Coldplay’s Secret Santa

Christmas came early for 100 Coldplay fans last month by taking part in the video shoot for Coldplay’s latest single Christmas Lights. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Coldplay Christmas Lights Video Shoot Location

The South Bank of the Thames looking towards St. Paul’s cathedral: location for Coldplay’s video shoot for Christmas Lights on 25th November, 2010.

The invitation from Coldplay HQ went out as an opportunity to have a question and answer session with Coldplay’s creative director and fifth member (Phil Harvey) as well as to meet two of the touring road crew (Matthew Miller and Matt McGinn) as well as“a few surprises up our sleeves for the evening”. The venue was a cruise boat in London, starting at 5pm and lasting until around 11:30pm, and we were told to dress up warmly for the evening. So out came the glad rags!

Speculation began given the dates (either November 25th or 26th) that it may be related to a video shoot for Coldplay’s next single, Christmas Lights. This was intensified on the evening of the 24th November, when Coldplay posted the following note on their website:

Coldplay's Christmas Lights Press Release
The scribbled out section reads: “We are doing the video right now.
It is a mid tempo number.”

I met up with other fans before boarding the boat and one of the many pleasantly surreal things from the evening was signing a thank you card to Coldplay. We speculated whether the uncertainty around the date was if the band/production company were waiting to see the weather forecast (it had been forecast to snow on the evening of the 25th in London, but not the 26th). My own guess for the evening was that it was going to be a video shoot: that we would be whisked away to some secret location on the East Coast (given the cruise was scheduled to be over 5 hours): somewhere where a stage would be set up and that we would be filmed as part of a live audience at a festive gig. I never dreamt Coldplay could keep filming in the heart of central London such a secret!

As we boarded the boat we had to hand in our cameras and phones. Some fans were wondering why we were doing this – but working in an industry where this is commonplace it didn’t bother me at all; and I guessed something special was in store. Once the boat had left its mooring we were told we were going to take part in the video shoot for their song Christmas Lights, and be the first 100 people outside of EMI to hear the song in full.

After listening to the new song several times, we were told we were going to be involved in singing the section that kicks in around 3:20 into the video, and letting off helium balloons from the top deck of the cruise ship. The boat went up the Thames – from Tower Bridge to the site of Coldplay’s stage – between the Oxo Tower and The National Theatre on the South Bank. Amazingly, apart from a few paparazzi (more on that later!)– no one had got wind of this. At the  point of filming our section, there were no obvious signs it was Coldplay there – other than a large crew production vehicle, and passers-by were just walking or jogging past, completely oblivious to why there was a stage erected on the South Bank, or a boat moored in the middle of the Thames with people holding LED helium balloons on it: just another night in the capital city!

The sequence that lasts around 10s in the finished video, took about 3 hours to shoot: holding on to helium balloons by their tips on the cold, windy Thames is a tricky business! Filming was done via a crane-mounted camera from the bank of the Thames, with arc lights lighting up the boat. There were enough balloons for four video takes and we also did two sound takes for the accompanying singing. After the shot wrapped up, Chris Martin thanked us for our “great singing” – he obviously didn’t hear me!

In our industry we tend to think solely in terms of industries where security is paramount: finance and government. However, international rock stars need to keep secrets too! The reasons for their secrecy cover areas we are used to in the world of information security: intellectual copyright (they didn’t want anyone releasing a song based on their work); reputation (the director of the video – Mat Whitecross and his company had theirs at stake) and physical safety (they didn’t want the band getting mugged at night, given their section didn’t wrap up until 3am!). In addition, when filming a popular TV show or video for a band as big as Coldplay, the producers don’t want masses of people in the background either in shot or making a noise, disrupting the shoot. It truly is amazing, in an age of social networking media that Coldplay managed to pull all this off.

In many ways this was a textbook implementation of security (with one notable exception): there was a security policy (“we need to keep the song and band location secret”), there were processes/ procedures to back this up (we all signed an NDA); there was physical security (we were on a boat, our identity was checked as we came in, and all phones and cameras were handed in upon arrival); and there was user training (the production company reminded us several times the importance of keeping the band’s location of filming and song under wraps, until the release on 1st December). The fan side of it was a job well done: I think Coldplay’s fan liaison officer deserves some extra tangerines in her Christmas stocking from the band this Christmas!

Nevertheless there was a leak, and for once, not from WikiLeaks! The paparazzi did turn up at the Coldplay set, and with long lenses, managed to get pictures of both the set and the boat. I wondered who may have leaked their location – it can’t have been a fan – given we were on a boat and were incommunicado. Was it someone out to make a fast buck from a leak? Then I saw the following tweet from Simon Pegg – also an extra in the video:

Simon Pegg's Tweet

Simon Pegg’s tweet on Twitter gave the game away that morning. Given it was re-tweeted 86 times it was not required to have the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes to find Coldplay that day!

So what next for Coldplay? Well Chris Martin said recently in an interview that their next album – due next year – could be their “last big shot”. Chris loves saying something like this prior to every album launch, but if ever he feels likes laying down the guitar and closing the piano for good, he can always mastermind information security in the music industry. You heard it here first: Chris Martin is music’s answer to James Bond.

Christmas Lights is the new Coldplay single and is available on iTunes. The video can be seen on Coldplay’s website

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