Thanks to David Byrne’s handy list of celebrity phone numbers, fans were able to enjoy his Broadway show “David Byrne’s American Utopia” even after theaters closed for the pandemic.
“One of the benefits of being in this business for so long and having crossed paths with so many people over the years is, I had Spike’s phone number in my phone,” Byrne said during Variety‘s Making a Scene, presented by HBO. “So I could text Spike Lee and say, “‘Spike, I want you to come and see our show.’”
“He called me afterwards and I was in Toronto and of course it must have been 11 o’clock at night, which is not unusual for Spike to call me at that hour,” added cinematographer Ellen Kuras. She recalled him saying, “I just saw the most amazing show. … We gotta do it. We gotta film it. You gotta do it with me.”
In Variety’s Making a Scene presented by HBO, which you can watch above, Byrne and Kuras took apart the strategies that went into making “David Byrne’s American Utopia.” Directed by Lee, the film gives a unique perspective on the Broadway show, using the camera to break the fourth wall as Byrne and his band performed songs from his solo career as well as his days as the frontman of Talking Heads.
“We used this kind of lighting technology — I think it’s called BlackTrax, [an] infrared tracking system so that the moving lights can actually follow me,” Byrne said. “I’ve got little infrared things in the shoulders of my jacket. Rob [Sinclair, lighting designer] used that a lot in that song [“Once In A Lifetime”] so that I could stumble wherever I went on stage. I could stagger around, and the light would follow me exactly. A spot operator would be going out of their mind trying to follow my erratic movements.”
“There’s a certain kind of energy there, and Spike and I talked about how we were gonna get that. About being able to bring a Steadicam in. How we were going to do it with fixed cameras from outside to be able to complement that feeling that David was conveying as he was going across the stage,” Kuras added. “So the audience being in front, in the proscenium, then I was able to take the camera behind. We were behind the scenes. So there’s lots of shots that take us so that we feel like we’re with the performers. So it has a different kind of flip where we feel like we’re not only listening to what’s being said but we’re listening with. And I think that’s a really important part of this whole film…that we feel like we’re participating.”
The film will screen in theaters for one night only on Sept. 15.