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How ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Recreated 1985’s Live Aid

One of Queen’s biggest performances proved an equally enormous task to replicate.

Bohemian Rhapsody” is bookended with one of Queen’s most iconic performances: a 20-minute set at Wembley Stadium outside of 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,” recreating the scale of that record-breaking event — a sold-out crowd of 72,000 and a global TV audience of many millions — proved an equally enormous task for the filmmakers.

“The film starts with Freddie 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,’” notes Sigel. “We built an identical replica of the original stage, down to the scaffolding towers and all the banners and 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 performance 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 crowd scenes and stadium wide shots, “using a combination of cranes and then CGI for the crowd shots,” he explains. “And then we shot for a whole week, recreating Queen’s performance, which everyone said was so tight and powerful [and] 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.”

Other challenges involved dealing with “the typical British weather and all the inevitable changes you face every hour,” Sigel continues. “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, even though it’s a film and not a documentary.”

In the end, the goal was to convey the “total triumph” of that performance, “with Freddie at the peak of his powers,” says Sigel. “With the audience all singing along, you’re getting this great celebration of Queen’s music and how inspiring they were live. That’s why the Live Aid section is so pivotal to their story.”

Adds King: “It’s a big emotional high, and people come out of the film feeling uplifted.”

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