On paper, investing $189 million in a new 1.7-million-sq.-ft. (153,000-sq.-m) mall with 30 movie screens, a virtual reality arcade, a wildlife preserve, and 214 stores, 45 miles (72km) east of Los Angeles seems like pure folly. But mall developer The Mills Corporation has so far made Ontario Mills a glossy new addition to its charm bracelet of off-the-scale winners.
Opened in November 1996, Ontario Mills attracted approximately 100,000 visitors daily during its first 45 days in business, kicking off a year during which more than 20 million visitors are expected. The Mills formula is designed to attract the whole family for an extended outing of shopping, eating, game playing, and movie viewing. Visitors to the mall stay an enviable average of three and a half hours.
Added to this rich mix of attractions are five strikingly innovative illuminated multimedia designs which exemplify a new genre of lighting that bridges entertainment and architecture. Designed by JK Design Group of Granada Hills, CA, these creations are sculptural, fanciful, intricately programmed panoramas, four located at interior hubs of The Mills' vast center, and one at an exterior entry.
"The shopping public is bored," Laurence C. Siegel, The Mills chairman and chief executive, was recently quoted as saying. Shoppers, Siegel believes, want an experience, and not another one like the last one: "We give people who don't have a place to go a place to go."
The Mills Corporation, a publicly traded real-estate investment trust based in Arlington, VA, operates four other malls of similar size, on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, FL; Washington, DC; Philadelphia; and Chicago. Two more under construction in Tempe, AZ, and Dallas are expected to open this year and seven more are on the drawing board, including one in Orange, CA, 40 miles (64km) away from Ontario Mills.
The Mills entertainment-based malls are not the biggest around, that title being shared by two super-mega-malls--the 4.2-million-sq.-ft. (378,000-sq.-m) Mall of America in Bloomington, MN, and the 5.2-million-sq.-ft. (468,000-sq.-m) Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. But during the five years since the Mall of America opened, the merchandising underpinnings of US shopping centers have shifted radically. The department store business has consolidated from 20 or more major chains to a relative handful now.
"Big-box" stores, including Barnes and Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, Staples, and others, have built freestanding entities, drawing shoppers away from malls. Catalog shopping, estimated in 1996 to have topped $60 billion in the US, has been another drain on mall traffic. To buck these trends, shopping center owners realize they have to attract customers, entertain them, and while they are there, expect them to do some shopping.
Ontario Mills is a super-regional mall, drawing people from a 20-25 mile (32-40km) radius rather than the 10-mile (16km) radius of a typical regional mall. It is laid out as a single floor along a mile-long (1.6km) oval referred to as "Main Street." In place of the usual department or large chain store anchors, there are 14 cut-price or "value" retailers, such as Sports Authority, a J.C. Penney catalog-outlet store, Marshalls, Off 5th, and Bed Bath & Beyond. The colossal food court that seats 1,100 is a loud hub of activity located along one section of Main Street. Clustered around the oval are most of the mall's attractions and entertainment-related stores.
JK Design Group began working with The Mills Corporation and its in-house design department in 1995. Senior creative and technical director for The Mills is Daniel Barnycz. "Creative concepts start with him," says Jay Winters of JK Design Group. "He is a visionary, the source of ideas; he gets the company to support his concepts, then pulls the team together and makes his vision happen."
Winters and partner Edward Kaye founded JK Design Group in 1989. After meeting and becoming friends in college, they went their separate ways, pursuing graduate degrees in theatrical design and production. The two became reacquainted while both were involved in a Disney project in Orlando. They saw the future growth of themed entertainment and founded JK Design Group to serve this market. "The thrust of our practice is marrying architectural and theatrical lighting methods in themed entertainment environments," Winters says.
The Mills Corporation facilities are known for their highly sophisticated mall-wide audio and video systems, a component of the company's operating philosophy to provide a pleasurable shopping experience that generates repeat traffic. The Mills has installed customized animation elements in each of its mega-mall projects. JK's assignment was to create specialty lighting for Ontario Mills that would fit seamlessly into its architectural environment while communicating its own aesthetic, and where applicable, functional messages.
"It's not like walking into a theatre and hanging a light on a pipe," Winters says. "Every element of the show lighting system must be integrated into the facility. All the players on the team have to know their role and understand the roles that the other professionals play in the process." For Ontario Mills, this group included representatives from The Mills Corporation, two architectural firms, the engineers, and the general and electrical contractors. Since the team members are based in different parts of the country, members met in project offices during the design development and construction phases.
"Mills understands the need to support the entertainment component with realistic budgets; at the same time they are conscious of getting the most value for their equipment dollar. Each animation show will be running from 5 to 10 years, so durability plays an important role in our selection criteria," Winters says.
During an intense 15-month period, JK Design Group took five themed areas from concept through design, fabrication, and installation. (Lighting for the parking lot, entries, and the base building were designed by other firms.) JK's five innovative works include "Entertainment Highway," an interior and exterior entry feature; "City Beautiful" and "Magical Grapevine," both animated entry rotunda shows; "Mission Rotunda," an entry area with a scenic and lighting treatment containing a retail kiosk; and "Swing Rotunda," an entry area containing a retail kiosk. "City Beautiful" and "Magical Grapevine" are purely sculptural, not linked to tenants or corporate sponsorship, but rather are intended "for the benefit of the mall's guests and the enjoyment of the surroundings," Winters says.
