A very special production brought to you by the tireless BODEGA team: Carrie Underwood’s debut performance with Sunday Night Football. Props to Haley Geffen, Miguel Rodriguez, Alan Chimenti, Robin Hall, Rayna Saslove, Chuck Ozeas, Evan Rohde, Drew Downes, Marcus Landsdell, Jordan McMonagle, Liz Gaffney, Alexis Zamlich and of course our creative partners at NBC Sports…Tripp Dixon, Fred Gaudelli, Mark Levy and Charlie Vanacore.
“When some 18.5 million people sit down on Sunday nights with their beer and chicken wings to watch NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” they probably don’t think much about the weekly musical opener. But a few key people put quite a bit of thought into it.
Since NBC acquired “Sunday Night Football” in 2006, the opener has featured the song, “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night.” In 2006, Pink was that song’s featured performer. From 2007-12, it was country star Faith Hill. In 2013, Carrie Underwood took over the honors.
“Faith called me [last] February and told me she thought it was time for her to, as she put it, “pass the torch” and let someone else “rock the open,” says “SNF” Coordinating Producer Fred Gaudelli. “At that point, I really only had one person in my sight and that was Carrie. She’s the only person I spoke to about this.”
To put the new piece together, NBC partnered with New York-based Bodega Studios to do the production and Mass Market to do the visual effects. Bodega produced 2012’s opener starring Hill, so the company had a good idea of what was required.
“Our goal creatively was literally to make it feel bigger – the crowd and the essence of the whole piece. Our approach was to give it a massive feel, scope-wise and then to push the VFX team to a new level this year,” says Haley Geffen, creative director at Bodega.
While making a Carrie Underwood performance seem epic doesn’t seem like such a production challenge – anyone who’s seen an arena concert knows what such a performance feels like – there were plenty of moving pieces to this shoot.
First of all, while Underwood was at the piece’s center, some of the NFL’s star players — Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning, New York Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, Houston Texans’ defensive end JJ Watt, Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck and Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews — also make appearances, throwing footballs and doing end-zone dances atop enormous virtual cubes.
The shoots took place over several days. The Mannings were shot on a stage in New York. The other four players, and Underwood, separately, were shot at in what used to be an airplane hangar at Los Angeles’ Playa Vista Studios, close to Los Angeles International Airport. That presented the first challenge: producing all of those shoots separately – and in different locations – and then editing them to appear as if they were all part of one performance.
“That was a fun challenge,” says Geffen. “We had to use identical camera angles and lighting setups with two entirely different crews. We shot Peyton Manning first, and Carrie’s perspective and eye line had to match up exactly.”
“Instead of just covering the stage like you would during a music video with wides, mediums and tights, we were very specific with what framings we needed for each line since elements like the player cubes and the monoliths did not exist in camera,” says Tripp Dixon, NBC Sports, VP, Creative Director.
Underwood was shot on stage using Arri Alexa cameras on technocranes, steadicams and dollies, said Dixon. Behind Underwood were lighting panels known as “magic panels” that could be fully choreographed to the music.
“My DP, Chuck Ozeas brought in a lighting designer with concert touring experience,” says Dixon. “Chuck suggested using the Magic Panels, a new lighting instrument that had yet to be used on camera, as the technology had just been released the month before. We thought the panels would give the open something special to set it apart from the average rock-and-roll gig.”
The cubes on which the players are standing were added in post-production so the crew had to take that into consideration while setting up the pre-visualization (“previz”) elements of the shoot. The shoot also only included 150 extras, but those 150 people were “plated” for VFX to make it feel like Underwood was singing in a sold-out football stadium, says Dixon.
The whole production was “less about imagination and more of an exact science,” says Geffen. “For all involved, it was a major learning experience but in a good way.” ”