Imagine you're the Foo Fighters. You've played stadiums in dozens of countries around the world, some of them multiple times. Shoot, you sold out Wembley Stadium two nights in a row. You've performed everywhere -- after a while, every venue probably starts to look the same.
And then a guy says, "If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be?"
You think for a few moments. Anywhere? Hmm. Then it hits you. "The Acropolis in Athens," you answer.
And then, somehow, that guy makes it happen.
Dan Catullo is the creator, director, and executive producer of Landmarks Live In Concert, the docs-series that features global superstars performing at monumental locations around the world. The Foo Fighters episode airs November 10 on PBS.
To pull it off, Catullo's team had to get over 180 permits to do the shoot, create a perimeter around the Acropolis that included over 400 security people, bring in their own TV truck and all key gear from the U.K., and become the first production granted permission to film at the Parthenon in almost 60 years.
So yeah: As our conversation shows, Dan kinda knows what he's doing.
Since I've tried and failed for years to get an interview with Dave Grohl, I have to ask: How did you manage to land the Foo Fighters?
We already had relationships with the band. So we asked the question we always ask: "If you could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be?"
It also didn't hurt that Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) is our host. Chad knows everybody.
The biggest reason, though, is that we go into every show for the right reasons. We try to give artists their dream. And for the location, our show is almost like a commercial. We're highly complimentary, and in a genuine way.
Still: The Greek government typically doesn't agree to projects of this nature.
You're right. Right before we met with them it was all over the press that Greece turned down 56 million euros from Gucci for a fashion show. This is right before I'm getting ready to go in. Wonderful. (Laughs.)
From my perspective, the problem was that Gucci made it all about money. Greece doesn't "exploit" their landmarks, so we had to really make it about them and what we could do for them.
Still, pulling all the pieces together was probably the toughest thing I've ever done. Working through the politics involved and the permitting challenges was a massive undertaking. It took about a year, 180 permits, a 900-person crew, metal detectors, a perimeter... turning such a historic place into a venue required constant negotiations.
But in the end they were great. They allowed us to do a tour and we even interviewed the Minister of Culture at the venue.
I could understand their hesitation.
You think? (Laughs.) Obviously the first thing you would do is look at Foo Fighters concerts online and see the crowds... naturally they thought we would bring a rowdy crowd into the Acropolis. And if we broke something, our insurance policy wouldn't cover it -- how do you replace priceless? (Laughs.)
And then factor in that film crews are notorious for damaging things, and we brought in 24 cameras, 3 jibs... they even let me fly a drone over the top of it.
The good news is that since we've done shows in so many important places, if a potential venue gets nervous... hey, we've done the Acropolis. (Laughs.)
Landmarks Live is an awesome idea.... but how did you get it off the ground?
In a way the series is like my body of work all thrown into one project. It's like I spent 25 years preparing for this.
Selling a TV show is very hard to do. Doing a full series is a lot of money, a huge commitment, plus music is a hard sell on TV. We started taking meetings and not many people paid attention.
I didn't care. I knew there was a void. 51 percent of the daily views on YouTube are music, but the networks have steered away from family and variety shows: All that's really left are competition-based shows or awards shows, and you can only repeat that same format so many times.
No one went for our vision, so we put our money where our mouth is and started producing episodes.
That was a huge risk... but retaining ownership also can lead to a huge reward.
We figured the only way to redefine how music is seen on TV was to just do it. Fortunately, the artists immediately supported our vision. So we let the networks catch up with us.
Now it seems like everyone is chasing us. We've had multiple offers for distribution deals, for digital partners... it's like the the Field of Dreams premise: We had to spend $10 million to build it, and now the industry is recognizing the potential.
Retaining ownership -- and creative direction -- also lets you run the show your way.
Future shows will go even more heavily into the travel aspect. Travel shows are extremely popular, and we have the advantage of great storytelling and direct connections between artists and locations.
Think about it. When Dave Grohl does an interview, he's asked the same questions. We don't talk about that stuff. We were in Greece, so we asked why Greece, what is your connection... and the way Chad does the interviews is very different than how a journalist would.
I wanted my own Anthony Bourdain: Someone who is cool, someone who can hold their own -- that's Chad.
He's totally engaged in the show. He even helps book talent. I said it before: I'm convinced Chad Smith knows every artist in the world. He's friends with everyone, and he's a real asset to us. The artists are like, "Oh, this will be cool. Chad will interview me."
But doing anything that seems nearly impossible always involves at least a few dark moments.
I originally intended this to be a little show in New York. Now it's becoming a much bigger thing on a business level with distribution, format licensing... it's going far beyond what I ever envisioned.
So many people told us we couldn't do it, though. The night our Alicia Keys episode aired we had a private party for the core team who were with us the whole way, for family and friends... and 5 minutes into the broadcast I started crying because it occurred to me that it was actually on TV. I wasn't watching in the edit bay. It was on TV. And then seeing the great reactions on social media...
So many people told us to give up. In the TV business there isn't much room for new people. Even with all the stuff I've done, all the one-off specials... the TV business is not really open to outsiders. Even if you come up with the best thing ever, you still have to earn your space.
In a way, the doubters paved the way for you to do a Richard Branson, "Screw it, let's do it." And like I said, retaining ownership has turned out to be huge.
Absolutely. Almost every show is pitched under an acquisition model; the network acquires the show an then develops it in-house. I did have offers to sell the show, but one, I wasn't going to give away ownership. Two, I didn't want the show to get stuck in development hell, and even if it did get made, there was always the chance they wouldn't make me the show runner.
I've lived and breathed this for 20 years. No one is more qualified than me, I'm friends with all these artists... so if they weren't interested in doing a licensing deal, I shut it down. I shot down some pretty big opportunities.
Here I was, an outsider, and I was saying no. That was really hard to do.
Since we did the Branson model, we stay in creative control, and that lets the show be about the artist's vision.
The star of the show is the landmark, first and foremost, then the artist's connection to it. I didn't want a TV network to come in and destroy the style and tone of the show and turn it into something else entirely.
So I'm glad we waited it out, but boy did I go around the mountain about 60 times. I took the longest road possible.
But it was worth it, because we own it.
It also has to be gratifying that the artists enjoy it as much as they do.
For the starts, it isn't really about money. It's about capturing a moment in their careers that is truly iconic.
I hope, 30 years from now, Dave Grohl looks back and says one of his favorite memories was playing the Acropolis. We try to give artists an unattainable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If an artist is looking for a big payday, hey, go talk to NBC. if you want something special, we're the people to talk to.
So yes, I have the coolest job in the world. I get to collaborate with amazing artists, to work with a team I truly respect... it's definitely a bad-ass job.