Lighting designer Olin Younger and Gaffer, Vicki “Max” Brenner, both of Design Partners, were hired by Richard Reid Television to take on the challenge of designing and implementing the lighting for the newest College Bowl challenge: Celtel Africa Challenge. The show was filmed in Nairobi, Kenya this past month and, without the benefit of a tech scout, all lighting designer Olin Younger of Design Partners Inc. knew was they would be working with an all-generator system, limited lighting instrument resources, and equipment rentals and built sets would have to be shipped by air or boat from South Africa by way of Mombasa. What follows is the email correspondence sent from Olin and Max reflecting the reality of their situation and how true flexibility—and a good sense of humor—helped make this a successful event for all parties involved.
First day of load in today. When we arrived the equipment had already been delivered and the truss hung. The head electrician from Gearhouse South Africa (the company that supplied equipment and labor) also marked out all the lighting instruments on the truss. This seemed like a really good start until I noticed something looked wrong after the crew started the hang. I walked around with the plot and realized that the plot needed to be turned 180°. A symmetrical truss hang can have its dangers. After they realized their error and the tape marks were taken up things progressed well.
The venue is an arena built by the Chinese for the Pan African games in the 80s. It has been rarely used since then. When we first arrived I was surprised that there were so many windows in and I thought about how they would all have to be blacked out. We were grateful for the windows, though, when we discovered we were not allowed to turn on the overhead stadium lights. (We think they had no system to change the bulbs so they just didn’t allow you to turn them on.) The arena is on the second floor and the only ramp up is a wheelchair ramp. Also, the biggest door into the room is one double door—not designed to get any large lifts in to change overhead bulbs.
Today we are finishing the hang and testing all the lights while they are still on the ground. The trusses are slightly different than the original design because of the hang points so we had to make some adjustments we hope will work once the set is in. We have just one generator here at this time, but that is plenty to just do a test. We are planning on taking tomorrow off so the set can be built under the truss.
We have returned and a good portion of the set is done. We are able to lay out a number of our floor lights and figure out which positions will work for lighting different areas of the set. There will be enough of the set done so we can start focus tomorrow.
We started focus today. The riggers from Gearhouse are doing the focus. They are very willing and good at climbing, but we realized immediately that lighting is not their forte. So, we had a little class about lekos and about how to open the front of a fresnel to change the bulb. They also don’t have gloves and are discovering first hand how hot the lights can get. Production has gone to purchase some work gloves for them.
We are sitting here after lunch listening to the production manager who is on the phone attempting to get our camera equipment out of the Congo. This would be a good thing because it will obviously be very difficult to shoot the show without cameras. The best scenario would be if the cameras got here on Friday because that would be only a day later than they had originally planned.
We are almost focused. We are dealing with some damaged lekos that we have to jerryrig by wedging clothespins inside to keep the lenses in place.
None of the expendables we ordered have arrived, so we have had to scrounge up black wrap and clothespins. Next time we need to bring them in our luggage. The crew is using tin snips and a file to cut our custom gobos—they are very resourceful.
Here is a picture of Olin and Tom who is our local “go to” guy. When we needed black wrap and clothespins we asked Tom. When we needed a couple of 1ks we asked Tom. When we needed a new smoker we asked Tom. When we needed new floor bases for a bunch of lights, we asked Tom and he had his guys weld us up a bunch—no simple plywood with holes in it here. When we needed barn door extensions we considered asking Tom to weld them on, but instead we went to the local Nakumat (read: Costco) and got metal caution signs and painted them black.
His crew is currently putting the cushions on the benches that they welded. They have a bunch of guys cutting foam and then gluing them on pieces of plywood. Then they have a woman sewing the covering and another group of guys nailing them on to they plywood—this is all because you can't rent chairs here.
Yesterday the production company paid over $35,000 to charter a plane to pick up the camera equipment that has been trapped in the Congo for a week. The plane just landed and now they are hoping it can be loaded and return here before customs closes or maybe “a deal” can be made to persuade customs to stay open. The adventure in Kenya continues...