The exterior segment of the Entertainment Highway starts at the entry plaza that encompasses the 30-screen AMC movie theatre. Winters describes the main feature of the Screen Wall at the north end of the plaza as "a color-changing light show, with slowly blending color changes punctuated by moments of sparkling, dynamic color shifts." Each of the 9'x18' (2.7x5.4m) elliptical sign panels is illuminated with two Irideon(TM) AR500(TM) fixtures mounted on custom poles located across a roadway from the sign. Each column is lit from below with one AR500 located within the Screen Wall construction. "The Irideon fixtures deliver a high-impact effect that is an essential part of the entertainment entry feature," Winters says.
JK also designed the general plaza area illumination that includes the berm islands with bench lights. "For the general plaza illumination, lighting poles, and planter wall accent lighting, we specified Bega Lighting fixtures," Winters says. "This line of fixtures has a very designed and contemporary look as well as outstanding performance characteristics."
Inside, the Entertainment Highway extends from Entry B at the west end of the Food Court. The flooring is designed to mimic white highway lane markers. According to Winters, the Entertainment Kiosk communicates the essence of Route 66 in the 1950s and 60s but with an updated contemporary feel to relate to the Ontario Mills environment. Irideon AR5(TM) lamps mimic headlight effects, sweeping up and down the "highway." Winters notes that the AR5 was a "natural choice, a perfect application" for the moving headlight effect. "It was also a new fixture from Irideon, and that alone was reason to try it."
Programmed to run continuously at 10-minute intervals during mall operating hours, the audio show integrates sounds of motorcycles, a car chase, trucks, and changing radio stations (the audio output moves from one speaker to another) keyed to lighting sequences of head- and taillights, Burma Shave signs, and kiosk strobes. JK Design Group was also involved with the Food Court's stage lighting, a self-contained system used for a variety of special events, including live hookups within or outside the mall.
A whimsical Alice-in-Wonderlandish grapevine (with luminous purple grapes) is the 20'-high (6m) sculptural marker entwined beneath a cove illuminated with CSL Invizilite at Entry G at the southwest corner of the mall identifying "The Magical Grapevine." According to Winters, JK Design Group has used the Invizilite halogen strip lighting in all of its rotunda cove applications, noting thatit is flexible to work with and produces a great quality light.
This animated rotunda show is a response to a narrated tale delivered by "The Man in the Moon." At the start of the cycle, it is a sunny day with rays of light streaming through the grapevine's leaves. On cue, the sun is transformed into the moon, and the lighting changes accordingly. The lighting motif shifts as the story's characters are mentioned and musical themes are heard. As a grand finale, the grapevine becomes magical as the grapes appear to glow with an inner energy source.
Located within the circular rotunda at Entry D at the northeast corner of the mall, "City Beautiful" offers a different day and night show that cycles hourly. Its script calls for a bright and airy day show with a cloud-filled sky as a background for oversized, stylized flower blooms. A dramatic fast-moving storm unfolds for the night show--lightning, thunder, roiling clouds, and the sound of rain falling. As day breaks, the storm passes and an intensified rainbow arc appears above. A Dataflash(R) AF1000 xenon strobe from High End Systems contributes to these effects.
A new lighting accessory was the byproduct of this project. The task was to find a way to dim the two Optikinetics K2 cloud projectors so that they would fade in and out smoothly, and eliminate having the lamps snap on and waiting for them to warm up. "They were non-dimmable, and couldn't give us the effect we wanted," Winters points out. He needed a scroll that allowed a gradation of dimming to occur, and turned to Paul Rabinowitz, production manager of Xenotech Inc., manufacturers of programmable searchlights and specialty lighting fabricators.
"We originally attempted to get this effect with layers of neutral-density gel media. But we couldn't get an acceptable level of smoothness," Winters recounts. "The answer lay in a photographic process. Paul did the R&D to utilize a 44"-long [112cm] piece of film which was cut down to fit within a scrolling color changer to produce a full-range manual douser." The resultant product, the Douser Scroll, is controlled by the lighting commands programmed within the computerized console. The DMX information was loaded onto an Alcorn McBride Real Time DMX recorder for playback during the show's controlled sequences.
JK Design Group also consulted on the Ontario Mills video studio system that features mall-wide playback known as Mills TV. The Mills Corporation can offer on-site production of commercials; tenants pay for shooting the messages, which are then beamed around the mall via the closed-circuit TV system.
Winters feels that his company, which has also contributed to the new Grapevine Mills in Dallas and Arizona Mills in Tempe, has gained invaluable logistics experience by being part of the mammoth Mills Corporation projects. "Through the use of AutoCAD, we were able to exchange and coordinate information with the project team on the fast-track schedule this project demanded," he says.
Vilma Barr is a New York-based writer specializing in design and merchandising. The most recent of the four books she has co-authored on these topics, Stores: Retail Display and Design, will be published in November by PBC International.
Standing on the Great Wall of China at Badaling, it's practically impossible for most individuals not to experience a sense of insignificance by comparison. With Beijing's skyline faintly visible in the distance, the realization that this colossal structure was built by the ancestors of the planet's most populated nation only intensifies the lilliputian feeling.
