Set Lighting Technician's Handbook
eBook - ePub

Set Lighting Technician's Handbook

Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

Harry C. Box

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  1. 600 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
  4. Disponibile su iOS e Android
eBook - ePub

Set Lighting Technician's Handbook

Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

Harry C. Box

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A friendly, hands-on training manual and reference for lighting technicians in motion picture and television production, this handbook is the most comprehensive guide to set lighting available. It provides a unique combination of practical detail with a big-picture understanding of lighting, technology, safety, and professionalism, essential to anyone doing motion picture lighting.

The fifth edition delves into every aspect of lighting and features vastly expanded sections on controlling LED lights, color science, lighting control systems, wireless systems, Ethernet-based control systems, battery power, and modern set protocol for productions small and large. With a generous number of original images, the book illustrates the use of soft light, the effect of lighting angles, and how the gaffer and DP build an effective lighting plan around the blocking of the actors. This encyclopedic volume of technical knowhow is tempered with years of practical experience and a much-needed sense of humor.This is the ideal text for professional lighting technicians across film and television including lighting directors, gaffers, DOPs, and rigging crews, as well as film and television production students studying lighting, camera techniques, film production, and cinematography.It includes a revamped companion website with supplementary resources, forms, checklists, and images.

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Set basics: Your first barbecue

All the technical aspects of filmmaking—cameras, lighting, sound, visual effects—involve a myriad of small details that, taken as a whole, seem impossibly complex. As with any craft, to become a master requires years of experience and exposure to many different situations. It has been my experience, however, that no single piece of equipment, procedure, or technique is really complicated; there is no one thing that cannot be explained and understood in less than 10 minutes. Making movies is the artful application of millions of relatively simple details. This book helps with some of those details, describing procedures that save time and promote safety, clarifying aspects of the craft that are confusing and often misunderstood, and supplying a wealth of information about the hundreds of gadgets of which lighting technicians are so fond.
Starting with the basics, we begin with a summary of the role of the lighting crew on a film set.


The electric, grip, and camera departments fall under the supervision of the director of photography (DP). The gaffer and key grip are the DP’s lieutenants. The gaffer is the head of the electric department, in charge of the lighting crew. The gaffer’s crew consists of a best boy electric, lighting technicians, and often a lighting control programmer or dimmer board operator and a rigging crew.

Director of photography

Q: How many directors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: One; no, two . . . no, no one.
The DP is the director’s right hand. It is the DP’s responsibility to create in images what the director has envisioned for each scene; to evoke the proper time, place, and atmosphere by means of lighting; and to help choose camera angles and camera movement that will be most effective in telling the story and covering the scene. He or she designs the lighting, balancing realism against the dramatic potential of more stylized effects, as called for by the script and the director. The DP’s responsibility for lighting and photographing the actors requires careful attention to how their face takes light. The DP must maintain proper screen direction (a responsibility shared with the script supervisor) and lighting continuity between setups so the film can be edited seamlessly. The DP has a say in the design and color of the sets and the wardrobe and in the selection of locations. The DP works closely with the assistant director (AD) to schedule scenes at the right time of day for the best light.
The DP usually shoots tests prior to the beginning of photography. He or she may experiment with lighting effects, with different color casts, levels of contrast and saturation, filters, and lenses that combine to create specific looks, which answer the special requirements of the script. The DP may also conduct his or her own research prior to production to ensure the authenticity of a period look and to inspire ideas for the cinematography.
The DP holds a position of immense responsibility, creatively and financially. The producer and director both depend on the DP to achieve photographic excellence within the constraints of the production’s budget and schedule. The DP always faces conflicts in fulfilling the needs of the script, director, schedule, and budget and meeting his or her own aspirations for the photography. The lighting crew fights the DP’s battles on the front lines. Their ability to light the set in a time-efficient manner directly affects the DP’s ability to produce great work.


Q: How many gaffers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: How many do we have on the truck?
The gaffer is the chief lighting technician (CLT), the head of the lighting department. He or she works directly with the DP to implement the lighting plan and help achieve the photographic look of the film. The DP, the gaffer, and the key grip attend preproduction meetings together and scout the locations where filming is to take place. They discuss the DP’s approach to each scene and determine what lighting preparations and equipment are required. Gaffers are problem solvers. They often have to design a special rig, fabricate a gadget, or implement technology in some idiosyncratic way to give the DP something he or she is looking for, or to provide time efficiency during production. It falls to the gaffer and key grip to research possible solutions, source the materials, design all the specifics, and if necessary, present the plan to the DP and to the production manager for approval, and then see the plan to fruition.
On the set, the gaffer is responsible for the execution of the lighting scheme and the organization and operation of the lighting crew. The DP and the gaffer discuss the lighting. Typically, when talking about the actor’s lighting, the DP may specify the placement of each fixture to accomplish a particular effect. Sometimes the DP may leave it to the gaffer to translate general ideas into specifics. The DP may express the goals in terms of the motivating sources of light for the scene, the mood, and the f-stop at which to shoot. The gaffer then instructs the crew and sees to the exact placement and focus of each light to accomplish the DP’s instructions. Once the gaffer has executed the lighting, the DP may “sweeten” it to taste, with a few adjustments.
The gaffer must have a very strong eye for lighting and a solid knowledge of which lights to use to create any desired effect. As the lighting starts to come together, the gaffer functions as a second pair of eyes for the DP, always on the lookout for problems—inadequate light, overexposure, hot spots, ugly shadows, and so on. Together, the DP and gaffer look for opportunities to make the scene look more interesting. The gaffer has a critical eye for the balance of light and shade, the modeling of facial features, and the separation of foreground from middle ground and background. He or she may carry a light meter on their belt for measuring light levels. The gaffer is often next to the DP, viewing the monitors, watching for lighting issues and calling for adjustments over the walkie-talkie.
A very important part of the gaffer’s job is organizing and running the lighting operations. He or she must constantly be cycling through the many tasks at hand, pushing forward the progress of each project, keeping an eye on the performance of the lighting crew, thinking ahead so that the lighting technicians will have power and lights readily at hand for subsequent shots, and forestalling delay.
The gaffer should never have to leave the immediate area in which the action is being filmed. He or she must rely on the crew to be close at hand to make lighting adjustments and fetch equipment when it is needed. Once the lighting is complete, the grips and electricians clear the set, but remain nearby, in case a tweak is called for between takes. The lighting crew is always under time pressure. A technician who stays near the action, listens, and thinks ahead can do a lot to help the gaffer and DP win their daily battle against time.

