Interview with Bernt Capra - Tour Set Dies with Michael Jackson

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Offline everlastinglove_MJ

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Tour Set Dies with Michael Jackson

July 16, 2009 - By Cassandra Wiseman


On a brilliant summer day in Topanga Canyon last month—the morning after Michael Jackson’s sudden death stunned the world—the art director Bernt Capra was walking home up Fernwood Pacific with the slow gait of a man in deep reflection. He was carrying a single manila envelope that he’d just picked up from his post office box. In it were the proof sheets of the latest photographs of the just completed sets that he had designed for the fifty “This Is It” concerts that were supposed to have opened this month at the O2 Arena (The Millennium Dome) in London.


“I’ve never had a boss die on me before,” said the soft-spoken Capra, shaking his head. Originally from Vienna, but having lived in Topanga since 1980, he seemed almost in a state of shock. At 6’6”, fit and tan from surfing, he has the quiet, dignified mien of a European nobleman. Tristfully, he took out the two sheets of photographs and passed them through the car window. “This is very sad because these sets we designed can only live with Michael performing. Michael Jackson was an original like Elvis. No one can take his place on these sets.”

 Capra, who has had a long and remarkable film career, had worked with Michael Jackson from conceptional design to being ready to shoot in just five weeks. “We all were working very hard. There was no margin for error. The week before Michael Jackson died we were done with everything, [except for] the re-shoot with the sets, and that never happened.”

 “It really hurts me to think that all this work we did will never be shown. The whole idea to make this concert such a theatrical event was really nice and I don’t think there will be a way for any of us to see it now. It hurts that it won’t ever be seen the way it was supposed to be.”

Capra worked here in Los Angeles with Michael Jackson to turn his design conceptions for the O2 Dome concerts into a reality on the “the biggest four sound stages in the Culver Studios, Culver City, all 235 feet by 150 feet, and 45 feet tall. These were the same stages where they shot the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind.

“This was supposedly the biggest LED (light emitting diode) screen assembled. It was 33 feet tall and 100 feet wide, and so, ...it was to cover the whole stage with a background of videos shot in 3D running the whole time (the audience was supposed to get 3D glasses with their tickets).... and because of the 3D effect those phantom dancers and sets would blend seamlessly with the real dancers live on stage, much like a hologram would, to give the audience an ultimate image.”

“We had live wolves and ravens flying around in the cemetery set. There were Mummies and Zombies in the cemetery and the Zombies were dressed like historic characters, Louis XIV, Napoleon, a Federal Soldier… I’m really sad my decomposed pirate will never be seen.” —Bernt Capra
 
Capra and his partner worked on the remake of five of Jackson’s videos for the tour: “Thriller,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Smooth Criminal,” “They Don’t Care about Us,” and “Earth Song.”

“I know all the rumors about Michael Jackson but what I can say is that he was the nicest guy to work with—there was no facemask—he always was elegantly dressed, he definitely looked like Michael Jackson—he’d wear a black military style jacket with elaborate golden braiding to rehearsal, a red leather jacket with elaborate embroidery… but Michael was businesslike, very accessible, super polite and incredibly considerate. I had tickets today for the funeral, but I gave them to a friend,” Capra said over the phone, about an hour after the memorial at the Staples Center had ended. “I was hoping to see the sets used. I was in tears when I saw Paris Jackson speak of her father. Michael introduced his children to us when he took them on a tour of the sets. The children were normal children, very happy children and they just wanted to play on the cemetery set and he played with them. He seemed like a natural dad and I am sure that he loved his children and he obviously doted on them.

“His life was obviously a little surreal. When he arrived to work, he’d have to come with heavy security of course. There was an entourage of dark suits, at least four body guards. We even had a code name for the production stages in Culver City – “DOME.” We were the Dome Project. AEG was obviously worried about security. He would arrive in one of the two or three brand new shiny dark Cadillac SUVs that would accompany him to rehearsal. One vehicle for him and the children, one that contained the four bodyguards and sometimes there was a third car just to throw off the paparazzi a little. None of the cars had license plates.

