June 2009 Issue
Production Profile

Death Magnetic

Last year, when Metallica was finishing a stadium tour and putting the finishing touches on their latest release, Death Magnetic, lighting designer John Broderick was preoccupied with other projects. The looming world tour meant that he was behind the proverbial eight ball. “I started pre-production for the tour a bit late due to other commitments,” Broderick said. “So I didn’t really get going until August, even though tech rehearsals were to start on Sept 20th.”

Moving Targets

Given the compressed prep time, a less experienced designer might have faded. But this isn’t Broderick’s first barbeque, having cooked with Metallica for several years.

“I was pretty much on my own this time around and the band was a moving target,” Broderick said. Dan Braun, Peter Mensch and Tony DiCioccio from Metallica’s management “provided several guidelines which spurred ideas which we developed. The whole show — my part of it anyway — was done using Vectorworks. I’ve used it for years.”

The ideas that were developed led to a unique design with dynamic truss and no backdrop. Even in a heavily automated right, the followspots played an important part.

“Having done several years of ice shows for television and several Metallica tours in the round, I had some idea of the approach. The band members are always moving on stage, so any sort of targeted lighting doesn’t work, which makes spotlights, especially truss spots,” in the center of the arena on 360° spinning chairs, “the essential element. And the audience needs to be lit; the audience is the backdrop for every other audience member.  And one has to be very careful with floor lighting. I chose lights that were less intense so as not to constantly blind the audience,” he said, referring to Martin MAC700 Wash fixtures.

The Soft Side

The show has a unique look and feel because of the absence of gobo projection, defined beams, and video.

“At the 11th hour, the management and the band decided to pass on using video,” Broderick noted. “I was just an innocent bystander. But several reviews have mentioned how refreshing it is, especially with Metallica, to be connected with them physically in the show, and not through a video screen.”

With no hard edge lights on the show, the job of painting the stage fell entirely on the wash lights. The rig included Coemar Infinity Wash XLs and Vari*Lite VL 3500 Wash lights in the air and Martin MAC 700s on the floor. There was “a sprinkling” of Martin Atomic 3K Strobes with color changers, and under the stage, a group of Martin LED Stagebars were used.

“There are no dedicated audience or drum lights,” Broderick added. “It’s a very efficient system, and we squeeze every lumen out of it.”

Stand By for Nuclear Blast

One of the most prominent features of the design is the massive metal-fab “coffins” — lighting pods flown on chain motors. SGPS Vegas, led by Eric Pierce, fabricated the truss coffins and Tait Towers built the stage deck. Five Points Rigging, led by John Fletcher, “did an amazing feat assembling this structure and dealing with motion control,” Broderick said.

Despite the kinetic elements, the show would start without the use of the automated lighting at all, and the truss movement wasn’t made to be obvious. “We were wary of using lasers,” Broderick added. “Everyone said they wouldn’t work with Metallica. But we brainstormed, and took a chance by doing the entire first song,” which lasted seven minutes, “with lasers alone, no lights, and then the second song with the nuclear lighting blast. It seems to work.”

Toronto-based Laser Design Productions supplied the lasers. Doug Adams of LDP worked with Broderick to realize the concept.

“John approached me and explained that he wanted me to do lasers that would fill the arena for one song,” Adams said, “for the whole song with minimal lighting and it was going to open the show. So no pressure…

“It worked well because I did a number of time-cue changes and different looks,” Adams continued. “We were able to go very wide. I had the lasers in the coffins outside the stage area doing a long throw and the lasers in the coffins above the stage really focused on the guys. I tried to either silhouette them with the lasers or add accents around the mike stands where they were going to be.”

Fire Without Smoke

No Metallica show, of course, would be complete without lots of pyro. “Since Metallica has always had pyro we try and make it coincide with the lyrics and meanings of the songs,” Broderick said, “which every fan comprehends.”

LDP affiliate Pyrotek supplied flame effects, of which there is no shortage. But it was the request for no smoke that got them there.

