Hits by Def Leppard, Joan Jett, Journey, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Poison, and other ‘80s rockers pepper New Line Cinema’s film adaptation of the Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, a summer release by Warner Bros.
Directed by Adam Shankman, this tale of boy-meets-girl in a club on LA’s Sunset Strip pulsates to theatrical and concert lighting by Mike Baldassari, who worked closely with director of photography Bojan Bazelli and gaffer Tony “Nako” Nakonechnyj on the visual panorama. “I’m in the service of the DP, so it’s imperative that I create the lighting in such a way that it can be captured on camera. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good the lighting is,” says Baldassari, whose visual aesthetic helps defines The Bourbon Room, where about 30% of the film takes place, arena and stadium sequences, plus The Venus Club, a high-end gentleman’s club.
“The silver PAR64 6-lamp bar with octagonal gel frames is ubiquitous to every '80s glam-metal video or tour and, of course, silver truss,” notes Baldassari, who used more than 400 silver PARs just in the arena sequence. “I also made sure they were very visible in The Bourbon Room, intentionally placing a 6-lamp bar vertically on both sides of the stage, knowing it would work into a lot of shots. The art department ran with the idea and included 6-lamp bars and silver truss in The Bourbon Room ‘backstage’ areas as set dressing to further define the period.”
Over the stage of The Bourbon Room, Baldassari created a fan of horizontal trusses, hanging them on their sides to expose the silver webbing to the camera. The PARs anachronistically have Chroma-Q scrollers. “I needed to be able to change color between songs without getting up to the lights,” Baldassari explains. “To disguise the ETC Source Four PARs with scrollers, I added a silver octagonal gel frame to the front of every scroller, sort of like a PAR and scroller with a costume. This is why it was so important to keep the PAR64s visible, so you never question what’s behind a silver octagonal gel frame.”
Adding to the disguise are Martin Professional MAC 600 washes with City Theatrical Concentric Spill Rings, customized with silver octagonal gel frames. “Anytime the camera looks into the lighting rig, it looks like it’s all silver PARs, since you only see the front of the light,” Baldassari adds.
To make one rig work for the separate arena and stadium scenes, Baldassari created an entire backdrop wall of 144 PARs with scrollers in four pods, each with 36 fixtures to create any color. He cites two Mötley Crüe videos—“Same Old Situation” and “Wild Side”—as his inspiration. “At the end of the ‘Wild Side’ video, you see the word ‘Crüe’ spelled out in PARs. As a tribute, we spelled out ‘Jaxx’ while Tom Cruise’s character, Stacie Jaxx, plays a guitar solo during ‘Don’t Stop Believing.’”
Baldassari also added period luminaires, including Philips Vari-Lite VL2Cs. “If you look at every concert or music video from around 1987, they all use iconic VL2Cs,” he says. “I didn’t feel I could do justice to a concert sequence that takes place in 1987 without them.” With the help of Larry Thomas at Christie Lites and George Masek, Baldassari tracked down a dozen of the last working VL2Cs in North America, including several from Dean Spurlock of Lighting & DSGN in Nashville.
Baldassari placed the 12 VL2Cs around the drum riser, on the amps, and on the floor of the arena/stadium sequences so the fixture housings would show on camera. “There is no other fixture that defines lighting technology from 1987 like the VL2C. I wanted to be true to our industry and not pretend we wouldn’t notice what shows up on camera.”
As The Bourbon Room is meant to have the most contemporary club system of its time, Baldassari thought it would also have the best LD. “Luckily for me, I had Paul Turner programming, so we really cued every number just like we’d play it live, hitting every accent in the music, and then we timecoded it on the [High End Systems] Road Hog Full Boar so it would be exactly the same, shot-to-shot, take-to-take,” he notes, pointing out that, with all the moving lights in the rig, only five of the 15 Martin Professional MAC 700s move on camera in any sequence other than “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” “In 1987, it would not have been unusual for the best club on the Sunset Strip to have five or so moving lights,” says Baldassari.
Rounding out the theatrical rigs are: Martin Professional MAC 2000 Spot Performance units, MAC III Profile Spots, MAC 600 Wash units, MAC 250+ Spots, Coemar PAR56 LEDs, High End Systems Showbeam 2.5s, Elation Professional ELAR LED PARs, ETC Source Four PARs, Lycian M2 followspots and Stark Lite2 truss followspots, Chroma-Q Color Force 12s, Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12s, and Reel EFX DF-50 hazers.
Christie Lites provided the theatrical lighting rigs, with complete systems for The Bourbon Room, shot in Fort Lauderdale, and The Venus Club, shot in Miami Beach, with theatrical production electrician Mike Roberts. An additional system was used for a shoot at The Hard Rock Arena in Fort Lauderdale, representing two locations in the film (an arena and Dodger Stadium), with theatrical production electricians Roy Webb and Chris Maeder.
“It was great for me to pay tribute to some of my friends’ lighting—guys like Jeff Ravitz and Dave Davidian, whom I looked up to when I first started out,” Baldassari asserts. “I learned to call followspots listening to Dave call Bon Jovi and Van Halen shows at Madison Square Garden. He’d let me sit front-of-house during the show and get me a headset. I constantly used tours I’d seen them do back in the '80s as my inspiration.”
Rock Of Ages opened June 15, 2012.