To shoot their latest video, arena rockers U2 landed at Santa Monica Airport

By Michael Aushenker

u2Despite the song’s title, the impact of U2’s recent landing at Santa Monica Airport was far from “Invisible.”

Many high-profile film and television shoots have unfolded inside and around the airport’s Barker Hangar, from John Woo’s “Broken Arrow” to the bowling dream sequence in the Coen Bros.’ cult classic “The Big Lebowski” to the sci-fi actioner “Battle Los Angeles.” TV’s “American Idol” and spots for Taco Bell have also been shot there.

Director Mark Romanek entered Barker Hangar with Bono and the boys in January and, after a span of three days, emerged with a performance-themed video for the Irish rockers’ latest release.

Debuting on Feb. 2 during the Super Bowl telecast (which turned out to be the highest-rated televised program in history), the “Invisible” video ultimately helped U2 raise more than $3.1 million toward pet cause the Red Campaign, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting AIDS.

Romanek’s work on “Invisible” plays toward the Dublin band’s larger-than-life, arena-sized swagger while taking a stab at artsy by shooting in black and white with extensive lighting effects.

Judi Barker, who oversees Barker Hangar, traced the arrival of one of the biggest-selling rock groups of all time back to December, when representatives for what was billed as a low-key shoot signed up to rent the venue.

“It started out as a commercial,” Barker said.  Then the reps filled out a form, and “that’s when it got interesting. It’s going to be a long commercial. It’s going to take a couple of weeks.”

The people running Barker Hangar were then told amplified sound would be involved. Oh, and expect 1,200 extras, because “it’s going to look like a concert,” Barker said.

Then came a request for extensive security. Barker’s reaction: “What? Is Obama coming?”

Barker said she was thrilled upon finally learning the true identity of her mystery guests.

“I love U2! I’ve seen them at the Rose Bowl and in Anaheim and at the Forum,” she said. “They would go down into my conference room, right under my office and rehearse,” added Barker, who likened it to “having your own private free concert every day.”

According to Barker, U2 warmed up with older cuts such as “Desire.”

Whether “Invisible” will be the first single off of their still-untitled 13th studio album, currently eyeing a summer release, is unclear. However, it’s the first song U2 has released since their Academy Awards-nominated soundtrack cut “Ordinary Love” in 2013.

Romanek — whose theatrical feature-film detours have included 2002’s “One Hour Photo” and the offbeat 2010 science-fiction drama “Never Let Me Go” — broke into entertainment on the strength of memorable videos for Nine Inch Nails (“Closer”) and Beck (“Devil’s Haircut”). He also directed clips for Coldplay (“Speed of Sound”) and, last year, Jay-Z (“Picasso Baby”). His most memorable and poignant video is arguably the one for Johnny Cash’s late-career cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” which, incorporating old footage of Cash and wife June Carter, built up into a feverish life-flashing-before-one’s-eyes visual and aural crescendo.

U2 was not the first high-profile musical act to work at Barker Hangar. Michael Jackson filmed 1993’s “Black and White” video there, and sister Janet Jackson spent a week there rehearsing for a tour. Bruno Mars has used Barker Hangar, as have Rod Stewart and Foo Fighters.

In 2012, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did a run-through of their Coachella set.

“I walked in and almost dropped my jaw,” said Barker of catching that preview of their famed Tupac Shakur hologram.

Barker believes it’s the sheer scale of the hanger — 35,000 square feet, with 43-foot high ceilings — that makes it so appealing for entertainers.

“The ceilings are so high and the stage is so big, you can rehearse your whole stage show [inside],” she said.

And the relative seclusion, she adds, allows them to work almost as though they were “invisible.”

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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