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  • December 27th, 2018

    Uncovering Hidden Insights with Stop Making Sense Lighting Designer Beverly Emmons

    David Byrne and Beverly Emmons are both credited for the lighting design on Stop Making Sense, the legendary 1984 concert film featuring a live performance by Talking Heads. Directed by Jonathan Demme, Stop Making Sense was lauded by movie critics, from the late Roger Ebert saying that it represents “life being lived at a joyous high” to James Berardinelli saying that “Stop Making Sense was the best concert film to date when it first came out, and nothing [since] has come close to toppling it from that position.” The Cap had the opportunity to pick the brain of Beverly Emmons in an interview that revealed intimate details and bizarre discoveries!

    1. You and David Byrne are both credited for the lighting design on Stop Making Sense, how did you meet David Byrne and begin this relationship?

    I was working with renowned theater director and visual artist Robert Wilson. Wilson directed the avant-garde opera Einstein on the Beach, a collaboration between composer Philip Glass. Bob was doing a piece that involved creating work in five different countries, one of which was Japan, and for rehearsal, he hired a Japanese American interpreter who happened to be David Byrne’s girlfriend. Byrne had never heard of Wilson and Wilson had never heard of Byrne. David Byrne had very clear ideas of what he wanted to do with Stop Making Sense but he didn’t know who to turn to, so he Bob Wilson gave him my number. I got a phone call from David Byrne and that’s how we started our journey. Most artists are either visual or musical (auditory) and Byrne was one of the rare breeds that is absolutely both. His training at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) fostered that.

    2. After the phone call with David Byrne, how did things progress?

    Well, I went to David Byrne’s loft, and Robert Wilson had shown Byrne how to use a storyboard for the first time. David Byrne actually had everything mapped out in his head, so together with Wilson he put together a series of pictures. Many Lighting Designers couldn’t understand what Bryne wanted but when David showed me his storyboard it make perfect sense. In the course of doing the show, what David wanted was to have nothing on the stage, he would walk on and start to play, and it wasn’t until the second song that someone else came in, and they continued to roll in new people and props. David loved the use of white light, and wanted everything to be simple and real.

    3. The use of shadows makes shadows make for some very iconic moments in the film, was that your idea?

    I said someone should hold a light at David Byrne when he’s wearing the big suit. I actually came up with the handheld moving light idea, it’s like paparazzi except they are shooting your image up on the wall! David said he wanted an ordinary lamp with living room light, so I suggested that he go to Bloomingdales and pick up something, and he did.

    4. It seems like David Byrne knew exactly what he wanted regarding the lighting and you helped him achieve that. Is there another story you recall that might illustrate that symbiosis?

    Another idea that he wanted me to work on was during the song Slippery People. David asked for a huge very bright single source light coming from stage left, and essentially this was a light they used for movies, a 4k HMI which is an extremely bright source. It doesn’t dim, it’s just on the entire time and take about 4-5 minutes to warm up, it starts purple with the stage was completely blacked out, except for that light.

    5. Knowing that David Byrne is such an eccentric character, is there any funny stories you can share with us?

    One of the things that I heard on the tour was that David lost his temper about something threw the HMI light which has a lens about 3ft in diameter off stage. He was later alarmed to find out that the lamp cost about $800.

    Here’s a preview of what’s to come with Start Making Sense at The Cap on Friday, December 28!