­tish weather and all the in­evitable changes you face every hour,” he says. “So we had to try and match shots done in full sun, then shade, and at dif­fer­ent times of the day, so that we could give it some con­ti­nu­ity. And we had to try and match our ma­te­rial with the orig­i­nal Live Aid footage as much as pos­si­ble, and not take too much dra­matic li­cense,

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