“Michael Jackson was very well read and he loved art, and he knew his photography, and he liked this photographer, Lewis Hine, who had been a social worker in the depression era and shot photographs of victims of child labor – four, five, six year olds working in mills and mines. He was also very well known for a collection of photos of the construction of the Empire State Building which are very valuable now. Michael loves this guy and he based “The Way You Make Me Feel” choreography and set design on the photos of the men constructing steel beams as if they were on the top of a skyscraper having a lunch break." — Bernt Capra.
 
“Usually when Michael came to the sets, he was there to work; he just wanted to show us what he was doing and choreograph the dancers on the sets with the show’s choreographer, Travis Payne and with the director, Kenny Ortega, who is also a long-time choreographer. The rehearsals were amazing to watch. I think Michael invented all the moves. Michael defied the laws of nature. From where I stood, which was about 30 feet away from the stage, he looked like he was dancing like he did thirty years ago, he was beautiful to watch. He was so lithe, and his dancing so fluid—there is no one that could dance like this—for me there was no better dancer, not Nureyev, not Fred Astaire.

 “One thing you realize when you meet Michael is that he has this natural charisma—I don’t know what to call it really—I don’t know if it’s a chemical reaction, because I’ve worked with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro but working with Michael felt so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. We only had five weeks to go from conception to production, which is so little time for a project like this—but whenever he saw me, he was very considerate of me and the sets and very nice. There was no time to do things over, everything had to be approved and there was no going back. I only saw him for the first time when we were halfway through the construction stages that they had rented for him to rehearse at the Forum.”

 Capra got the job through a line producer, “an old friend I happened to be working with at the time, making some viral films for the internet, and he got into this accidentally through another producer that he had worked with before. He couldn’t tell me over the phone what the project was, but when he asked me if I wanted to work with him on something, I said yes, but I didn’t know what it was. So I came in for a meeting with Robb Wagner of Stimulated Incorporated who was in charge of the execution of the whole project (he was also part of the Memorial) and I was introduced to Robb Wagner and Bruce Jones. We sat down at the table for our meeting and I saw that this was a bigger project than I thought.

 “Nothing Michael Jackson does is small. Really everything he does is big budget so we were never turned down for anything we asked for but we were told we had to make it happen fast and so everything was always done by the ‘best people’ with a big budget. I worked with the conceptual artist Nicole Loebart and her husband, the art director William Budge. I sat down with her and from photos and ideas she makes these elaborate conceptual drawings on her computer and everything was pretty much approved so we could begin to build the sets.

 “Michael Cotton designed the stage and built it. Bruce Jones, co-director in charge of visual effects, was the digital creator, doing the tech parts. The whole concert was like a flamboyant opera performance. The set was conceived like a big musical Broadway show, elaborate, but instead of rebuilding the sets between songs—because Michael wanted the show to be seamless, there would be no time—the sets were these 3D videos we made.”

 Capra ordered all of the construction material from Topanga Lumber.

Capra was born in Vienna during World War II. His father was drafted into the war, and when the allies started bombing his mother fled with him to her mother’s farm. He was only one when he left Vienna and stayed on the farm until he went back to get a BA at the University of Vienna. “I was basically a farm boy.” He went on to get a masters in engineering and architecture at the University of Graz.

 “I always thought that I would be an artist creating things and building things. But I wanted to make money, too. I thought architecture would be the best of both worlds. But I went to an avant-garde university.... We were trying hard to design things that couldn't really be built, at least not at the time, before the use of computers.... Our heroes were Buckminster Fuller and Peter Cook. We were more interested in showing how the world should look—a Utopian world. Our engineering was solid but we tried very hard to create new concepts. There were no computers so we couldn’t make the means to execute our designs. We so wanted to make our world independent from our fathers’ generation and the post-war architecture was so cheap and horrible—no design really—just those awful buildings they built in the fifties and sixties. When I graduated, in 1968, I knew I would be drafted and I panicked because I was a pacifist so I applied for a full scholarship for Urban Design at UCLA and received it. After graduating, I practiced architecture for a short while in Culver City, when a fellow draftsman called me from Paramount Studios and asked me if I wanted to work there. It was The Last Tycoon—the last movie Elia Kazan ever made.”