Yet, if his modus operandi for choosing venues to showcase his live performances is any indication, Greek New Age musician Yanni is not affected by the petty insecurities that plague mere mortals. In fact, the opposite seems true--the grander the scale and the more exotic the location, the better. Four years ago, the musician fulfilled his dream of performing at his homeland's historic Herodeon, the world's oldest theatre (almost 2,000 years old), which is adjacent to the Acropolis in Athens. The next year he performed at London's famed Royal Albert Hall, and he followed that up in 1996 with a performance at a Japanese festival in front of the Toji Temple. This year the quest for global recognition broadened further still, with concert events at Agra, India's Taj Mahal in March and Beijing, China's Forbidden City in May.
LD David "Gurn" Kaniski, who has worked with the musician for the past 10 years, remembers that even when no one had heard of Yanni--back when John Tesh was still a member of the band--how the show looked has always been as crucial as how it sounded. "When I think about the importance that he put on all those shows, including the very first show we ever did, it's the same," Kaniski says. "It's really amazing. I'd get the same vibe from him when he's talking about a regular stage show or about one of the Wonders of the World. He'll keep emphasizing, 'It has to look good; it's really important that it looks good.' Because his music is not controversial in any way, lyric-wise or stylistically, he can travel anywhere and be welcome to play in these fantastic places. It has been a great opportunity to go with him."
Not to mention a great challenge for the entire production crew. From a lighting angle, these events required designs that would address each site's notable architectural details, work for the live concert, and provide the levels necessary for live television as well as for video. "Yanni obviously has a strong belief in video, whereas I have more of a live performance attitude," Kaniski says. "I believe a lot more in the human eye, and its ability to perceive details, and I love to create those little subtleties that come up when you're sitting in a dark theatre."
To convert these nuances into comparable, video-friendly images, Lee Rose of Ocean, Rose Associates teamed up with Kaniski to light these events, as well as the previous concerts at the Herodeon and the Royal Albert Hall. "Of course, every time Lee and I do a video together, we go head-to-head," Kaniski laughs. "We'll have an endless chase going and I'll complain that it's too much. Then he'll remind me that it's a video. And he's right, because the camera doesn't perceive all of it--it only perceives the motion and a few colors at a time."
When plans for this expedition began last fall, the first concert site scheduled was at the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon in Teotihuacan, Mexico, so that is where Rose and Kaniski first focused their design strategies. This site was later canceled, as were plans to perform in front of South Africa's Table Rock Mountain. "We worked out a basic design based upon what we thought the layout was going to be, at least as far as the riser platforms for the orchestra were concerned," Rose explains. "No matter where we went, we were going to want to see through the lighting system to something, be it the Taj Mahal, the Forbidden City, the Pyramids--wherever.
"Gurn, myself, Yanni, and George Veras, the director, had conceptual meetings where we decided we were going to go with a stage that had no roof," Rose continues. "That led us to creating the four upstage towers, so we could meet the backlight angle for television that would ensure that everybody received nice frontlight and hair-light, but at the same time wouldn't take up a lot of space visually in the back. Once we lost all those overhead angles, we had to design something that would give us the positions we needed to get good-quality television closeups, and visually be an interesting element to add without overriding the background."
>From there the designers played around with different equipment packages. "Originally those back towers had [Vari*Lite(R)] VL5s(TM) on them, but when they decided they wanted to try to purchase some equipment of their own, we had to expand them a little bit to accommodate the [High End Systems] Studio Colors(R) they bought. We decided to put [Light & Sound Design] Icons(R) on the towers' bottoms because they're the biggest units and they rotate gobos. When you're working outdoor venues and the smoke level is going to be whatever the gods were willing to give us, it was important to try to be able to get those effects without having to count on having a lot of atmosphere in the air."
Once the upstage area was worked out, the LDs decided to continue with the tower theme, although the stage plans were still incomplete, as a production designer had yet to be chosen. "We knew we'd need a stage structure that could accommodate access on and off the stage for the load-in and load-out, as well as the monitor position. We also knew from previous experience at the Acropolis that, when you're shooting straight down the keyboard or straight across the keyboard rig, the shots of Yanni were side positions," Rose explains. "So to incorporate the position along with the spot angles that we wanted to use from the same neighborhood, we continued the lighting pod scheme down the sides, and built a scaffold to support it."
The LDs next concentrated on putting key lighting positions into the show. "Gurn and I knew we would have a front-of-house tower, so we had set it to a height of 50' (15m), which was a realistic height to build and would also keep the followspots from looking too flat," Rose says. "Originally, we planned to fly a truss off the scaffold. The truss was about 16' (4.8m) wider than the scaffolding, so that we could get a little farther out with the key lights. Because in the orchestra setup, everybody's turned toward center, so if you want to light straight into the face of someone sitting on the stage-left side, you have to be on the stage-right side of the front-of-house tower to do it. Otherwise you end up profiling them, which just doesn't look as good."
With throw distances in the 120-150' (37-46m) range, the designers considered using ACL bars because at 50' (15m) in the air, they would provide about 160-175' (49-53m) throws. "That's what we used as key light for the Acropolis show, but we had had such success with the 5-degree and 10-degree ETC Source Fours at the Royal Albert Hall show that we figured we could cover the necessary sections with three 10° Source Fours. And two 5-degree Source Fours could cover soloists--even at those distances."