The cameras arrived on Friday night about 11pm. The charter plane did make it to the Congo and back. Apparently the local promoter thought he could hold them up long enough that he would get to keep them. After a “deal” was made with the four customs officials who stayed open on Friday night to receive and process the plane.
Yesterday was our first day of rehearsal with very little working. Lighting still had no position in the makeshift control room or a headset to talk to the board operator. The director had to call camera shots over the SA. But the good news was that the cameras were here so we spent yesterday just trying to catch up technically.
Today will be our first day of proper rehearsal. John Sibi-Okumu is our host. He was in the movie The Constant Gardener.
We lost our other rigger for several days as she had the flu so it was 0 for 2 for the rigging department. They are both here today, one still slightly sick and one with a bum arm (he pulled his arm out of his socket while on the truss and had to be lowered in).
All in all it is a low tech show. We are using 16 Mac 2Ks profiles and everything else is conventional: 28 zoom lekos: ETC and Selecon. 15º-35º (because they didn't have the 50º lekos that we ordered)
4 19º ETC lekos
25 ETC PARs
42 par 64
16 regular 2k fresnels (6 of these ended up being 5ks because they didn't have 2ks)
7 baby 5k fesnels
48 cyc light cells (we ordered 60 single cell cycs, but we got 12 4 light cycs)
Generators: 150 kva, 140 kva, and 100 kva single phase just for 5ks. These came from Charlie Simpson of Film Studios Kenya. He has been here since the 50s. We had lunch with him, and his wife Barbara, one day and they had interesting stories to tell.
Here is a picture of part of the crew from South Africa, two guys from the US and of course us.
The guy next to Olin is Lucky, our head electric and board operator from South Africa. Next to Lucky is Kerry, one of the riggers, also from South Africa. Next to Kerry is Jay who is from North Carolina. Originally a “Disney” Florida guy, he is our “jack of all trades” for this job. He and Steve have been dealing with everything from all of the “game” equipment to helping with the laying out of the rigging points. Next to him is Johan, the other rigger from South Africa. Johan is also a professional dancer, but he is planning on moving to Dubai, Amsterdam, or London within a year or two to work for another rigging company. Next to him is Steve who is the production manager and another a “jack of all trades.” He is a terrific guy who stays extremely calm in the face of adversity and is a pleasure to work with. He arranged for the charter flight to get our cameras out of the Congo as well as taking over for the stage manager when he was sick.
The two other South African guys on the crew are not in the picture. We couldn't find them when we took the picture and that kind of sets the tone for where they are whenever we need them.
Today is Tuesday and it is our first day of taping. It is very chaotic here and we will have to keep our senses of humor to get through this day.
It is 11:20am and we were supposed to be done taping our first show at 11:00am. We have not begun yet. Listening to the control room through the headset I hear such things as, "Don't ever erase anything again." and "Can we just do one (expletive) show at a time?" or "Is that plugged in?" It is pandemonium in there and we have yet to begin.
It is now Wednesday. Somehow we made it through our first day of taping yesterday. 14 hours long and 8 1/2 hours without a meal—Difficult for all. It is sad that because we are in a third world country and there are no crew guidelines/rules. But I digress.
The challenge of getting from A to B was most difficult for the rest of the production company. Our problems were relatively small compared to hijacked cameras and the set stuck in customs.
We have been learning new words from our South African crew. Our favorite is that they call a crescent wrench a "shifting spanner." I think we will introduce that one at home. Our infamous rigger Johan also calls avocados “avocado pears” and seems to think that since they are shaped like a pear that they must be in the pear family.
The contestants often lapse into their native languages or Swahili during the show and there doesn't seem to be any need or desire to translate for them. People here speak many languages.
The game has 16 teams competing from 16 different universities in Eastern Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda). On top of their financial rewards, it got the students from the three countries together for approximately a week to interact, socialize, and talk about politics and cultural similarities and differences. Some of them have never been out of their countries before so it was quite an adventure.