 Capra has two sons, Pablo and Lucas and a daughter, Michele, who was born in Germany, while Capra was working on post production of a film he directed, called Mindwalk, which stars Liv Ullman, Ione Skye, John Heard and Sam Waterston. The children grew up with Capra in the lower Topanga Rodeo Grounds “until a sheriff came and kicked me out in 2006.”

 Capra recently received an Emmy for his production design for HBO’s Carnivale and he was the art director for This is Spinal Tap and the production designer for the film Bagdad Café. He designed the sets for Janet Jackson’s music video hit “Nasty Girls,” and acts like Tom Petty and The Pointer Sisters amongst other big names in the music world.

“I’ve been working on location all over the place—New Orleans, the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica. I love coming back to Topanga. Three years ago I started surfing so now I never want to leave it but nobody seems to want to work here in LA anymore.”

 According to AEG, the “This Is It” Tour had generated more than $85 million in ticket sales and they had spent more than $30 million on production. Although AEG offered full refunds to the nearly one million ticket holders, many want to keep their commemorative tickets for the now-cancelled shows.

 “I am so sorry,” Capra said, “Because I wanted to see this production too. And now nobody will.”


http://www.topangamessenger.com/story_detail.php?SectionID=17&ArticleID=3581

Maybe this article has been posted before. Probably, Bernt Capra made some more sets for the Dome Project 8-)
Anyways, I loved reading it :)

L.O.V.E.
It's all for L.O.V.E.

Offline loyalfan

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this makes you feel sad

Offline everlastinglove_MJ

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this makes you feel sad

I'm so sorry, I had no intention to make you feel sad loyalfan. I admit that I felt sad too, because of all the work they had done for the tour and his words about how he lost a boss/friend. Though, if you consider that Michael's still alive I can imagine that they still have contact and work together for productions. Maybe if you look at this this way you might feel a little better   bearhug

Faith and L.O.V.E.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2012, 11:28:08 AM by everlastinglove_MJ »
It's all for L.O.V.E.

Offline MJonmind

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Thanks Everlastinglove_MJ!  What a beautiful story by Bernt Capra.
You know, it makes me sad also that there's so many beautiful songs recorded by MJ, that we don't get to hear either.  So much work that MJ went to over the years that didn't seem to be seen by many at all.  And there's such a demand/desire for it to be seen, but MJ was a perfectionist as well, and put tons of stuff in archives.  We know that from the outset MJ knew that he was going to be hoaxing his death, and that the production would be seen in a different way by the public, as in the film TII.  So much withholding creates so much CRAVING!!!  bangbang /overreacting/ MJ is a magician and greatest entertainer, afterall!
« Last Edit: February 16, 2012, 02:39:47 PM by MJonmind »

Offline applehead250609

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Tour Set Dies with Michael Jackson

July 16, 2009 - By Cassandra Wiseman


On a brilliant summer day in Topanga Canyon last month—the morning after Michael Jackson’s sudden death stunned the world—the art director Bernt Capra was walking home up Fernwood Pacific with the slow gait of a man in deep reflection. He was carrying a single manila envelope that he’d just picked up from his post office box. In it were the proof sheets of the latest photographs of the just completed sets that he had designed for the fifty “This Is It” concerts that were supposed to have opened this month at the O2 Arena (The Millennium Dome) in London.