When the lighting crew arrived in India, they discovered that the truss for the Source Fours added too much weight to the tower, so they hung the lights directly off the scaffolding. "That saved us all the motor weight and the truss weight," Rose says. "It really worked out, so we did the same in China."
For audience lighting, the LDs consulted with Yanni, who said he liked the approach they had used at the Herodeon. "At the Acropolis it was all back cross-light; there wasn't much light on people's faces, whereas at the Royal Albert Hall we created direct guide light, which wrapped around into people's faces so you could see them on reverse shots," Rose explains. "Certainly you want to see that people showed up for the show. But in Greece it was good that we didn't have their faces lit, because there were a lot of dignitaries from the government there who didn't really respond to the music. We lit the faces of the people in the first 10-15 rows, so if the camera operators wanted to get a reaction shot, they could. But pretty much the rest of the audience was lit three-quarter back cross, so that you got a sense that they were there without actually being able to see their faces."
Now it was time to move on to lighting the Taj Mahal, which, incidentally, had never been done before this event. The designers zoned the site areas into three lighting positions: 50-100' (15-30m), 100-200' (30-61m), and 200-2,000' (61-610m). "Our design for the Mexican pyramids turned out to be kind of a fire drill, but we established a basic package that would theoretically work for all three locations--and that included units that could throw huge distances," Rose says. "After doing a little bit of research, we came up with using the Xenotech 7k Britelights(R), because there aren't really too many other lights that will push that much intensity over that distance and be able to remote focus and remote color change. Then for medium-distance coverage on any of the three monuments, the LSD MegaMags with the 10ks gave us the ability to spot and flood the units, which enabled us to decide how much light we needed over what distances, and still maintain color changers on them. For the close-in zone, we positioned the Megalites from TMB with the Wybron Garganturam color scrollers."
The original plan was to light the Taj Mahal from three angles to provide some sense of the monument's three-dimensionality. "Of course, when we got there, all the distances had changed--for political reasons and the fact that the river hadn't gone down," Rose says. "So we were farther away than we thought we'd be, and then our 70' (21m) towers could not happen because our 80' (24m) crane could only lift to 24' (7m). So, we built them that high and put them at what would have been a three-quarter angle had we been playing the center of the Taj. But since we were playing the corner of the Taj, it was actually straight in on one side and off to the side on the other. We just made what we could work, given the fact that we were in a developing country and miles from anything."
By keeping the basic plan together the lighting crew was still able to light the Taj Mahal on two sides. "You could see that it was actually a three-dimensional structure, even though it was about a quarter-mile away," Rose says. "But there were a few times where they got in far enough on the lens so that it pulled the background into the back of a shot, and the Taj looked like it was 100' off the back of the stage. We felt pretty comfortable with the way we had the Taj lit."
For the show in China, the crew didn't have to build roads, use camels to haul equipment crates, fight mosquitoes, or defer to the itinerant water buffaloes' rush hour. Here the show was in the Forbidden City in a courtyard in front of the Working People's Cultural Palace--which actually hosted the load-in of an art show during Yanni's production set-up.
"We let our guard down slightly after India--our team was kind of cocky, because when we saw the space in China, we thought it would be a piece of cake in comparison," Kaniski admits. "But we were also touring, and then Yanni added extra shows, which cut into our programming time. Then we were made aware of new building restrictions, plus it rained a lot. The MegaMags especially didn't react well to the rain and the wind. They were ripping, and we were constantly repairing them. Lee and I were getting to the point where we considered just blowing them off. But even though it rained again right before doors opened, everything worked. The crew came in with big smiles, saying, 'Okay, we're ready. Everything is fine.' We were really blessed with the people we had on our crew. All of them just kept on going, even though there were quite a few late nights because most of the designing there was done on-site. India was different because we had our own stage there. But in China we were primarily set up on the steps of the pagoda, so all the positions had changed."
"China was a lot different, because unlike having one thing that was directly a quarter-mile off the back of the stage, we were up against a giant pagoda, and we had 360 degrees to deal with," Rose adds. "So we started with our basic package, then decided we would use the Xenotech Britelights for a beam effect in the air, because we really didn't have to cover long-range distances. The MegaMags basically covered the roofs of the buildings, and the Garganturams were put at the back of the stage. Then we added units for the side buildings: uplights on all the columns and the lights on the walls, just to give it a sense of depth."
To treat each song with a suitable amount of depth, the rest of the shows' lighting systems also included a substantial moving lights package, including Vari*Lite VL2C(TM), VL5, and VL6(TM) automated luminaires, LSD Icons, and High End Systems Cyberlights(R) and Studio Colors. "Management wanted to buy the Studio Colors for financial reasons, so Lee and I agreed we could use them on the back side washes only, because the color system is essentially the same as the Cyberlight flags coming in from the side," Kaniski explains. "High End Systems were great to us in rehearsals. But of course we still needed to rent Vari*Lites and Icons and a variety of different lamps for layering. It's all part of the design."
Also integral to the design were the shows' multi-layered lighting crew, which the designers hand-picked for these demanding projects. "Pretty early on I knew that this was going to be an insane project, especially considering where we were going," Rose says. "So I had started talking to Gurn about who we wanted to have program the show and operate the consoles."
