Elton John paid a final bow in North America Sunday night, completing three shows at Dodger Stadium, the same venue where he rose to superstardom in 1975. To commemorate the historic night, Disney+ co-presented its first-ever global live stream Elton John Live: Farewell to Dodger Stadium, directed by Paul Dugdale and produced by Fulwell 73 Prods. and Rocket Entertainment. Ben Winston, Uber producer and partner at Fulwell 73, spoke The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the big night to talk vision, logistics and how it feels as a lifelong Elton fan to produce the icon’s epic finale.
Elton John has performed The Late Late Show with James Cordonbut did you have a previous relationship with him before you produced this special?
not me, no I didn’t know Elton very well. James is kind to him and has always had a great relationship with him. Disney is obviously doing a lot with Elton on various projects and we heard they plan to do this live event. Honestly, I’ve never had a relationship with Elton and I’ve just always been a huge fan. Growing up in England in particular, he’s kind of the soundtrack for all of our lives. Is that okay for kids? The Lion King or dancing to all his hits today, he has always been such a big part of the music that fills so many moments of our lives.
So we threw our hats in the ring and reported [with Disney] and said we’d love to produce that final show on Disney+. Obviously we’re doing a lot of stuff with Disney at the moment and they loved the idea. Then we met up with David Furnish and talked to him about how we would do it and our ideas for it. We hit it off great because David is a phenomenal producer who has some wonderful ideas of his own and they asked us to make them happen. We were very, very excited and really wanted to do it. They could have worked with anyone and luckily they chose us and we are very honored.
What was the vision?
We wanted to do a little pre-show first, before the concert starts, because when you show music on TV without context, I think people don’t get that much of it without hearing the meaning. We’ve tried that on a lot of the shows we do like the Adele special and the interview with Oprah Winfrey. It really meant those tracks meant more. The first year I did the Grammys, before a lot of album of the year or record of the year nominations, we would do little video works so viewers would know what that record meant or how important that moment was. If you weren’t necessarily a fan of Doja Cat, you would at least know why this song is important.
Before Elton goes on stage we’re doing a kind of 20 minute pre-show which will be a live show but with quite a lot of taped parts showing the importance of Dodger Stadium and the fact that he performed so big , covering Show There in 1975, a show that became iconic in part because of Terry O’Neill’s incredible photo and also because of Elton’s career at the time. In our interview he talked about how unhappy he was in 1975 and how happy he is today. That’s a significant story of the night.
This is his farewell tour and he spoke about why now is the right time for him to say goodbye to the tour. Plus, we got to hear from people who were genuinely affected by and love Elton, whether it’s the President of the United States with an embassy or a superfan who’s been to 120 shows since 1975. Seeing that helped bring this performance to life at Dodger Stadium. We also have Paul Dugdale as our director and he is an exceptional director; we worked together Adele: Just one night at Griffith Observatory. Shooting things in really iconic, incredible ways is something we work really hard at. We did that on Sunday evening with our 22 cameras.
Aside from 22 cameras, what else can you tell about the size and scope of the production?
We had a helicopter overhead to capture some great shots of Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles landscape. We had a few drones flying around which always gave us some amazing and beautiful shots and iconic images. We had a really clever camera plan to give folks at home the best view they can have without disrupting the show for the thousands of people who are in the venue and all in time for us to explode some fireworks before the LA police force impose this noise curfew.
What time was that?
We had to be off air at 11pm, which sounds easy when a gig starts at 8:15pm, but is actually a bit stressful with all the extra songs in there and the talking and the emotions of the night.
You’ve been involved in many major productions, but what does it mean to you to be able to produce this special for Elton John and Disney on such a historic occasion?
It actually means a lot to me on two different levels. On a geeky TV producer level, I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this because it’s the first-ever global live stream for Disney+. [Previous live events on Disney+ have only been in the U.S. and Canada.] As a TV freak, the idea of producing something like this with my partner Gabe [Turner] is a pretty cool thing to me. Second, and more importantly, working with Elton John on a show like this is phenomenal, especially as someone who grew up listening to his music, everywhere from the school disco to concerts to queue for and tickets to the dance at my wedding with an Elton John track to seeing my kids love each other The Lion King. Not to mention the fact that it’s his very last show in America. Personally, working with your heroes is a real moment to pinch yourself, especially when it’s on a show like the legendary Sunday night.