AN LD MOVES FROM THEATRE TO TV AND FILM

Lighting is lighting, no matter the medium. The ideas and concepts are the same, but the implementation differs greatly depending on the specifics of the project. This is where the difficulty lies in going back and forth between theatre, television, and film. My career started in theatre, both with my training at NYU and in the first few years of experience. After working in a variety of theatre situations, I felt the need to segue into television. Now my interests seem to be turning more toward film.

TRANSITIONS
The transition from theatre to television was fairly easy. I also had the advantage of a great mentor in lighting designer Dennis Size. I was able to observe him as he lit many shows for ABC News. I learned that I no longer controlled the overall composition--the camera did that for me. If the camera doesn't see it, it doesn't exist--a hard thing to comprehend at first coming from a theatrical background. Another important difference is to learn to trust the monitor, or a light meter, almost more than your naked eye.

Shooting on film represents another set of challenges. Most lighting designers don't make the transition into the position of director of photography due to a lack of knowledge about cameras, lenses, and film stocks. Since the DP controls all of these in addition to the lighting, it is a more complicated situation than in television. More frequently, DPs are enlisting the aid of lighting designers to work as a liaison between themselves and their gaffers--especially when the film includes theatrically based setups. I have recently been brought in on three different film projects based on my theatre experience. All three of these projects have very different setups, with one common element: Each had a dance segment that wanted to be theatrically lit. Yet that is where the similarities end.

CATCHING THE FEVER
The national tour of the Broadway show Saturday Night Fever needed a television commercial to be used for advance publicity in the upcoming cities. The mandate was to make it visually sexy and fast-paced. It was not important to the producers that it look like the actual touring production. In fact, the dancers' faces were rarely shown, as they didn't want to limit the commercial to one specific cast. The producer felt that having a theatrically trained lighting designer create the look for the dance sequences, in conjunction with the DP, would enhance the visual elements while lending an air of authenticity.

This was the first time that I worked with DP Dejan Georgevich and gaffer JP Dolan. The three of us met for the first time during the survey day at Paris Film Productions' Studio A/B. We quickly agreed on the look we wanted for the commercial. We discussed everything from the artistic vision straight through to the implementation. Dejan wanted to keep a tight palette limited to secondary colors. All other details regarding implementation were left up to me.

I set up a combination of trusses overhead to give us washes of color and texture. I then put vertical trusses on the corners of the dance floor, focusing diagonally to catch the dancers as they moved through the space. We decided to use mirror balls in several locations as well as foggers to add another level of atmosphere beyond the effect in the light board that was written to synchronize with the music.

The final moment of the commercial required a special effect. Dejan wanted to create a look he had in mind for this moment with exploding lights. He was interested in seeing not only the flash of the bulbs, but the sparks and smoke that would follow. I designed what affectionately came to be known on the shoot as the “wall-o-light.” JP Dolan and his crew constructed for me a series of 20 vertical supports with 15 sockets on each. We interspersed 30 flash bulbs with standard 250W ECA lamps. Each time we did the shot it required the relamping of all flash bulbs. As the dancers went through their final moves, the cue for the flash was coordinated to the button at the end of the music and the moment when the dancers landed in the final pose. It was very effective.

SANKYO VERY MUCH
My next project was a similar situation. A Japanese corporate client, Sankyo, was shooting a public relations commercial to air only in Japan. They wanted to shoot a dance sequence with eight dancers at the Ambassador Theatre on Broadway. The mandate here was to create a “Broadway” sensibility in a black velour void. It was thought that a theatrical lighting designer could be of assistance, and I was called.

The organization of positions was a little different on this shoot than for the Saturday Night Fever one. The director, who spoke only Japanese, also operated one camera. The lighting director, Dale Iwamasa, and the gaffer, Peter McEntyre, along with my master electrician, Chuck Fields, and I joined forces to get the final look for the commercial. There were two separate crews for lighting hired from two separate unions--one film and one theatrical--both working toward a common end. This shoot took place on the stage of the Ambassador Theatre, in the audience of the theatre, as well as outside near the marquee and around Times Square. My crew worked on anything that was shot behind the proscenium, while the film crew worked on all else.

The film crew set up film-style lighting using large sources scattered throughout the house of the theatre. I designed the stage look with traditional theatre ideas--footlights, overhead diagonals, and low sidelights. We were on a tight schedule, which meant we had time to get only one look that worked before filming started. As we found more and more things that overlapped the proscenium dividing line, we all found wonderful ways of working together.

