Boston-based LD John Gates of Gates Service Group (which he says is located in beautiful downtown Natick, MA) specializes in TV and film lighting, as well as TV studio lighting design. His recent clients include Fox Sport Net New England's new Studio B, and all the shows broadcast from there using a range of fluorescent, quartz, and LED fixtures, plus two shows for the Comcast Networks: CN-8's Backstage with Barry Nolan, which takes viewers backstage to the worlds of movies, television, music, and stand-up comedy; and Out of Bounds, an hour-long sports program hosted by Emmy Award-winning sports journalist Gregg Murphy. In 2004, he designed Dubai TV, state-of-the-art studios for Dubai Media with ETC for dimming, controls, and fixtures. Gates' motto is “creating better lighting, one lumen at a time.” He will host a table at LDI's Designer Roundtable on Sunday, October 22, along with other Boston-based designers in LDI's “Salute to Boston,” sponsored by Barbizon Lighting and Color Kinetics.
On your work on Fox Sport Net, in designing the new Studio B, what are the challenges and equipment choices?
The challenges included stuffing four sets with 14 talent positions into a 30'×40' studio with minimal circuits (the result of a studio construction budget “situation” before I was hired) and maintaining all the required lighting with very few staff people. The challenge at FSN-NE and at many broadcast facilities is that often, there is no one and/or very little time to change light bulbs and gel. If you are not careful, they are quickly doing radio, not TV.
We used controllable, energy-efficient lights to create attractive pictures that will look good longer between lamp changes and without compromising performance. LED lights are used for no maintenance color changing on and in the set. The bulk of the talent lighting is done by DeSisti phase-control fluorescent softlights (both horizontal and vertical configurations with plug-through capability) using high CRI lamps good for 10,000+ hours. (There are a grand total of four traditional quartz fresnels in the package for some specific backlight applications). My favorite lighting workhorse, ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, are used for all the set front illumination.
What is the best career advice you've ever been given?
“Don't be a pleaser!” by good friend, and now retired DP, David Quaid. That means don't all too readily acquiesce to a client's wishes. Clients are usually more fallible than you. Please yourself first. Do the best work you are capable of, and it better be work you can live with long after the job is over, and the check is in your bank. At the end of the day, you are the only one who lives inside your head 24/7, and you better like that person.
What idea did you have that looked good on paper but not in reality?
Going into business with a specific person in 1979. It lasted until 1982, when I walked away and started Gates Service Group, Inc. As Mr. Rodgers used to say when he was mad at someone: “What can we say nice about this person?”
…followed by a very long silence.
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
Two actually. Funniest proud moment, 1979: after the papal mass on Boston Common and three solid days of rain (including during the mass), meeting Pope John Paul II and having him ask me and the sound designer “How come it's still working?” For once in my life, I was speechless. Serious proud moment, 2004: at the end of the fastest track project I have ever done (Dubai TV), the project manager said, “I love the lighting. It is more than I expected, and everything I hoped for.” Even shocked, I remembered to say thank you.
What inspires you in your creative goals?
The daily irony of using very tangible equipment to create a very intangible “thing,” light! It ain't about the lights; it's about the Light! The ability to use light to direct and misdirect the viewer's attention, define a space and flatter a face, reveal/conceal, enhance/hide, and everything else we do, all the while realizing there is no one, right, way of doing it, but constantly finding one of the many ways.