Inside U2 3D with Director Catherine Owens


Having helmed the director’s camera on U2 tours, ZooTV, PopMart, Elevation, and Vertigo, Catherine Owens was the perfect choice for a landmark undertaking, a concert movie shot in 3D. The top-grossing concert performers, U2, have always given fans a massive experience with their shows. Having not toured South America for 8 years prior, the U2 3D movie covers the final leg of the Vertigo tour in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. The project itself pairs 3ality Digital, who provided the 3D technology and cameras, with the Modell family, former owners of the Baltimore Ravens, who tried their technology at NFL games including Superbowl XXXVIII. The Modells serve as producers and National Geographic is the film’s distributor showing the film exclusively in cinemas equipped with Digital 3D and in IMAX 3-D theaters. Catherine, as visual progenitor of U2 concerts, gathered over 100 hours of footage for the film, an 85 minute ditty that includes songs like, “Pride,” “New Year’s Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Miss Sarajevo,” “Love and Peace or Else,” “Yahweh,” “One,” and many more. We caught up with Catherine this fall in New York at a 3D conference. The Irish gal who for 18 years has documented U2 shows was pleasant and generous with her time and shared a lot of insight into her artist vision and future projects she would love to do. Enjoy our dialogue below.

You collaborated with U2 on this the inaugural 3D Experience What was the inspiration?

Okay, I have to just, I have to put this into context. We documented actually their last tour, the Vertigo tour, in South America. They’re currently on tour on a tour called the 360 tour so we documented their last tour which was probably their most performative. So we went to South America and we filmed seven of their shows and it was just extraordinary. The tour they’re currently on, we actually couldn’t have made the film we made in South America because the tour now is 360 whereas in the film we made as you can see the band are in front and then there’s all the imagery behind. On the current tour the band are below and the imagery is above.

Now talk about this because they’re tours involve such elaborate stage craft. They have so many elements. What made you say that this energy, all of these visuals would be best communicated by adding another dimension to what is already a heightened dimension of artistry?

That’s good. No, that is exactly true. We felt that, well, Bono likes to be first. Do I need to say anymore?

No. His efforts are legendary in its own self even just the Red campaign but that’s an interview in itself.

And...So we made a creative decision that we were being offered these brand new 3D cameras digital, so it was the first time you could record hours of 3D because before it was film, so you could only record four minutes of film before you had to change your cassette or your reel. So we decided to do the film based on the fact that, and this is no joke, Bono’s words were, okay Catherine, you know nothing about 3D. I know nothing about 3D. These guys have just made new cameras. They probably know nothing about 3D. There isn’t even a market for 3D yet. It’s bound to be a huge fabulous success.

He’s always an innovator.

And then he says, and if it’s not we can just walk away from it cause nobody’s ever gonna see it. So literally we made the film on a hunch, on a hunch.

But now it’s been so successful. You’ve won numerous awards.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve had some good times with it.

So speak on that on the impact just taking a whim from the gut as it is which is and I heard you talking about the quality, the inspiration, representing the craft and what you guys did was just do something that was pure from the passion, pure from the artistic integrity of just innovation. It was born not of, well this is going to make x amount of dollars because it was unproven.

And there was no dollars to be made at that point. What we didn’t know, what we didn’t know cause we live in our own little Irish bubble, was that Hollywood was in the middle of a very big serious conversation about 3D. We didn’t know that. We were just focused on this one group of people, the Modells who are the sporting people who own the Baltimore Ravens, who happened to be U2 fans who put up this incredible amount of money for us to go off and play basically. We didn’t understand that Hollywood was looking at us the whole time, watching us to see whether we were gonna lose or win and when we ended up winning, I mean, in other words, when we made a product that matched the goal then that became a product for the whole of Hollywood to use as the yes we can do it.

So speaking on that then, what other opportunities have now unlocked themselves based on this great success that came from the pure desire to innovate and push the paradigm of band films?

Well, it’s interesting cause...I mean look we can talk to any opportunity opens. Once you work with the biggest rock band in the world and you make something good any opportunity opens, but the thing about 3D as you’re learning while you’re here is there’s good 3D and there’s bad 3D. So the opportunities are only interesting to me if they’re going to be good 3D opportunities and at the moment I’m in the middle of you know working on that.

So what are some of the ideas you would love to visualize in a 3D format?

Well, I want to go down a more intellectual road. I want to go down a road that’s gonna feed the mind and soul of people and not just be entertainment or at least if it borders into entertainment it’s got an underlying message or it’s got an underlying reason for being. That things are not just not put out because you’re following a trend. That you really want to make something that’s going to inspire and inform and resonate with the audience and that’s what we do, that’s what we did with U2, with their live show. Okay yeah, you’re selling an album and you’re selling a ticket to a show but when the fan walks away, they’ve got to be walking away learning a little bit more about the band their watching and a little bit more about themselves. They’ve got to walk away uplifted. They’ve got to walk away uplifted and inspired.

now you actually spoke about and interest to document the Williams sisters. Speak about that because they have quite an intriguing story and you mentioned...

...We were just talking about what kinds of things would be really inspiring for a 3D director to work with. Now I have spoken about the idea of documenting the Williams sisters in 3D and that comes from a) the human interest story, b) their talent, c) they’re female. They’re African -American. They’re incredible athletes and their story in my opinion is like just not, hasn’t been told properly.

Plus the way that they approached the game was different. they were different from the prototypical tennis player.

Yeah, well, two things, they’re goddesses, both of them in the traditional sense of what a goddess is supposed to look like. They’re fabulous. They’re beautiful. They’re like warriors. They’re like two warriors those women. They’re like warriors in a war in the tennis war and you know they’ve consistently won that war. And documenting their story would be interesting if it was told from that point of view, not like from a cheesy, you know oh yeah this is the Williams sisters.

Plus there’s so much tension when you talk about the environment they came from they’re odds defiers so there’s an incredible human spirit in their story because they’ve always been sort of against the norm. They’re success is not usual.

It’s despite the norm.

So now obviously you worked U2. Now are there any other musicians that you can envision that would have an interesting energy in the 3D realm?

There’s two.

Who are these?

David Bowie.

David Bowie.

and Prince.

Prince. Wow.

That’s it.


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