Pulling together an Olympics opening ceremony in the midst of a deep recession required what Brazil’s organizers called “MacGyverism” and a lot of bargain hunting at a popular Rio bazaar.
The three Brazilian filmmakers and creative minds behind Friday’s ceremony to open South America’s first Olympic Games, said they drew on their country’s rich tradition of stretching a little cash a long way.
“We had a budget way below what you would expect for an event of this type, but we are pretty used to working this way,” said Daniela Thomas, a filmmaker who spoke with pride of the mix of thriftiness and creativity that Brazilians call “gambiarra”.
“It’s like MacGyverism,” she added, a reference to the 1980s American TV show featuring Angus MacGyver, a resourceful secret agent who assembled ingenious devices from everyday objects.
Performing at the famed Maracana soccer stadium presented all sorts of logistical challenges too, such as low seating and small entrances that ruled out big stages or Carnival floats. The only high-tech splurge was for the show’s video projections.
Given the low-tech budget, Thomas said they looked back at how the Greeks, the inventors of the Games, created “analogue” performances in ancient times. They wanted to learn how to enchant an audience – 50,000 in the stadium and some three billion people via television – over three hours.
Brazilian music, including the samba and drumming made famous by Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival celebrations, will feature prominently, and all artists agreed to perform without pay.
While the Rio 2016 organizing committee has not said how much the ceremony cost, it is believed to be about half of the $42 million spent by London in 2012.
Brazil is in the midst of its worst recession since at least the 1930s, aggravated by a political crisis that has suspended the elected president for an impeachment trial this month.
“I think it is very right for this moment in Brazil and the world not to have a big show and opulent ceremony,” said executive producer Marco Balich.
Andrucha Waddington, another film director working on the ceremony, said they spent a lot of time buying supplies in Saara, “a market where Jews and Muslims work together and sell very, very cheap stuff.”
In studying past opening ceremonies, the filmmakers said they would get depressed watching the 2008 spectacle in Beijing, an event that raised the bar for host cities due to its sheer scale and precision. Still, they said nothing would compare with the Brazilian soul of Friday’s big show.
“Athens was about the classics, Beijing was grandiose and muscular, London was smart, and ours – ours will be cool,” said Fernando Meirelles, the director who made a Rio slum famous in the film “City of God.”