After much discussion and searching for available programmers and operators whom the designers had worked with before, Warwick Price signed on as Icon operator and Matt Firestone as Vari*Lite Artisan(R) operator. When the LDs realized that they couldn't feasibly split up the Cyberlights and Studio Colors onto those desks, they added a Status Cue(R) console and High End suggested operator Dietrich Juengling. "Paul Lennon, my assistant, then became the conventional board (ETC Expression) operator as well," Rose says. "Paul is a great, even-headed board operator, always on the money, and really good at tracking paperwork and cues and information so that Gurn and I can think about the artistic side and not have to worry about the technical details. I know some LDs really like to get very specific about that, but I just want it to happen."
The rest of the crew gradually shaped up as John Lobel at LSD suggested Stephen "Dak" Harris for overall crew chief, and Lee Richardson signed on for the unenviable master electrician monster job. Jeff Durling, who had worked with Rose years ago, became the project's gaffer. Pete Radice then signed on to crew-chief for Vari-Lite. From Vari-Lite in London, John Wood agreed to tech the Garganturams in India and Matt Croft also came along as another technician.
Kaniski has worked with Delicate Productions on many tours, so he hired Gus Thompson to tech the Cyberlights and Studio Colors. Tiffany McLane also joined the crew as a technician/followspot operator. "We also had Greg Smith of Arc Lighting doing the followspots that were loaded with 4,000W xenon lamps," Kaniski says. "They gave us extra punch, which was great. Greg and Bill Cherrington and some of the LSD guys also doubled as followspot operators because we couldn't rely on anybody out there. That was nice, because then we had a little family on it."
"Xenotech's crew kept changing until the last minute, but LSD had their crew laid out fairly early on," Rose says. "We ended up with 23 guys in the lighting crew, and my argument to management was that we couldn't exactly count on having qualified stagehands in Agra, India. So we ended up with the full crew."
The designers also ended up with a full rehearsal period, although this too was changed at the last minute. Regular show dates had been booked into the Foxwoods Casinos in early March, and the crew was supposed to program for the special event shows there as well. Instead, Kaniski went and did those shows and production rehearsals actually took place in Culver City, CA. "The room was 35' [11m] tall, so we could trim the rig out pretty close to what we would have in India to do programming," Rose explains. "The front-of-house of the spots were half as far, but they were also half as low. So the angles as far as what the look would be for the key light and followspots was pretty close.
"Then they decided they wanted to look at it on camera for a few days at the end of rehearsals, so they brought in the new National Digital Television Center's truck with all the digital cameras for the last few days of rehearsals." Rose continues. "We taped the rehearsals. We got two days of on-camera shot-setting and blocking, and one day of actually running through the show. We used that videotape for programming when we were tweaking the programming in India because we had the stage layout and the lights more or less as they would be; the only thing we were envisioning was the Taj. When we got to India we used that tape to play back. Gurn and I would look at the videotape and do our tweaks to the cues we wrote at Sony Studios."
Those cues were also difficult to finalize because Yanni changed the set list quite a few times. "But by the time we were loaded in for Sony we had a fairly locked-in set list," Rose says. "We certainly had a limited amount of time to spend on the songs, but Gurn knows the material inside out. He'd been listening to the new material as it developed, so he even knew how those songs broke down."
For Kaniski, the personal design challenge was lighting all of the old songs again. "I've done them again and again--and for video. It's a real artistic challenge, because you have to search to come up with a different concept," Kaniski says. "Plus, artists get used to the cueing; they like to see it. It's almost part of them. And so do the audiences. There is a cue where Yanni reaches out and his backlights come on in gold. But for the last tour I changed it to a steel blue. And a fan actually wrote me and said, 'Your show was beautiful, but when he does that pose, it really needs to be gold.' People get used to seeing that music lit that way, and since it's thematic music anyway, you can argue that that's the best approach. Obviously you want the song to be lit with the correct feel and look--the difficult part is to keep the theme but change the look. Of course, that happens anyway when you redesign a set or a lighting rig, because you'll certainly have different angles.
"To me, Yanni's music is very visual; when you hear it, you feel something," the LD continues. "Plus, having the orchestra there is obviously a major element. A song that might sound wishy-washy on tape can be a really strong song by the time the orchestral arrangements are set up in a live situation."
During this process, it was Rose's job to make sure the lighting cues worked for video. "We talked about general concepts for a look of a particular song based on the tone of the music, and then made sure that the cues we put together were within that dynamic range for television," Rose says. "Gurn likes really artsy looks where it's very high contrast; the darks are very dark, the brights are very bright. But of course, that approach doesn't work really well on television.
"We both came up with ideas about what we wanted to do on different parts of the songs, and having two brains working on it allowed us to get through it faster," Rose continues. "Plus, our crew, especially Matt and Warwick, came up with really good looks. It was very much a collaborative process in the designing of the cues. The final decision about whether something would work for television fell into my lap, but everybody put their two cents in."
All of the crews' efforts will be available for viewing once the shows are edited together. "The India show was live, or live-to-tape on the Indian television station, Dardashdi. And China Cable TV took the Chinese show off of tape, so it ran in China and India," Rose says. "It's now being edited along with some behind-the-scenes footage that was shot on 16mm for two television specials.
