- Misty Buckley is one of the most important people behind the scenes at this year’s BRIT Awards, and is in charge of designing the awards show set
- Her job is to make this year’s set “bigger and better” than last year’s show, which featured a George Michael tribute.
- She’s worked on Glastonbury, the 2012 Paralympics, the BBC Music Awards, and two Coldplay tours.
- Over the years she’s had some pretty bizarre requests.
Today is one of the busiest days of Misty Buckley’s career.
As Production Designer for the BRIT Awards, the 38-year-old is making sure everything is in place for Wednesday night’s glitzy awards show in London, which honours the best artists in UK pop music.
Buckley and her team are behind the stage where winners will receive this year’s awards, which will also host performances from stars like Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, Stormzy, Sam Smith, Rita Ora, and Dua Lipa.
She’s so busy that she had to postpone our interview initially to get on a call with nominated artist Rag’n’Bone Man.
Despite this, she was never supposed to be a production designer. In fact, she initially started out in fashion, but got a taste for set design while planning her own fashion shows as a student at at Central Saint Martins art school.
She told Business Insider: “It was a time when Alexander McQueen was doing extraordinary and brave fashion shows in run-down buildings around London. I just started doing that with my friends as a sideline to my degree and got really into it.”
Breaking out of fashion and moving into public and fine art, Buckley got involved with designing “obscure performance and installation art,” and “breaking the boundaries of traditional theatre spaces.”
However, while she had lots of ideas, she had no technical skills. So she went to evening college to study drafting – or hand-drawing scenery – to be used in television and film.
Her first job came from her tutor, who was a TV designer. “He used to design alot of televised music shows and performances, [like] Tina Turner and Spice Girls specials,” she said. “He was looking for an assistant and rang me up.”
Her first major job with him was as an assistant on the BRIT Awards. “That’s how it all started,” she said. “It’s bizarre to now be at the other end of it as the designer.”
However, the BRITs are just the beginning for Buckley.
Some of her most impressive design feats include working on Glastonbury Festival every year, or the closing ceremony of the Paralympics when London hosted in 2012.
She’s also worked on the 2015 Rugby World Cup Opening Ceremony at Twickenham, the BBC Music Awards, and Coldplay’s Head Full of Dreams World Tour and 2016 Super Bowl performance, as well as designing arena tours and TV performances for the likes of Elton John and One Direction.
In 2013 and 2014, Buckley won Set Designer of the Year at the Total Production International (TPi) Awards.
“It’s not just just big projects. I like doing smaller projects as well with smaller artists who are breaking through,” she said.
Evoking the emotion behind the music
The job involves a lot of research – mainly into the emotion behind a band or artist’s music, according to Buckley.
“If it’s an album from a band, it’s really fun and important that you get into the storyline of the album and the narrative of where it’s from and why they wrote it and how they were feeling,” she said. “I try to communicate how the band are going to feel, how the band want to express themselves.”
This can involve expressing the mood of a “sad and rich album” Like Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories,” which Buckley called “a love story and a breakup story.” Or “Head Full of Dreams,” which she calls an “enlightenment album” about “reaching out and connecting people.”
Once she has the mood nailed down, she starts sketching.
“I’ll spend hours sketching and pinning things on the wall, working out shapes and thoughts and concepts there,” she said. “Then we’ll start to get into some visualisation of those drawings, then some more technical drawings.”
The “we” are the team in her studio who have “different strengths that can bring a project to life” – all while drinking a lot of coffee and green tea.
She added that the team always build a 3D model of a set. “That’s quite special because it’s a chance where the artist gets to imagine themselves in that world,” she said. “I love seeing their faces when they get presented with their one to 100 version of themselves – it’s priceless.”
Rising to the challenge – from Take That to Coldplay
A lot of work goes into making sure that face is a happy one.
With such close ties to superstar bands and artists, Buckley has been asked to do some pretty bizarre and extravagant things over the years – but she’s always risen to the challenge.
She’s been asked to make a giant caterpillar to fit 10 dancers, pocket watches that open to reveal bubble machines, a flying motorbike and sidecar, a human jack-in-the-box, a hot air balloon made out of a thousand small balloons, and a giant gramophone that spits out flowers – and all of that was just for Take That.
Coldplay, and Chris Martin in particular, have also provided more than one challenge – but it was the first task they set her that solidified her relationship with the band.
