ESPN Monday Night Football Opener

HABANA Avenue Provides Production Support for New NFL “Monday Night Football” Opener

For the second consecutive year, New York-based HABANA Avenue and its President and Founder Steven J. Levy helped ABC/ESPN get ready for the NFL season with a new open for the networks‘ stellar “Monday Night Football” telecast.

This time HABANA Avenue facilitated two separate HD shoots for ESPN director Chris Mantzaris The first shoot, the prologue to Williams‘ rousing new version of “Are You Ready For Some Football?,” followed the singer through the California desert to a rockin‘ roadhouse; the second captured his high-energy performance with an all-star band at the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

The open reunited HABANA Avenue with ESPN creative producer, Valerie Fischler, and supervising producer, Rick Paiva. The production company wrangled a “small army” of production personnel “to make something special for ESPN” during the two-day Mojave Desert shoot, says Levy. The multicamera production featured a pair of Panasonic VariCam HD cameras, shooting 720p, one for principal photography and Steadicam and one mounted on a car rig.

“The open uses interesting devices to reveal the weekly NFL team match up,” notes Levy. “As Hank drives through the desert he glimpses the match up on the road signs — New England to Cincinnati, 881 miles, for example. And he hears the teams‘ game call on the radio as he reaches for the tuner knob. The real Club Ed‘s location was turned into the roadhouse with customized signage on top of the building and in the windows announcing the Monday-night match up.”

With GMC the show sponsor, DP Samson Chan shot Williams driving two differentYukon Denalis through the desert. “Most of the hero shots with the cars were shot at magic hour so Samson began on the pre-light day so he could capture three nights of sunsets,” Levy recalls. “When you have a 45-minute to one-hour window of special light, you have to be very careful with your time.”

It‘s almost nightfall when Williams arrives at the roadhouse — a rollickin‘, jammin‘ place where Harleys and GMC vehicles fill the parking lot and sexy, pretty people pack the club. Williams enters through a private door and weaves through football memorabilia in the back halls. The night‘s match up is printed on the T-shirts of beautiful women at the stage door. The prologue ends with Williams breaking through an explosion of color and light that is the wing of the stage.

“The shoot went amazingly well for being in the Mojave Desert, at night, 16 miles from the closest anything,” says Levy. “Despite the dust devils, snakes and scorpions, it was a picture-perfect shoot. The art direction was incredible, the desert was beautiful, and Hank was a gem.”

For the second shoot, two months later at the House of Blues, DP Michael Pescasio captured Williams and an all-star band with four VariCams: one for Steadicam, one handheld, one on a pedestal and one mounted on a 30-foot Techno crane.

The shoot picks up Williams coming on stage through blown out rock ‘n roll lighting. The camera reveals the “Monday Night Football” logo hanging above the drummer and drops down to reveal Cindy Blackman Lenny Cravitz famed drummer as she countsdown the the show‘s much-anticipated anthem.

Brian Setzer acted as music director for the performance; Setzer was also on camera on guitar along with 12 members of his Brian Setzer Orchestra horn section, Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) on guitar, John Ondrasik (Five for Fighting) on keyboards, Cindy Blackmon (Lenny Kravitz) on drums, Gretchen Wilson (solo country artist) on guitar and performing back up vocals, Bootsy Collins (P Funk) on stand up bass, and Drake Bell (Drake & Josh) on guitar.

“The House of Blues was so busy — there was a performance the night before the shoot and one after — so we couldn‘t load-in until midnight,” Levy reports. “We had 11 hours to load in, extend the stage, relight the grid for TV, art direct and set dress the space. It was a crazy turnaround. Then we had to strike immediately following the shoot so House of Blues could prep for their next show.”

The audience was comprised of 110 paid extras plus another 400 walk-ins who responded to invitations on the House of Blues TV channel shown within the Mandalay Bay properties, radio calls, flyers and outdoor marketing.

Like the Mojave Desert shoot, the House of Blues performance also went flawlessly. “It was probably one of the smoothest shoots I‘ve seen, and it showed in the performances,” says Levy. “The artists had a blast working with each other. They were always in high spirits: Half the time we had to get them to stop jamming so we could shoot!”

Levy notes that this year‘s customized arrangement of “Are You Ready For Some Football?” has a “real Big Band Boogie feel” thanks to Brian Setzer‘s musical direction; “Gretchen (Wilson) and Richie (Sambora) also bring an incredible power and energy” to the ensemble.

Chris Mantzaris was a real dream to work with,” says Levy. “He had a great vision from the beginning which was so helpful with a project like this which spanned four shoot dates over two months in two different states.”

Levy gives kudos to Mandalay Bay production manager, Brian Thomas, and director of event operations, Heidi Hulet, “who handled it all” and “were incredible” during the complex House of Blues shoot.

Robert Toms was VP of Production for ABC/ESPN. Freelancers Jeff Smith and John Colby served as talent wrangler and music producer for the open, respectively.

About HABANA Avenue

HABANA Avenue is a full-service TV, film, live event and concert-experience production company and an original content creator. The company has offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami‘s South Beach and Tampa. It maintains a boutique postproduction facility in Tampa called Bungalow Postand has postproduction partnerships with the full-service Vidiots in New York City and Mad Toy Box Post in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

David Steinberg – Millimeter Digital Content Producer The Briefing Room