Elton John took a final bow in North America on Sunday night, closing out three shows at Dodger Stadium, inside the same venue that hosted his superstar-making turn in 1975. To capture the historic night, Disney+ presented its first-ever global live stream with Elton John Live: Farewell from Dodger Stadium, directed by Paul Dugdale and produced by Fulwell 73 Prods. and Rocket Entertainment. Ben Winston, uber producer and Fulwell 73 partner, spoke with ahead of the big night to talk vision, logistics and how it feels as a lifelong Elton fan to be producing the icon’s epic finale.
Elton John has appeared on The Late Late Show With James Cordon, but did you have a previous relationship with him prior to producing this special?
I didn’t, no. I didn’t know Elton very well. James is friendly with him and has always had a great relationship with him. Disney, obviously, are doing a lot with Elton on various different projects, and we heard that they were planning on doing this live event. Truthfully, I’ve never had a relationship with Elton and I’ve just always been a huge fan. Growing up in England, especially, he’s sort of like the soundtrack to all of our lives in a way. Whether that be for kids through The Lion King or, today, dancing to all of his hits, he’s always been such a huge part of the music that fills so many moments of all of our lives.
So, we threw our hat in the ring and got in touch [with Disney] and said that we’d love to produce that final show on Disney+. Obviously, we make a lot of stuff with Disney at the moment and they were keen on the idea. Then we met with David Furnish and talked to him about how we would do it, and our ideas for it. We got on great because David is a phenomenal producer who has some wonderful ideas of his own and they asked us to make it. We were very, very excited and we were really eager to make it. They could have worked with anybody and luckily, they chose to work with us and we’re very honored.
What was the vision?
We first wanted to do a little pre-show before the concert starts because when you show music on television without context, I think that people don’t get as much out of it without hearing about the significance. We’ve tried that in lots of shows that we make, like the Adele special and the Oprah Winfrey interview throughout. It really meant that those tracks meant more. The first year that I did the Grammys, we did little video pieces before a lot of the album of the year or record of the year nominations so that viewers knew 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 that song mattered.
Before Elton goes on stage, we’re doing a sort of 20-minute pre-show that will be a live show but with quite a lot of taped bits, covering the significance of the Dodger Stadium and the fact that he performed such a big show there in 1975, a show that became iconic in part because of Terry O’Neill’s unbelievable photograph and also because of where Elton was in his career at that moment. In our interview, he talked about how unhappy he was in 1975 and how happy he is today. That is a significant storyline of the night.
This is his farewell tour and he spoke about why now was the right time for him to say goodbye to touring. Plus, we were able to hear from people who have really been affected by Elton and love him, whether that’s the president of the United States with a message or a super fan who has been at 120 shows since 1975. Seeing that helped bring this performance at Dodger Stadium to life that much more. We also have Paul Dugdale as our director, and he’s an exceptional director; we worked together on Adele: One Night Only at Griffith Observatory. Shooting things in really iconic, incredible ways is something we work really hard to do. That’s what we did on Sunday night with our 22 cameras.
Aside from 22 cameras, what else can you share about the size and scope of the production?
We had a chopper shooting from above to get some great shots of Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles landscape. We had a couple of drones flying around which always give us some amazing and beautiful shots and iconic imagery. We had a really clever camera plan to give people at home the best view you can have while not disrupting the show for the thousands of people that are in the venue, all done in time for us to explode some fireworks before the L.A. police impose the noise curfew.
What time was that?
We had to be off air by 11 p.m. which sounds easy when a gig starts at 8:15 p.m., but actually with all the extra songs in there and the speeches and the emotion of the night, is a bit stressful.
You’ve been involved in many huge productions, but what does it mean to you that you got 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 the geeky TV producer level, I’m incredibly excited to be part of this because it’s the first-ever live global stream for Disney+. [Previous live events on Disney+ have only been in the U.S. and Canada.] As a TV geek, the idea of producing something like that with my partner Gabe [Turner] is a pretty cool thing for me. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s a phenomenal thing to be working on a show like this with Elton John, especially as someone who grew up listening to his music, everywhere from the school disco to concerts that you queue up and get tickets for to dancing at my wedding to an Elton John track all the way to seeing my kids loving The Lion King. Let alone the fact that it’s his last-ever show in America. Personally, it’s a real pinch yourself moment when you get to work with your heroes, especially when it’s on a show like the iconic one on Sunday night.