While talking through initial ideas for the Mylo Xyoloto album and tour, the band asked Buckley whether she would work on the music video for a song they had just written, called Christmas Lights.
Buckley said Chris Martin turned to her and said: “How do you fancy designing a set for us for the video? It should look like a travelling theatre and will need to be somewhere in London.”
And something like a rooftop wasn’t good enough – Martin wanted it set “through the streets of London and by the river.”
It was mid-November, and Coldplay wanted the video to be done in time for a Christmas release – meaning Buckley had a week to put something together.
“We all jumped in a taxi and drove around London, looking for the perfect site for our travelling show,” she said. “We decided on the South Bank, so we could capture London at Christmas by the river.”
Here’s how it looked:
“Seven days later, the set had been designed, modelled and built.”
On the day of the shoot the weather was expected to drop below freezing – but Buckley and her team shot the video through the night, until 5 a.m.
“The band were freezing, and poor Phil Harvey and Simon Pegg were appearing in the video in pape- thin lycra Elvis costumes. We were exhausted and frozen to the bone… But the results were amazing.”
You can watch the video below:
Buckley added: “As we packed up and drove home from the set at 7 a.m., I got a message from the band. ‘Well done. We loved it. See you on the tour.'”
“Eight years later we are still dreaming up creations together,” she said. “I think they might just have only just forgiven me for letting them freeze that night.”
While working on “Ghost Stories,” the team made 2,000 paper stars and toured them around the world.
“When we did the world tour, they came up with the idea of 24,000 flowers, and a huge flower curtain, and we toured that around the world for two years,” she added. “It was absolutely unbelievable – we had to have a team of what we call horticultural technicians who would unravel the flowers every night and make sure they looked beautiful.”
Here’s just one of Buckley’s set designs for a Coldplay tour:
Making Glastonbury icons
While the tours provide a challenge, her favourite job is working on Glastonbury Festival, where she is one of many designers that work across the iconic event.
“You get asked to do the most bizarre things: [like get someone to] fly over people’s heads or make a giant bike,” she said.
One of her more memorable moments is sitting with Emily Eavis – co-organiser of the festival – who said: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a tower with some ribbons on, and what if we could climb up that tower?”
“We went along to the steel company who built the stages, and said we wanted a tower in the middle of the field that people could go up which would will be covered in ribbons,” Buckley said.
Despite the fact it sits in the middle of the most windy, exposed area of the festival – and the company couldn’t drill into the field – Buckley said: “We did it and built it and it’s now become an icon of the festival, and it was just her and me, with a cup of tea, dreaming that up.”
The ‘bigger and better” BRITs
Despite all her experience working with artists around the world, the BRITs are where it all began – and it sounds like audiences are in for a treat this year.
“Last year was massive, wall-to-wall in the O2,” Buckley said.
That show’s highlights included a tribute to George Michael featuring Chris Martin, and duet from Ed Sheeran and Stormzy.
This is what the preliminary graphics looked like.
…And here’s how it actually looked on stage.
“This year, my brief was to build and create a bigger and better set than last year,” Buckley said.
“I thought: ‘We’re going to have to start building outside the O2 because we’re really pushing the boundaries.’ But we’ve managed to achieve a bigger set.”
Those watching the awards on Wednesday can expect a vibe of metallics, like “warm silver Champagne and light gold,” accoring to Buckley.
“It feels to me a bit more elegant – I feel like it’s more feminine in a way,” she said.” There’s a real elegance and lightness to the set even though it’s huge.”
Her Instagram account gave a sneak peek at what she called “an enormous piece of sculpture” that looks like it “has grown out of the floor.”
Buckley said that biggest challenge of all is making sure each artist’s performance fits into the set and they “do every band justice.”
This involves “getting all of the creative for each artist’s performance to make sure they have their own identity, that they work in synergy with the set, that they get the most out of it, that we can fit their stuff on the stage.”
“The biggest challenge is to fit every single article of each set backstage and be able to turn it around,” she said.
“It’s making a lot of things fit into a small space.”
Yet somehow, Buckley and her team seem to make it all fit – and the results are something like this:
The 38th BRIT Awards with Mastercard, hosted by Jack Whitehall, will take place at The O2 on February 21. You can watch from 8 p.m. on ITV.
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