“I’ve never had a boss die on me before,” said the soft-spoken Capra, shaking his head. Originally from Vienna, but having lived in Topanga since 1980, he seemed almost in a state of shock. At 6’6”, fit and tan from surfing, he has the quiet, dignified mien of a European nobleman. Tristfully, he took out the two sheets of photographs and passed them through the car window. “This is very sad because these sets we designed can only live with Michael performing. Michael Jackson was an original like Elvis. No one can take his place on these sets.”

 Capra, who has had a long and remarkable film career, had worked with Michael Jackson from conceptional design to being ready to shoot in just five weeks. “We all were working very hard. There was no margin for error. The week before Michael Jackson died we were done with everything, [except for] the re-shoot with the sets, and that never happened.”

 “It really hurts me to think that all this work we did will never be shown. The whole idea to make this concert such a theatrical event was really nice and I don’t think there will be a way for any of us to see it now. It hurts that it won’t ever be seen the way it was supposed to be.”

Capra worked here in Los Angeles with Michael Jackson to turn his design conceptions for the O2 Dome concerts into a reality on the “the biggest four sound stages in the Culver Studios, Culver City, all 235 feet by 150 feet, and 45 feet tall. These were the same stages where they shot the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind.

“This was supposedly the biggest LED (light emitting diode) screen assembled. It was 33 feet tall and 100 feet wide, and so, ...it was to cover the whole stage with a background of videos shot in 3D running the whole time (the audience was supposed to get 3D glasses with their tickets).... and because of the 3D effect those phantom dancers and sets would blend seamlessly with the real dancers live on stage, much like a hologram would, to give the audience an ultimate image.”

“We had live wolves and ravens flying around in the cemetery set. There were Mummies and Zombies in the cemetery and the Zombies were dressed like historic characters, Louis XIV, Napoleon, a Federal Soldier… I’m really sad my decomposed pirate will never be seen.” —Bernt Capra
 
Capra and his partner worked on the remake of five of Jackson’s videos for the tour: “Thriller,” “The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Smooth Criminal,” “They Don’t Care about Us,” and “Earth Song.”

“I know all the rumors about Michael Jackson but what I can say is that he was the nicest guy to work with—there was no facemask—he always was elegantly dressed, he definitely looked like Michael Jackson—he’d wear a black military style jacket with elaborate golden braiding to rehearsal, a red leather jacket with elaborate embroidery… but Michael was businesslike, very accessible, super polite and incredibly considerate. I had tickets today for the funeral, but I gave them to a friend,” Capra said over the phone, about an hour after the memorial at the Staples Center had ended. “I was hoping to see the sets used. I was in tears when I saw Paris Jackson speak of her father. Michael introduced his children to us when he took them on a tour of the sets. The children were normal children, very happy children and they just wanted to play on the cemetery set and he played with them. He seemed like a natural dad and I am sure that he loved his children and he obviously doted on them.

“His life was obviously a little surreal lolol/ . When he arrived to work, he’d have to come with heavy security of course. There was an entourage of dark suits, at least four body guards. We even had a code name for the production stages in Culver City – “DOME.” We were the Dome Project. AEG was obviously worried about security. He would arrive in one of the two or three brand new shiny dark Cadillac SUVs that would accompany him to rehearsal. One vehicle for him and the children, one that contained the four bodyguards and sometimes there was a third car just to throw off the paparazzi a little. None of the cars had license plates  :shock: .

“Michael Jackson was very well read and he loved art, and he knew his photography, and he liked this photographer, Lewis Hine, who had been a social worker in the depression era and shot photographs of victims of child labor – four, five, six year olds working in mills and mines. He was also very well known for a collection of photos of the construction of the Empire State Building which are very valuable now. Michael loves this guy and he based “The Way You Make Me Feel” choreography and set design on the photos of the men constructing steel beams as if they were on the top of a skyscraper having a lunch break." — Bernt Capra.
 