"There was another camera crew that shot 35mm film on show days because I understand that Yanni is trying to do a theatrical trailer for the project," Rose continues. "So, in November there might be something at the movie theatres, which will be really cool. I'm really looking forward to seeing that footage, because I'm sure on 35mm film it looked great. Then it's going to be on PBS in December for part of their pledge breaks. After that it will be a home video, where they'll try to recoup some of these costs. This whole project was an expensive proposition, to put it mildly.
"It was probably one of the most challenging projects I've ever worked on--it took over my life for an entire year. The China show was so much easier than India, because we were on concrete, and there were restaurants around. Beijing is a major city, so you could go out and get things that we couldn't in Agra."
Maybe they wouldn't want to do it again, but it's safe to say that most of the crew will never forget the experience. "I really can't say enough good things about the way the crew handled everything, because our timeline kept being twisted every time we turned around, and everybody just dealt with it," Kaniski says. "It was great to be able to say that you were putting together a huge, professional production in a developing country like India, but that you were smiling just because your crew was making all the camels work!"
Discussing his work on Atom Egoyan's film The Sweet Hereafter, cinematographer Paul Sarossy describes an epiphany he recently had. "Last summer, I was having a sleepless, hot night, just staring at the ceiling," the Toronto resident recalls. "I was noticing how from the street alone there were five sources, not including cars passing by and the moon." Playing on his walls and ceiling was illumination from street lamps, lights from various dwellings, reflections from windows, and the breakup and mediation caused by various obstructions. "The wind would hit a tree, and it would interrupt the front door light of the house across the street," he says. "It created such a beautiful pattern throughout the apartment, each light having a different color temperature.
"In classic film lighting, you tend to always try to be very pure and have single shadows," Sarossy continues. "Some kind of unspoken rule has evolved over the years that it's a much more elegant image when there is one grand source, whether it's the sun, the moon, a street lamp, or whatever it happens to be." But as the DP's night of insomnia demonstrated, our reality is seldom lit so pristinely. He says, "In life we're surrounded by a whole mad cacophony of sources. So why not in film?"
This kind of approach is familiar to The Sweet Hereafter gaffer David Owen, who has worked on "11 or 12" features with Sarossy. "If you were going to classify lighting guys as romantics or classicists, Paul's a romantic," says Owen. "His lighting is emotive; it's about a way to feel, it's not 'motivated.' I get really bored with people who say you have to have light coming from the window, or whatever. It's photography we're doing here, not geometry." To Sarossy, it's a simple matter of "telling a story with your lighting."
The story told by The Sweet Hereafter, which is adapted by Egoyan from a Russell Banks novel, is of a small Canadian town devastated by a school bus accident--a tragic incident that effectively wipes out most of the rural community's children. Ian Holm plays an outsider, a big-city attorney whose attempts to mount a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the victims' families provide a narrative throughline for the audience to understand what has happened and what it means. Holm's character interviews the bus driver and various parents, gradually piecing together the story, until eventually the focus narrows to a teenage survivor (Sarah Polley) of the crash. As in most Egoyan films, which also include Speaking Parts, The Adjuster, and Exotica (all shot by Sarossy), the structure is complex and elliptical, following thematic or emotional threads more than a chronological one. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and occupied the prestigious Centerpiece spot in the recent New York Film Festival, will be released in the US in December by Fine Line Features.
Sarossy feels that a multi-source approach is particularly well suited to Egoyan's work. "In a funny kind of way, it goes along with the parallel plot structure of Atom's films," he explains. "You have a group of five or six different people whose lives interconnect, but that's not entirely obvious at the beginning of the film. As the story evolves, you begin to understand how they connect. So for me, to mix many sources and have many shadows as characters walk in rooms or by windows is in keeping with having multiple characters who sort of collide with each other."
The cinematographer says a good example of The Sweet Hereafter's lighting style can be found in several motel-room assignation scenes between a married woman (Alberta Watson) who runs the establishment and her lover (Bruce Greenwood), a widowed father. "They're meeting under the nose of the woman's husband, who lives next door," says Sarossy. "So obviously, those scenes are playing without practical lighting being on. As a result, the justification for the lighting became the street lights, the lighting from houses across the street, passing cars. At one point, someone turns a television set on, and that's yet another source. So, as they moved about the room, they traveled from mercury vapor to a yellowish street lamp to a tungsten headlight, and it was fun to collide all these different sources on the walls. Also, the production designer [Philip Barker] used a deep reddish-brown glossy wood paneling on the walls, which was kind of cheesy but actually quite lovely as a texture."
Owen points out that none of this blending is arbitrary. "Paul chooses the palette of those colors so they're not horrible combinations," says the gaffer, who adds that the whole crew gets in on the act in a sequence like this. "You have guys running around with lights--somebody will be doing a car pass, somebody will be doing a flag off and on neon, or running a dimmer cue. Though we don't do as much as we did in Exotica--most of The Sweet Hereafter is very somber, very soft, not very colorful--Paul is famous for dimming lights in and out of a shot, playing with shadows and different-colored lights, cross-fading to make it look as handsome as it can. It's a solution, for getting the right quality of light in the right place." In the motel scenes, PAR cans were generally employed to represent car headlights "because the quality of the shadow pattern is messier," says the DP. "But frequently you go for fresnels so that you can mold and shape the light, cut it with flags, put it where you want it."
