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LeRoy Bennett Chooses Claypaky Sharpys for The Weeknd’s VMA Performance High Above Manhattan on the Edge Sky Deck
Lighting Designer
LeRoy Bennett
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The Weeknd reached new heights at the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) when he performed “Blinding Lights” towering above Manhattan on the Edge where Claypaky Sharpy beams accented the sky-high venue.

Edge is the highest outdoor sky deck in the western hemisphere.  Suspended 100 stories above the street at Hudson Yards with a glass floor and angled glass walls, the Edge appears to float in mid-air.  Its 360º views of New York City can’t be matched.

The thrilling sky deck was selected by the VMAs as the perfect showcase for The Weeknd whose performance was shot over two nights and concluded with a fireworks display.  The Weeknd’s Creative Director La Mar Taylor devised the concept, which included helicopter aerials.  Unlike many star VMA performances that featured XR technology and VFX this year, “Blinding Lights” was captured real-time, in camera with nighttime Manhattan serving as the dramatic backdrop.

Lighting Designer LeRoy Bennett has worked with Taylor and The Weeknd for the past five years on tours, shows and Coachella.  He participated remotely on the shoot with his longtime collaborator, Programmer Jason Baeri, present on site for the first ever production done at the Edge.

“I wanted The Weeknd to be standing in the middle of a field of lights, in almost an architectural structure of light beams,” says Bennett.  “I built a wedge-shaped platform for The Weeknd on top of the existing glass floor and had lights from below shining up.”  Then he positioned approximately 90 Sharpys from PRG on the floor around the sky deck.

Baeri programmed the Sharpys to express the music creating “interesting waves and patterns” as the beams shot into the night sky, strobed and swept across the Edge.  “Shooting from the helicopter the Sharpy beams were the best way to express something musically that would read on a grand scale and make everything look very dimensional,” Bennett notes. “We kept the Sharpys white since we were outdoors and had a lot of ambient light from the city.”

He believes the Sharpys were definitely “the right tool for the application” given their output and compact size, which suited the venue’s power restrictions and unique design.  No wonder the “trickiest part” of the shoot proved not to be the extensive, sky-high lighting rig but finding the optimum location for the fireworks barge!