“Usually when Michael came to the sets, he was there to work; he just wanted to show us what he was doing and choreograph the dancers on the sets with the show’s choreographer, Travis Payne and with the director, Kenny Ortega, who is also a long-time choreographer. The rehearsals were amazing to watch. I think Michael invented all the moves. Michael defied the laws of nature. From where I stood, which was about 30 feet away from the stage, he looked like he was dancing like he did thirty years ago, he was beautiful to watch. He was so lithe, and his dancing so fluid—there is no one that could dance like this—for me there was no better dancer, not Nureyev, not Fred Astaire.

“One thing you realize when you meet Michael is that he has this natural charisma—I don’t know what to call it really—I don’t know if it’s a chemical reaction, because I’ve worked with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro but working with Michael felt so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. We only had five weeks to go from conception to production, which is so little time for a project like this—but whenever he saw me, he was very considerate of me and the sets and very nice. There was no time to do things over, everything had to be approved and there was no going back. I only saw him for the first time when we were halfway through the construction stages that they had rented for him to rehearse at the Forum.”

 Capra got the job through a line producer, “an old friend I happened to be working with at the time, making some viral films for the internet, and he got into this accidentally through another producer that he had worked with before. He couldn’t tell me over the phone what the project was, but when he asked me if I wanted to work with him on something, I said yes, but I didn’t know what it was. So I came in for a meeting with Robb Wagner of Stimulated Incorporated who was in charge of the execution of the whole project (he was also part of the Memorial) and I was introduced to Robb Wagner and Bruce Jones. We sat down at the table for our meeting and I saw that this was a bigger project than I thought.

“Nothing Michael Jackson does is small  ;)) . Really everything he does is big budget so we were never turned down for anything we asked for but we were told we had to make it happen fast and so everything was always done by the ‘best people’ with a big budget. I worked with the conceptual artist Nicole Loebart and her husband, the art director William Budge. I sat down with her and from photos and ideas she makes these elaborate conceptual drawings on her computer and everything was pretty much approved so we could begin to build the sets.

 “Michael Cotton designed the stage and built it. Bruce Jones, co-director in charge of visual effects, was the digital creator, doing the tech parts. The whole concert was like a flamboyant opera performance. The set was conceived like a big musical Broadway show, elaborate, but instead of rebuilding the sets between songs—because Michael wanted the show to be seamless, there would be no time—the sets were these 3D videos we made.”

 Capra ordered all of the construction material from Topanga Lumber.

Capra was born in Vienna during World War II. His father was drafted into the war, and when the allies started bombing his mother fled with him to her mother’s farm. He was only one when he left Vienna and stayed on the farm until he went back to get a BA at the University of Vienna. “I was basically a farm boy.” He went on to get a masters in engineering and architecture at the University of Graz.

 “I always thought that I would be an artist creating things and building things. But I wanted to make money, too. I thought architecture would be the best of both worlds. But I went to an avant-garde university.... We were trying hard to design things that couldn't really be built, at least not at the time, before the use of computers.... Our heroes were Buckminster Fuller and Peter Cook. We were more interested in showing how the world should look—a Utopian world. Our engineering was solid but we tried very hard to create new concepts. There were no computers so we couldn’t make the means to execute our designs. We so wanted to make our world independent from our fathers’ generation and the post-war architecture was so cheap and horrible—no design really—just those awful buildings they built in the fifties and sixties. When I graduated, in 1968, I knew I would be drafted and I panicked because I was a pacifist so I applied for a full scholarship for Urban Design at UCLA and received it. After graduating, I practiced architecture for a short while in Culver City, when a fellow draftsman called me from Paramount Studios and asked me if I wanted to work there. It was The Last Tycoon—the last movie Elia Kazan ever made.”

 Capra has two sons, Pablo and Lucas and a daughter, Michele, who was born in Germany, while Capra was working on post production of a film he directed, called Mindwalk, which stars Liv Ullman, Ione Skye, John Heard and Sam Waterston. The children grew up with Capra in the lower Topanga Rodeo Grounds “until a sheriff came and kicked me out in 2006.”