LUCKY STARS
An independent film called The Lucky Ones approached me to work with them on lighting a dance segment for one of their scenes. The film was being shot very low-budget. Actually, instead of shooting on film, they were using Sony PD150 PAL digital video cameras. This meant that a film production was shooting on video, with the ultimate plan of transferring to film for distribution. We tried to find a small theatre that already had a complement of equipment in order to keep costs and scheduling to a minimum.

The location chosen was the Actor's Theatre Workshop. The DP, Patricio Suarez, and I met on the scout day. The performance/dance piece incorporated two live video projectors and two small DV cameras to be operated by the performers. The performance was broken into four separate acts, each lasting about 30 seconds. Each act ended with a tableau. I chose to light each act with no color, saving the addition of color for each tableau. From act to act, the tableaux became more and more chromatic. Patricio loved this idea, so we went with it.

The style of the performance required a minimalist approach, and this worked in nicely with the budget and time constraints of the project. We used all in-house equipment. The theatre owns a small Dove Systems dimmer/light board package. There are a handful of old fresnels and ellipsoidals which we used to the fullest.

THAT'S A WRAP
These three projects provided me with a variety of challenges and opportunities. It was fascinating to light for film where the range of detail in both the highlights and shadows is far wider than in video. The color saturation levels also had much more range. Ultimately the biggest change in how I worked was to pay more attention to the smaller details--details that would have been lost on video, but were indeed caught on film.

The other interesting thing to work through was the relationship between director, DP, and gaffer. The addition of a lighting designer does not negate the need for any of these positions. I feel it adds to process. Another set of eyes concerned specifically with a visual element such as lighting frees the DP to concentrate on other areas more fully. This addition means that more details can be addressed not only in pre-production, but during the entire shoot.

These types of projects offer a pleasant change from theatre or television. It is something different, yet in an eerie way it is the same. It is rewarding to take known techniques and apply them in a totally different way. What I found amazing and wonderful was that we could all achieve the same look in different ways, coming from different background disciplines. As I said at the beginning, lighting is--ultimately--simply lighting.

Rita Ann Kogler is on staff with the Lighting Design Group in New York City and can be reached at kogler@LDG.com.

RITA ANN KOGLER CROSSOVER PROJECTS

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER

15

ETC Source Fours 50°

51

Altman WFL 1kW silver PAR-64s

4

Altman 8' MR-16 4-circuit striplights

2

Mole-Richardson 9-light Maxi Brutes

2

Kino Flo KF32 4' 4Banks

1

Kino Flo KF32 2' 4Banks

4

Lycian 1,200W short-throw followspots

1

china ball with 250W Lamp

1

custom “wall-o-light” of 20 1'x3' wooden strips with 15 sockets on each, with 270 ECA 250W lamps and 30 flashbulbs used each take

3

20" mirror balls with controller

1

ETC Expression console

1

ETC Sensor 96x2.4kW dimmer rack

2

ETC Sensor 12x2.4kW dimmer racks

2

ETC Sensor 6x6kW dimmer racks

1

LMI 12kW dimmer

6

1/2-ton chain hoists with controller

SANKYO

25

Altman Shakespeares 40°

15

Altman Shakespeares 30°

18

Altman Shakespeares 20°

18

Altman MFL Star PARs

6

Altman Q-Lites

15

Altman 6' MR-16 3-circuit striplights

4

Mole-Richardson 10kW Babys

2

Mole-Richardson 5kW Babys

2

Mole-Richardson 9-light Maxi Brutes

2

Mole-Richardson 9-light Mini Brutes

4

Mole-Richardson 200W Mini Moles

4

Mole-Richardson 600W Tweenies

4

Mole-Richardson 1kW Babys

2

Mole-Richardson 2kW Blondes

4

Mole-Richardson 1kW Redheads

6

Mole-Richardson 1kW Ziplights

2

Mole-Richardson 2kW Ziplights

2

Arri HMI 125W Pocket PARs

2

Chimera Medium Quartz

2

Kino Flo KF32 4' 4Banks

2

Kino Flo KF32 4' 2Banks

1

8kW hot dog balloon

2

Reel EFX DF-50 hazers

1

ETC Express 48/96 board

1

96x2.4kW dimmer

1

48x2.4kW dimmer

4

12kW standalone dimmers

2

6kW standalone dimmers

THE LUCKY ONES

2

Kino Flo 4' 4Banks

2

Kino Flo 2' 4Banks

1

Kino Flo 2' 2Banks

2

Kino Flo Mini-Flos

4

Altman 1kW fresnels

6

Altman 650W fresnels

2

Altman 300W fresnels

15

Altman 6" fresnels

4

Altman 6" ellipsoidals

4

Altman 3 1/2" ellipsoidals

1

1.2kW dimmer

1

2.4kW dimmer

12

Dove Systems 1.2kW dimmers

1

Dove Systems two-scene preset light board