Sarossy justified the use of multiple sources even in daylight scenes. "There is only one sun, so there should be only one set of shadows obeying that source," he says. "And yet, the sky is actually two sources. The sun itself is a hard point source, and an enormous cyclorama of sky is a huge soft source. You can actually get two radically different qualities of shadows from those two sources. Then, of course, when the sun hits the floor, if it's a shiny hardwood floor, it bounces all over the place and creates a third source. That doesn't take into account reflections off all the other shiny objects; by the end of it you could have 20 shadows flopping around a room."
In The Sweet Hereafter, HMIs were used to provide the typical sunlight source, but Sarossy and Owen also, for the first time, employed Maxi-Brutes. "Since they're banks of 1,000W PAR lights in rows of four," the DP says of Maxi-Brutes, "they each emit a shadow pattern unto itself. They have an interesting quality, because the lights are arrayed so close together that they kind of cancel out the shadow of the lamp next to them. So they are at once a hard and a soft source, a paradoxical kind of light."
"Paul's a soft-lighter," Owen says. "There's not a lot of hard light in his films. Kino Flos and china balls are certainly the flavors of the week. But he has an elaborate vocabulary, and if he wants a broader source, it's a Blonde or Redhead bounced into a board. All he wants is the punch out of them, because they're all going to be bounced, or put through some serious diffusion, such as silks or bleached muslin." The Maxi-Brutes helped bring a new twist to Sarossy's soft lighting vocabulary, the gaffer adds. "It becomes like one big soft source, and yet it has a contrast and a jagged, rougher shadow quality to it." The cinematographer was so taken with the units that Owen built a smaller version, creating a bank of 16 makeup mirror lamps on a 9'x9' (2.7x2.7m) board, for close-up shots.
Since they've worked together repeatedly, Sarossy and Owen say they have developed a common language. And the rapport with Egoyan has reached the point of second nature for the DP. "When we talk about lighting, it's usually just over coffee two months before we start shooting the film," says Sarossy. "We exchange a few thoughts,and from that point forward I'm going on instinct."
The lighting process on The Sweet Hereafter was complicated by two factors, however--the logistics of the shooting schedule, and Egoyan's decision to use the anamorphic format. The former was by far the more challenging for Sarossy to deal with, because, as he explains, "We were obliged to shoot our studio interiors before establishing the scenes with the exterior shots." The reason for this turnaround from the traditional order of things was that the pivotal bus accident required a frozen lake, which pushed the shooting of the scene into December, two months after production started in October 1996. All exteriors for the film were shot in Merritt, British Columbia, standing in for the fictional town of Sam Dent, and studio scenes were done across the continent, in Toronto. The Sweet Hereafter's $4 million budget didn't allow for any back-and-forth movement between the two locations.
"We surveyed the British Columbia locations in the summertime," says Sarossy, "and we had to anticipate the changes by the time we were going to be there. Would there be a lot of snow? Would it be rainy? It's in a Rocky Mountain valley, and it's a fairly unpredictable region as far as weather goes. To some extent, we had to make the interiors generic enough to be able to cut with either a blizzard or a brilliantly sunny day, and yet not so generic that they look completely dull. A lot of time and care was spent on the type of curtains we used, so they were transparent enough to see something outside for depth, but not so much that it would never cut together if a month and a half later we encountered radically different weather conditions. The luxury of working with Atom is that his coverage and design of shots is fairly well known in advance, so we could anticipate which side of a room we would be looking at, and at what point in the dialogue we'd be coming across a window."
The geography of the location was actually an asset to Sarossy in some ways. "In the valley, the mountains are so steep that the hours of direct sunshine on any given day are brief," he says. "In the winter season, the daylight hours to begin with are only about six or seven hours, and because the horizon is so high, most days there we had direct sunshine just between 1pm and 3pm. It's actually quite fantastic, because the rest of the day was just ambient skylight, and yet you would have a brilliantly sunlit mountain in the background. We were careful to shoot in daylight hours that would not conflict too much with what we had already established in the interiors. Luckily, that open shade was perfect for what we had established."
The only imperfect match Sarossy mentions involves the bus sequence, all of which was filmed on location. For shots into and out of the bus, the vehicle was rigged with a rail of HMI PARs and a welded platform on back, and towed by a generator truck. This rig was shot on an overcast day. But Sarossy also photographed a day of aerial shots on the bus, "and that was our most beautiful, brilliant, sunshiny day. Unfortunately, that intercuts frequently with the cloudy day." The DP credits his timer, Chris Hinton of Deluxe in Toronto, with helping to even out the disjunction.
The filming conditions on The Sweet Hereafter played a role in the choice of film stock. Most scenes were shot on Eastman Kodak's Vision series 5279, "which is a marvelous new high-speed stock," says Sarossy. "I was never really a fan of the old Kodak high-speed stock, the 98, but this new one is very fine-grain, with tremendous information in the shadows." Day exteriors were done on 5248, rather than the more popular 5245. "People are frequently tempted to use the slower 45, because it's so super-saturated and grainless," says the DP. "But it doesn't cut very well with the high-speed, because you're going from compromised stock for grain to the finest grain stock. And because of the short daylight hours, we were dealing with so many situations where scenes would fall into the realm of, 'do we use the regular speed or the high-speed stock?' Using a more intermediate stock helped bridge that gap."