 Capra recently received an Emmy for his production design for HBO’s Carnivale and he was the art director for This is Spinal Tap and the production designer for the film Bagdad Café. He designed the sets for Janet Jackson’s music video hit “Nasty Girls,” and acts like Tom Petty and The Pointer Sisters amongst other big names in the music world.

“I’ve been working on location all over the place—New Orleans, the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica. I love coming back to Topanga. Three years ago I started surfing so now I never want to leave it but nobody seems to want to work here in LA anymore.”

 According to AEG, the “This Is It” Tour had generated more than $85 million in ticket sales and they had spent more than $30 million on production. Although AEG offered full refunds to the nearly one million ticket holders, many want to keep their commemorative tickets for the now-cancelled shows.

 “I am so sorry,” Capra said, “Because I wanted to see this production too. And now nobody will.”


http://www.topangamessenger.com/story_detail.php?SectionID=17&ArticleID=3581

Maybe this article has been posted before. Probably, Bernt Capra made some more sets for the Dome Project 8-)
Anyways, I loved reading it :)

L.O.V.E.


Ever wow  :shock:  what a fantastic article ,thank you  bearhug .This is the first time I had read this and the first time I heard about Bernt Capra .There are some things that caught my attention on this article and indeed 'Nothing Michael Jackson does is small"  ;)) .
Capra said about Michael having natural charisma and something different than the rest whom he ever worked.From my point of view, I think it's because Michael always LOVEd what he did and he always had put passion in his work.From the stories I had read about Michael and people who meet him ,all of them were shocked because,the person they meet was not the person presented in the MEDIA.He was the WALKING CONTRADICTION ,for the people who meet him.Michael told Shmuley Boteach about the importance of MISTERY in one's life .To not show everything to people,to make them only guess and maybe making them wanting for more ,lol  lolol/ .This is what I call a GENIUS and a brilliant businessman.Aphrodite Jones also wrote in her book something about Michael's aura if I'm not mistaken.
THEN Michael was in a great shape,and again we have another contradiction,cause we all remember that some of the people around him told us how weak he was ,lol  lolol/ .It seems that Brent Capra doesen't believe the same,by the way he speaks about Michael's desire to dance and work  :) .
Talking about having a LIFE A LITTLE SURREAL  lol  :D ,almost MYSTICAL maybe  :D ,Deepak Chopra said(in 2009) that when Michael passed him the music for that last song,  the procedure for getting the CD to him rivaled a CIA covert operation in its secrecy lol  :lol: .So the black suits of his entourage and black SUVs are a part of this misterious life and if I remember correct Michael's reharsals tapes arrived in London like it was a MAN IN BLACK opperation   :lol: .Does anyone remember that  geek/ ????
None of the cars having no license plates reminded me about Steve Jobs ,cause his car never had license plate  too  :shock: .Mmmmm ......Intresting  :? .




Offline MaryK

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@applehead: Steve Jobs.... suspicious//
 /cook/
You and I were never separate

It's just an illusion

Wrought by the magical lens of Perception



Offline skyways

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Wow Everlasting! - such  amazing  article!! 
Thank u very much!@@
i injoy every piece of it.

So sad that so very crafted art was never meant to see((...

Offline Loveunited

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Yes, thank you Everlasting! So much work and such an incredible experience for those working with Michael -- very frustrating for artists not to see their creativity come to full fruition, yet this man still clearly talks about the MAN Jackson is and honor his genius.

I also was struck by the number of bodyguards and the no license plates on the SUVs. My recollection (forget the source now) was that Michael was surrounded by increased bodyguards (was it 10?) in the last two weeks--- same sort of period of time when LOTS of new (and questionable people) came back into his life.

So fellow investigators, my question is, who is allowed to roam around streets in LA with no plates???
 albino/

Offline GINAFELICIA

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“I’ve never had a boss die on me before,” :-\