Among the many things about the early-70s rock-and-roll scene Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous gets right is the look of the film's concert sequences. Director of photography John Toll and gaffer Randy Woodside enjoyed the design input of an LD who remembers, Kim Killingsworth. "We hashed out what rock-and-roll was in the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s," says Killingsworth, a staff designer at Design Partners, Inc. "In explaining to them the way concerts were then as opposed to now, I said, big concerts were lots of lights, a multitude of PAR bars."
What they weren't, of course, were spectacles of automated lighting. "I've run into these problems when we've tried to recreate the 70s rock-and-roll look for television retrospectives," says Killingsworth, formerly a CBS staff designer who worked on everything from The Carol Burnett Show to The Young and the Restless. "People want a period look, but we're used to moving lights."
In the DreamWorks release, which examines the cross-country 1973 tour of a journeyman band and includes three concert scenes, Killingsworth wanted to make use of automation, but in an invisible way. "I set to work drawing up a plot that could be used in three different locations - the San Diego Sports Arena; the LA Coliseum; and the Hollywood Palladium," he says. "It was a basic box truss with a center run, PAR can washes, a few specials and Lekos. Then we had Genie Superlift trees that we put ACL bars on, to work in for camera shots, basically.
"And then," he continues, "there were a dozen automated Martin MAC 600s, hidden in the rig. When John would need a downlight on somebody, or a severe side light, you could just dial in those Martins at the board, and bring them around. It mimicked what a period ellipsoidal or PAR can would have done, and it's such a timesaver." The MAC 600s were controlled on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog console, while an ETC Expression 3 board was used for the conventional lighting.
The only major modification to the rig required at the LA Coliseum was a ground support version of the box truss, says Killingsworth, whose role on the shoot was taken over for a few days by fellow Design Partner Lee Rose. But when the company got to the Hollywood Palladium, "we had to throw everything out we'd done before, because the Palladium is a difficult room. The ceiling is very low, and the stage is very wide. There was a problem getting enough different instruments in our front truss for washes. We used the MAC 600s for washes, and I brought in 10 MAC 500s for our moving specials. I also introduced footlights, which provided a nice warm glow from below.
"Being primarily a video and live person, the experience of doing this film was amazing for me," says the designer, who got another thrill recently, when he won an Emmy for his work on the CBS movie Fail Safe. That show was broadcast live, in black and white; for Killingsworth, retro is clearly in this year.