Though Sarossy says, "I'm not a huge gel guy," daylight interiors with mixed sources were often color corrected with Rosco 85 or 81-EF. "If you use 81-EF, it only half-corrects, so it warms the tungsten by half and leaves the daylight cool by half," says the DP. "With this whole mixed-source theory, we would frequently use tungsten practicals with HMIs. So we would have a color contrast that differentiates the coolish exterior and the warmish interior."
As for the anamorphic format, the cinematographer is a big fan, having previously shot The Adjuster widescreen. (Exotica, on the other hand, was done in the relatively squarish 1.66; Egoyan considers the commonly used 1.85 to be an "artificial" format.) Sarossy says, "Anamorphic is amazing for the landscape of people's faces. It's a wonderful format; there's almost a magical thing that happens with the lenses. When projected on a large screen, suddenly your peripheral vision is that much more filled, and you are experiencing things on a much grander scale. Of course, as soon as you are working in the widescreen format, it decides for you upfront the manner of coverage you use in any given scene. Because you can comfortably fit two or three people in a shot, there is the temptation to shoot master-scene coverage, meaning you shoot the whole scene in one sinuous move as opposed to cutting it up into distinct shots."
Lighting for anamorphic, Sarossy says, is not so much difficult or limiting as it is different. "If anything, I find that it invites much more interesting possibilities with the lighting. If a face, let's say, inhabits the left side of the frame, you have an entire room in the background on the right side to light." From Owen's point of view, it's just a matter of, "Instead of a 6k, bring the 12k or whatever," he says. "Paul was shooting at 5.6 or 4 all the time, but the heavier stop just means a bigger light, not necessarily more of them."
The shape of the frame can also be advantageous for placement of lights, such as Sarossy's pet china balls, paper lanterns that are "both diffusion and source in one, and very compact." The china balls are easy to hide, "particularly with the anamorphic frame, where you have a lot of room under the camera to put lamps." (He adds that the sound department also likes the format, because it often allows them to get the boom in closer to the actors.) The cinematographer made extensive use of the china balls in one of The Sweet Hereafter's most disturbing scenes, an incongruously romantic depiction of incest in a seemingly candlelit hayloft.
Leading up to the sequence is a long take on a night exterior lit by a contrastingly large source, a crane rig called an LRX from Dwight Lighting in Toronto. "It's made up of 6k focusable PARs on a 100' (30m) extension arm, and the base of it is a generator that's also a lighting platform," says Owen. "I held a remote control box in my hand, and this light which is hundreds of feet away, and 100' in the air, moved on servomotors, flood and spot, pan and tilt--you could light up the whole countryside with it. Canadian independent films are not full of lights like that."
Both Owen and Sarossy came up through the ranks during the 1980s filmmaking surge in Toronto. The cinematographer actually "grew up around cameras," because his father was a news cameraman in rural Ontario, at a local TV station where Sarossy worked summer jobs. When he enrolled in the film program at York University in Toronto, "I sort of plunged right into the 16mm thing. I guess because I was conversant with the materials and equipment and whatnot, I was always the guy asked by the other students to shoot their films." Immediately following school, Sarossy made his feature debut with a cheapie called The Revenge of the Radioactive Reporter. He was already friends with Egoyan, who then hired the young DP to photograph Speaking Parts, in 1989.
This has been a big year for Sarossy. He spent the summer of 1996 in New York shooting his first Hollywood studio feature, the romantic comedy Picture Perfect, starring Jennifer Aniston. He then moved on to The Sweet Hereafter, following which he coincidentally shot another Russell Banks adaptation, Paul Schrader's Affliction. He recently wrapped Tom and Jerry, the directorial debut of actor Saul Rubinek, starring Joe Mantegna and Charles Durning.
Whatever the project, the most fascinating thing for Sarossy seems to be how to light and photograph faces. On Picture Perfect, he says, "the nature of the work revolves around the star, and part of the job of the cinematographer is to make sure she looks good. But on Tom and Jerry, the cast is almost entirely these craggy-faced men. You don't need to flatter those faces; in a way, the lighting and photography is about exploring the terrain of these amazing sculptures."
The Sweet Hereafter contains some of each method, sometimes in the same shot. The climax of the film is a deposition scene that centers on Ian Holm and Sarah Polley's characters, who because of the anamorphic format often share the frame. "Whenever we were shooting Sarah Polley, I always made a point of lighting her frontally, which is a classical device for flattering a face," says Sarossy. "Not that she needs to be flattered; she has a very full face and a beautiful complexion. But as she was the symbol of truth in the film, I wanted the image of her face in no way clouded by shadow. Ian Holm's face is treated very differently; he is always lit very much from the side, very sculptured, and you really see the architecture, the shape and contours of his face. The juxtaposition really keeps the two characters separate."
The idea ties in to Sarossy's multi-source approach, which attempts to pull a unified style out of disparate elements. "On the one hand," he says, "you try very hard to make a film visually homogenous, of a piece, recognizable as a whole. On the other hand, you don't want it to be visually monotonous. So you try to develop certain visual themes or motifs, almost as in music. This is Ian Holm's theme; this is Sarah Polley's theme. Then of course, the fun part is when the characters appear in the same scene. Do you marry the two? Do you stick with one and let it overpower the other?" For anyone who doubts a cinematographer's oft-touted storytelling role, these questions should provide an answer.