[left: Bill UpdeGraff; right: David Lechuga, Bill UpdeGraff]
When the production team came to the conclusion that it was time for their hit morning show, Access Hollywood Live, to go green, the solution was an old fashioned shootout. Except this time, instead of a corral, it took place in a studio. And instead of traditional weapons, vendors came armed with the latest in energy efficient LED lighting for film and television. “NBC, through Universal Studios, held a demo of all the LED instruments that were out there and we looked at the demos from a variety of leading television lighting vendors,” explains Access Hollywood Live Lighting Director Bill UpdeGraff.
The Access Hollywood Live studio is in Burbank, and is the original home of the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. “We have cut the stage up in four sections, “reports Assistant Lighting Director Dave Lechuga. A quarter of the stage is used for the half hour daily show, Access Hollywood, while the rest is used for the morning show. It includes a main desk area with a sizable projection screen, a living room area for interviews, and a ‘T’ shaped runway for fashion shows and special events. Finally the last quarter of the stage has a den with a kitchen behind it. All of the studio space was originally illuminated in hot 5K Fresnel lamps that were then defused down. UpdeGraff explains, “We use 5k Fresnels with diffusion in front of them. The diffusion on the 5ks gives our talent the look I want when lighting this show, especially with various guest coming and going like we have.”
The shootout resulted in a more intensive trial back at the studio in Burbank. “We brought in an Arri fixture; we had that for a couple of days, just looking at it on camera. Then brought in a Mole Richardson light, and looked at that on camera, and then we looked at the Prism Studio 3 on camera,” states UpdeGraff.
The results of the studio demo surprised everyone. The top gunslingers were sent home, and instead, a newcomer from the little town of Sully, Iowa was victorious. Lechuga reports, “By the time we got through, we saw that the Prism Studio 3 was a stand out from the rest.”
The Prism stood out when the frontrunners were found slow on the draw. UpdeGraff says, “When we tested one of the other units, I was told that the Kelvin was set at the factory and that was it.” The Prism Studio.3 EC has variable CCT with color from 2700-6000K, which was something that intrigued UpdeGraff. “I like the idea of playing with the Kelvin, and I also like the idea of playing with the plus/ minus green that‘s available on the Prism Studio,” he says. The Studio 3 also comes in (1.) 3000K Tungsten and 5600K Daylight versions; all have plus/minus green and magenta correction.
Another issue that UpdeGraff and Lechuga found during the studio test with one of the fixtures involved dimming. “When we got down to the last point of the fade out, there was a pop to it almost like a flash before it went out.” The dimming capability of the Studio 3 provided a much cleaner fade,” UpdeGraff reports. All of the Studio 3 units provide a smooth 0 to 100% dimming, and, due to the projection optics and control algorithms, create a clean beam that is free from irregularities and striations.
Access Hollywood Live uses hot 5k keys that are softened with diffusion. Generally, LED light is considered hard. Lechuga says, “The problem we all have with LED is how to make it look soft and how to eliminate the hard shadows. To do that, we have to have a source that is bright enough so we can soften it using diffusion.” Many LED based Fresnel units just didn’t have the power to handle the diffusion that was needed to create the quality of light that is needed on a show like Access Hollywood Live. “When I started metering the Prism Studio units and looking at the overall spread at the intensity that I would need them at, I was surprised to see that it was equal to what we were getting with the 5k units,” UpdeGraff admits.
Lechuga also has found some other advantages to the Prism Studio.3 EC. He says, “The Prism Studio has a soft edge control so you can soften the light. It also has the normal barn doors so we can work the fixture like we normally do.”
LED’s also have other tangible benefits, one of them being cost savings over time. UpdeGraff says, “I presented all of the numbers to our production manager Chris Conte in regards to lower power consumptions, the actual coolness of the lamp, as well as the money we’re saving on replacement bulbs, and I haven’t seen him smile quite that much in a very long time.” In fact, power consumption went from 25,000 watts and over 200 amps to an astonishing 1200 watts and an almost unbelievable 10 amps.
So far, Access Hollywood has only dipped their toes into the world of LED studio lighting with Prism Studio.3 EC’s that are providing key light in the den area of the set. UpdeGraff admits, “I wasn’t familiar with the unit and what it could do, and that area of the set was the safest place to see if it would actually work.” About six weeks into the transition, UpdeGraff has good things to report. “I’m happy with what I’m seeing. We’re in the process of starting to convert each section of the stage to LED lighting and, ease each area of the stage into the LED world. We are also planning on integrating more Prism units into the studio.”
As the world of television lighting is changing, pioneers like Access Hollywood Live are leading the way for others. Lechuga states, “Technologically, Prism is really pushing the state of the art in regards to television lighting technology- to have this little company come out of the Midwest – a company who is doing all their manufacturing in the U.S. -is absolutely amazing. We welcome the technology and its challenges. The future looks bright!”