LD Greg Brunton Illuminates the Miss Universe Telecast

In the world of international beauty pageant production, the Miss Universe Pageant is possibly the most challenging for LDs. Not only is it an enormous undertaking—the broadcast is seen in 60 countries—but it is often staged in some rather out-of-the-way places, which can make equipment and staff hard to get.

"This is the fourth year I've been doing Miss Universe," says LD Greg Brunton, who lit this year's broadcast of the 50th anniversary pageant, held on May 11, at the Ruben Rodriguez Coliseum in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. "We've done Hawaii, then Trinidad, which was fun, then Cyprus." He says that each year the venue is awarded to the highest bidder and is eagerly sought by cities and countries hoping to boost their tourism industries. "It's not an issue of the best place to do it," he adds.

Thus, Brunton says, the big problem is getting equipment: "No matter where we go, nobody ever has anything we need. We look at the local shops, but this is a TV special, and it has to be done on a certain schedule. This year, we had 10 days to get the show up and running. We don't have time to fix broken equipment. If they don't have state-of-the-art equipment, it doesn't work."

Adding to these problems, this year Brunton was working under severe time constraints. "Miss Universe is supposed to take nine months to do," he says. "But they changed producers this year, and the new team wasn't hired until after Christmas. Also, we changed art directors. First, the producers had to come online, and then we had to talk about the art director. That means the production was put together in two months.

"It's hard," he continues. "Costs are split between us [the production] and the local committee [which sponsors the pageant in that year's location], and that includes the scenery and lighting. Normally, the scenic design goes to the local committee for approval; they make their comments and changes are made. That takes several months, including the site survey. Then I do my design and we have the same process, which is more about costs. We crammed this into a short period of time—and it was the biggest show we've ever done."

As a result, he adds, "A lot of changes had to be made on-site, because we weren't working with finished plans when we did the design. Normally, the plot is hung as drawn, but not this year. We had a big time crunch, and we had to rehearse two Ricky Martin numbers," as Puerto Rico's biggest gift to show business was a special featured guest. (The production was hosted by Elle Macpherson and Naomi Campbell.)

However, Brunton says, no matter where Miss Universe is held, the challenges are the same. "You have to make all the girls look as good as possible—and no one can think anyone else is getting special treatment. There's usually only one set, because in these arenas, the sets can't be changed—there are no flies. Everything has to be done with lighting changes. There are eight major beats in the two-hour show and each needs a major look."

Turning to trusted suppliers for his equipment, Brunton got automated units from Vari-Lite, and his conventional plot from Fourth Phase Lighting. The latter company also supplied Martin MAC 2000 units: "Fourth Phase was interested in buying a new, hard-edged moving light," says the LD. "I had tested the MAC 2000, having used eight of them on the Miss USA broadcast. I really liked them, so I went back to Fourth Phase, and asked them if they would buy some 2000s, and I would use them on Miss Universe."

Speaking of his automated plot, Brunton says, "The majority of the large hard-edged lights were the MAC 2000s, about 48 of them, although I used a lot of [Vari*Lite®] VL6B™ [spot luminaires]. I had about 190 VL5Bs™ [wash luminaires] and 48 VL5Arcs™, with the lenses taken out of them, to be used as ACLs. I used them for really heavy graphics and for accent lights on the scenery. They and the MAC 2000s were my two big punch lights. I love using the VL5Arc, with the lens taken out—you get a lot of bang for the buck and the colors still read. We also have 48 VL2416s [wash luminaires]; I used them for deep color washes, because the 5Bs are for scenery and tone on the girls, and they use a pastel palette. It's hard to get rock-and-roll colors out of the 5Bs. The 2416s give you deeper tones."

Brunton also made use of a unit that he calls "an incandescent VL6." In fact, no such unit is manufactured. "For TV especially," he says, "it would be useful to have a moving light fixture with a hard-edge focusing capability, to quickly reset lights that need to be a flattering color temperature of 3200K. It would also be useful for scenery patterns. The color temperature of the current array of moving lights is blue-white, 5600-6000K at best, often with a green spike, which is never adequately color-corrected. If you put an ETC Source Four ellipsoidal on a [City Theatrical] AutoYoke, you can accomplish this. It's the right color, it's dimmable, and can pan, tilt, and, with the right accessory, can iris and zoom. You can add a Wybron color scroller and change colors with it. It's not as versatile as a real VL6, but it's very useful. You don't have to hang so many fixed specials, and can refocus from the board without sending out a rigging electrician to the truss."

In addition, says Brunton, "The conventional plot was pretty big. There are 83 girls on a stage 60' (18m) deep by 120'(36m) wide, so there are several staging positions, using all of the girls, in which they have to look great as they are being judged. I used a lot of [ETC] Source Fours, and my fresnels—the 10kWs and 5kWs with high throw distances—are always from Strand. It's also very useful to have the [City Theatrical] AutoYoke with a 19º lens in it and a [Wybron] color changer. For strobes, we had the 250,000W unit from Lightning Strikes and 90 [High End Systems] Dataflashes®. We also had eight followspots, the new Heloise from Robert Juliat; it's great, because the color temperature doesn't roll all over the place." Fog was provided using the Reel EFX DF-50 fogger. Control was provided the by Vari*Lite Virtuoso™ consoles for the automated units and the ETC Expression 2X, with 5,000 channels, for the conventional units.

In spite of all the challenges, Brunton, armed with equipment listed above, managed to put together a successful show in record time. The LD adds, that "Matt Firestone has programmed Miss Universe for me the whole time I've been doing it. Part of the reason the show looks good and can get done at the last minute is because of him. He's really fast and good—we get a lot of looks on camera that other guys couldn't." Speaking of his equipment, he adds, "The Vari*Lite system is the best for TV; you can count on it working, and it's backed up. I was surprised that the MAC 2000 is such a good light; they interface with the Vari*Lite system and, for the moment, they outperform the VL7™ [spot luminaire]."

And, in case you haven't heard, the winner was Miss Puerto Rico, Denise M. Quinones August. The hometown-girl-makes-good angle made for perfect publicity. However, Brunton adds, a Latin American winner is perfect for other reasons as well. "The pageant is huge in Latin America," he says. "In Venezuela, for example, when Miss Venezuela talks about a political or social issue, such as AIDS, she has as much clout as the president. A lot of the contestants end up going into politics." Looks like Miss America better step up her ambitions.

Photos courtesy Martin Professional.