Since this month's Entertainment Design is the education issue, I thought it appropriate to talk about the real education opportunities that are to be had within this business. I'm sure that most of you are assuming that I'm referring to formal schooling, and although there are things to be learned from college courses, I've never been a major proponent of them based on my personal experiences. I'm referring to the day-to-day education that you get by simply working in this business.
Personally, I've always been the type of person that calls it quits on subjects when I feel that I've stopped learning from them. I just feel that when you've mastered something then the challenge fades. Perhaps that's why I love working in this industry. No matter how many times you've worked on a particular type of show, each one poses fresh challenges that allow you to learn new techniques, hone your existing skills, and grow in your own talent.
The little amount of formal education that I received taught me the basic techniques and theories of theatre lighting design. They are the groundwork for what I do every day and are invaluable. However, it is the lessons learned from practical application that keep bringing me back for more.
Now, I understand that this is nothing new or unique to our particular industry and that people all over the world are given these opportunities within their own fields. However, we live in a unique climate in the entertainment business, and I attribute many of the advances in our available technology to that. The updates in lighting instruments, textiles for set construction, projection technology, and computer processing allow us to create shows that are more creative than ever before and are produced at record paces. Let's face facts: Your average music awards show is put together in a matter of days with more production value than ever. Just under a decade ago, productions of today's scale would have taken weeks to produce.
Until recently, it's been very difficult to get any formal education on the latest technologies being used in our industry, and I think it's wonderful to see learning institutions being proactive in making it available to their students. However, it really wasn't until completing my last production that I realized that it is the deconstruction of formal training and traditional methods that are the real gemstones here. A case in point is the show from which I am returning as I write this. I'm flying on United flight 678 bound for New York, and I've spent the last few days at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver lighting a high-definition DVD shoot for a touring musical artist and, as usual, it posed some new challenges from which to learn.
I'm not sure how it happened, but over the years I've happily gained a reputation for being one of the people to call when live music needed to be captured on camera. I used to be terrified of lighting for video and was quite comfortable in my rock-n-roll lighting abilities. Nowadays, I relish the opportunities to bring live music to DVD, because there's a certain pride in maintaining the integrity of a live concert design and bringing the visual experience into someone's living room, as well as the simple fact that it's not necessarily easy to do given how drastically different a camera sees things compared to the human eye. When you take all of this into account and then add some technical monkey wrenches into the mix, you're bound to run into challenges that you hadn't anticipated. Such was the case on this last production.
For starters, there were the usual budgetary concerns that come with every project. The budget, or seemingly lack thereof, was to be expected and as technology increases, budgets consistently decrease, so I understood that we would have to make the most of a slim amount of gear. In my favor, we were shooting an artist that was currently touring with not just a great lighting rig but also a really great designer, the venerable Chris Kuroda, who is most notably known for his work with Phish. This alone would make my life somewhat easier, because I knew that we would have a great light show and all involved were keenly intent on capturing it on camera. This posed the next challenge since the creative video team that I was working with traditionally like a lot of video-friendly light onstage. After a few discussions, we came to the agreement that it would be important to maintain the integrity of Chris' design on camera and that not taking the easy way out by throwing tons of white light around would be well worth it.
Secondly, and it's a big secondly, we were told by the artist's management that we could pretty much do whatever we wanted as long as we didn't use any spotlights, white light, light the audience too much, put too many lights near the artist, or pretty much try to light him at all. So after deciding that leaving all the cameras at home wasn't an option we started working out acceptable solutions to this very un-video-friendly problem and let the deconstruction of formal teachings begin.
You see, my formal and practical training traditionally led me to key light an artist performing in concert with spotlights, meticulously balanced to proper color temperature and intensity. Now, before you go critiquing the fact that there are simple solutions such as lekos placed on the downstage truss to key an artist, let's remember a few things. We wanted to allow the artist a range of movement so as to be comfortable in his performance, not to mention that the downstage rigging position at this venue placed the lekos almost directly above the artist's head, making it very “toppy” and creating some nasty shadowing on his face.
After negotiation with management, we came to some concessions about getting our artist's band positions altered slightly as well as adding strategically placed footlights. It meant a constant balancing act of intensities between the top-heavy lekos and footlights throughout the entire performance. None of this was rocket science or groundbreaking technique in any way, but it was simply contradictory to how we would normally light talent for this application. The dimmer juggling act proceeded, and we had a very busy show with little time to just sit back and enjoy the artist's work.
By the time it was all over, we ended up with an absolutely beautiful looking show captured on camera. The touring lighting system looked just as authentic as the live event and our talent was properly lit for the cameras. I guess it's time to throw the old textbooks out the window and just start keeping a journal.