The host of the show talked to them individually during each show and they seem to have a lot to say about the politics of their countries, the environment, literacy, and malnutrition. More I think than their US counterparts. Many of the guys are also extremely interested in football (soccer).
Last night we lost our Internet for a while and we discovered why; it seems as though they wanted the lights off in one of the rooms. Since the rooms have no light switches they had to go to the electrical panel to turn off the circuit breaker. Well, accidentally the wall circuit that the router was plugged into was turned off. It wasn't noticed for over an hour and by that time the building manager had locked the door and gone home. So they had to send someone to the building manager’s house to bring her here to unlock the door and then drive her back home.
Nothing is simple here.
We have taped one show today and we are now anxiously awaiting show two. It is 2pm.
Food in Kenya hasn't been too bad for the most part. Breakfast is always the same: several platters of fruit—always mango and papaya. For the hot food there is beans, sausage, and bacon (their bacon is kind of a cross between ham and bacon), pancakes (what we would probably call crepes), and fried eggs. They put two eggs in the pan, break the yokes, fry them in grease, and turn them over until they are really hard. We are trying to train them to make eggs over-easy although when we gesture to flip the eggs we can tell by the look in his eye that he thinks we are having him turn the eggs over way too early.
Lunch has been varied: sometimes Indian food, sometimes more traditional Kenyan or Ugandan food. We have had pasta, grilled chicken and chops, green bananas in coconut sauce, Kenyan spinach (which is more like bitter greens), mashed potatoes that are green with corn (called something like mitubo), and various types of pasta and rice. They also have their variation of a salad bar that we have been avoiding because you don't know if the food has been washed in potable water.
We started taping today at 10:06am, which was very good since we were supposed to start at 10:00am. We have a sub-stage manager since the local stage manager called in sick today. We made it through one round, but then the host accidentally gave an answer to a question and it took about twenty minutes to input another question. Then the game computer operator accidentally pushed his cap lock button and all of the prompts for the game got screwed up and now we are waiting for computer malfunction and confusion.
So after two hours we have finally finished our first half hour show of the day.
2/15/07 - later
We lost 22 people today to food poisoning. Our stage manager, our local production manager, and a bunch of the students. We think it was some sandwiches that they passed out yesterday afternoon. We are glad we only eat cooked things.
It is now 2:15pm and the semi-finals are over.
Our favorite question and answer:
Question: Who did the voice of Bugs Bunny?
Answer: George Clooney
All in all it feels good to be doing some television that we actually think is doing some good and not just plain entertainment…
Thus concludes the last message from Kenya. See you all in a few days.
DPI is a unique partnership of lighting designers based in Hollywood that offers a vast array of TV, film, stage, and event lighting design innovation and expertise. DPI’s full-service support sets them apart in the industry; services include not only design and consultation but budget preparation, equipment packaging, full crew staffing, tech support, on-site supervision, and payrolling. Through Design Partners’ subsidiary, ShowViz Lite Lab, they offer a rental studio for pre-visualization and pre-programming for all types of productions.
Richard Reid TV is a television production company based in Los Angeles, CA. Notable among its successes are its academic competitions produced around the world, including University Challenge,in its 45th year in the United Kingdom; College Bowlentering its 54th year, (an Emmy and Peabody Award winning landmark in sponsor supported programming, and picked by TV Guide as one of the three greatest games ever. As a live event, College Bowl is now a part of life at over 300 U.S. campuses); Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, played at America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, is in its 18th year.
For RRTV to launch this program, they established an East African subsidiary company with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Richard Reid TV committed to building sustainable production resources in East Africa. In concert with Celtel (the most successful pan-African mobile network, offering telecommunications services to more people in Africa than any other network. The company began operating in 1998 and is one of the best-known branded businesses in Africa with mobile licenses covering more than 400 million people, close to half of Africa’s population. Under the brand promise of “Making Life Better,” the company is committed to achieving sustainable development of telecommunications in Africa) and a team of US-based trainers, the company's goal is to enhance the core competence of production personnel in the region and to provide local employment opportunities in all aspects of the program.