“There was a smoke issue with James,” Adams revealed. “He really wanted us to try and produce the effects without emitting smoke. We were very limited with what we could do and had to become very creative. That brought us to the gas effects; we encompassed our Dragons, colored fire, and war flame effects on the deck which creates a low lying after-burn look. I did a very asymmetrical design with the Dragons and war flames. The color flames are hidden between the amps; the Dragons and war flames are all recessed beneath the grills under the stage so you don’t see anything at all.”

With all the pyro, safety was a major concern, even for a heavy metal band. If you have seen the show and felt the heat, you might wonder how the band avoided the danger all around them.

“I always have effects all over the place,” Adams said. “I do a layout of the safe zones for the band. Every microphone is a safe zone. The closest effect is eight feet back from the microphone so it doesn’t matter if they are standing at the microphone at any time; if any pyro goes off they are always safe. I mark the zones with an ‘X’ with their name, the pyro cue and song. If for any reason there is something out of line, we stick to our rule of thumb — when in doubt, leave it out.”

Thousands of Cues

Troy Eckerman and Mark Butts programmed the show on an MA Lighting grandMA console. They worked for 30 straight days at the Cow Palace in San Francisco because it’s near the band’s home turf.

“There’s a menu of 30 or more songs they choose from on any given night,” Broderick said. “I lost count of the number of songs we programmed — it had to be 20 or more. And there are no short or simple songs. Every one has an immense amount of detail, sometimes 300 or more cues per song.  And there is no way to busk through a Metallica song — the arrangements are too complex and precise. I believe we had upwards of 4,500 cues in the board by the time I left.”

Rob Koenig was the lighting director, and, according to Broderick, he did “an amazing job. The console cueing by itself is very intricate,” Broderick noted, “and he also is calling the spots — 10 Super Troupers and four truss spots on an in-the-round stage.  With this band you can never let your guard down or they’ll be out of the path of a spotlight before you can catch it.”

Premier Global served as lighting supplier is Premier Global, led by James Vollhoffer and Stephen “Creech” Anderson. “They put the whole show together under intense time pressure and it all worked the first time we assembled the show,” Broderick said.

“Needless to say, I have a soft spot in my heart for the lighting crew,” he added. “It’s amazing to watch them work together on the installation. But there is no way to downplay the daily efforts by the entire staff on this tour.  The attention to detail and cosmetics by every department is phenomenal. Every facet of the show, whether controlled by production office personnel, rigging, pyro, sound, is done by people at the top of their game and that’s why this monster can move fluidly the way it does.”

Broderick has reason to be proud of his work, and this tour in particular. “There are so many scenes I like,” he said. “If the show entertains me, then I feel it will entertain the audience. When we’re programming we’re not afraid to scrap several hours of work if we are not excited by what we see when we play it back.”

Metallica’s Death Magnetic Tour


Lighting Company: Premier Global   

Lighting Reps: Stephen Anderson, Troy Vollhoffer

Lighting Designer/Director: John Broderick

Lighting Director: Rob Koenig

Programmer: Troy Eckerman

Set Design/Construction: Tait Towers, SGPS/Eric Pearce

Pyro: Pyrotek/Doug Adams, Reid Schulte-Derne

Lasers: Laser Design Productions/Doug Adams, Chris Blair

Rigging: Five Points Rigging/John Fletcher

Production Manager: Arthur Kemish  

Tour Manager: Dick Adams

Lighting Techs: John Bailey, Neil Davis, Jason Gray, Jerome Epstein, John Johnson, Joseph Gonzales, Christopher “Chrisjen” Schaffer

Syncrolites: Stanley Kimberlin


Lighting console: MA Lighting grandMA

56 Vari*Lite VL 3500 Wash Fixtures

56 Coemar Infinity XL Wash Fixtures

35 Martin MAC 700 Wash Fixtures

12 Syncrolite SXB 5/3s

44 Martin StageBar 54-S LEDs

24 Martin Atomic 3K Strobes

High End Systems F-100 Fog Machines

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