While Chris Parry's comments about rental houses may be valid, there are usually at least two sides to every story. At Parry's encouragement, ED spoke to several shops about the issue. Overall, many say they are open to making deals, especially in order to create a viable working relationship with the designers. However, they encourage the LD to be more realistic, especially when dictated by finances.
According to David Milly, president of Theatrical Lighting Systems in Huntsville, AL, the problem is based on usage; if he can only rent a high end piece of effects gear four times a year, it's going to be more expensive because not many designers are going to use it. But if a fixture is rented 30 times a year, then it will be cheaper to rent.
“We spend thousands of dollars on the latest fixture and the next thing you know it's obsolete,” he explains. “Once the newer fixtures come out, that's what the designer wants, so we're stuck with equipment we can't afford and that nobody wants.” Milly tells how a touring production insisted on a specific $10,000 dry ice smoke machine, so he bought one. A month later the tour was cancelled and Milly was stuck with a piece of equipment “that's going to take me the rest of my life to pay for,” he says.
The goal of the rental houses is to make the designer's vision a reality and are more than willing to work with an LD with budgetary constraints as much as possible. “Designers are not the enemy,” says Larry Schoeneman, president, Design Lab Chicago. “They are the lifeblood of our industry. It's my job to find the type of gear they want. We can't subsidize designers' activities, but we can help realize their vision. It's very simple: we can be inexpensive, but we can't be free.”
Schoeneman, a former lighting designer himself, added that one of the reasons some of the more complicated pieces of equipment are more expensive is due the amount of code that is written for them. “The more code a fixture needs, the more expensive it is going to be to rent,” he says. “That's just a reality of our business.”
Then there are those on the rental side who think that the situation can often be quid pro quo; if a rental company is making the effort to give a designer what he wants, the designer should return the favor and use the same rental house on subsequent productions. “Even if you do a good job and give the designer what they want at a reasonable price, they are still continuously shopping around [to other rental companies] to get as much bang for their budget as they can,” says Paul Vincent, president, Vincent Lighting in Cleveland, OH. “This hurts the industry in the long run because soon only the strong will survive, and those companies will dictate the prices — which will be through the roof — and then there will be very few companies left for the designer to choose from.”
Are there any solutions to this problem? Milly, for his part, feels that designers should design within their budget and try not to depend too heavily on the bells and whistles of an expensive piece of equipment. “Some of the most creative, wonderful lighting I have ever seen has been created with simple equipment but done in superb taste,” he says. “A big budget doesn't guarantee it's going to be artistic or even attractive.”