Best boy electric

The best boy electric is the assistant chief lighting technician. He or she is in charge of personnel and equipment for the electrical department—a vital role in the smooth running of the lighting crew. One of the best boy’s duties is scouting locations with the gaffer, making scouting notes to help the gaffer compile the list of equipment needed. The best boy supervises the equipment inventory from the load-in at the beginning of the show, through each day of the shoot, and through the wrap and return. The best boy orders expendable supplies. He or she coordinates equipment orders, returns, subrentals, and special orders with the production department and transportation departments as necessary. The best boy supervises the loading of the truck at the rental house before the first day of production, organizes the equipment and supplies in the truck for easy access, makes sure that no equipment gets lost at each location, and keeps track of damage. The best boy supervises maintenance and repairs when possible. The best boy is in charge of hiring and laying off additional lighting technicians when needed. The best boy supervises the electrical crew’s startup paperwork and time cards. When there is no rigging gaffer hired, the best boy may also plan the routing of the feeder cable and supervise the distribution of electrical power to the lights.
Most important, the best boy is the emissary of the electrical department, communicating and coordinating with other departments, with the fire marshal, and with rental houses, and other equipment suppliers. A best boy who maintains good relations with each department can get cooperation when it is needed. For example, when the best boy needs to put a light on the roof of a building, the locations team must make the necessary contacts to secure that spot. When the best boy needs some extra equipment delivered quickly, his or her relationships with the transportation department and the contact at the rental house come into play. The best boy’s diplomacy is key.

Lighting technicians

Q: How many electricians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: It’s not a bulb, it’s a globe.
Affectionately known as juicers or sparks, electricians are officially titled set lighting technicians or lamp operators. The electrician’s primary responsibility is placing and focusing lights according to the wishes of the gaffer. At each location, the electricians unload and reload the lighting equipment from the trucks, run cabling, and run the distribution of electrical power for the lights. On the set, electricians are responsible for placing and focusing (aiming) the lights; manipulating the intensity, direction, color, and quality of light; wiring practical lamps (such as table lamps and wall sconces), switches, and wall outlets on constructed sets; and anticipating the needs of the gaffer so that equipment is at hand when needed. Lighting technicians secure lights and stands; however, the grip department also plays a role, such as hanging pipe or truss for the lights, securing a stand with straps, or screwing it down with grip-chain.
There is a Zen to the job of the lamp operator. An experienced lamp operator handles the equipment with deft speed and economy of movement that comes with familiarity. Through the exchange of a few words or hand signals, or by clairvoyance, the electrician grasps the gaffer’s intention and manipulates the lamp to create the desired effect. His or her focused concentration is on two things: the activities of the lighting crew and the behavior of the light. The lamp operator is constantly attentive to the DP and gaffer and to fellow electricians who might need a hand. Simultaneously, the electrician is aware of the light falling, blasting, leaking, and spilling onto the faces and the surfaces around the set.
The set lighting crew may be asked also to provide power for fellow crew: camera, sound, dolly, and video village. Lighting technicians typically relinquish responsibility for powering vehicles at the base camp to the transportation department. Although powering the base camp is technically within the union jurisdiction of lighting technicians, being trained to handle electrical distribution equipment, most of the time the gaffer simply does not have the personnel to spare for anything extraneous to the set. Despite the nickname, movie electricians are very rarely licensed journeymen or master electricians. They are not qualified to wire buildings or work inside electrical panels. Their job is lighting movies.

Lighting control personnel

Lighting control refers to controlling lighting remotely via a control console, dimmer board, laptop, tablet or other device. A person who operates a computerized control console is called a lighting control programmer. A person who operates a dimmer board is called a dimmer board operator, or board op.
The importance and sophistication of this position on the crew has evolved drastically as lighting devices have gone from having one controllable parameter, via dimming, to having many parameters of control including color temperature, hue, saturation, and special effects. On a good-sized set, it is common for the programmer to have several thousand control channels under their command. The programmer is responsible for organizing the system including supervising assignment of DMX channels to lighting devices, selecting control modes and other device settings, running data lines, setting up wireless networks, and protecting these systems from failure and interference.
The programmer is responsible for grouping and organizing the devices on the control console so that even a large number of lights can be controlled in an intuitive and functional manner. The programmer must be able to respond quickly to instructions from the gaffer or DP to set levels and colors, write lighting cues, and execute the cues during the take. The programmer typically saves important lighting setups as cues so the levels can be recalled for future setups, so the task of organizing and archiving the data is also part of the job.
On a big production, responsibilities are delegated to one or more systems techs (also called DMX techs or control techs). There may be any number of people organizing and addressing DMX512 devices or assisting in other aspects of setting up and maintaining communication networks and control systems. When a lot of moving lights are used, the production may also have one or more moving light techs.

Rigging crew

A rigging crew is an important part of almost any project, be it a feature, episodic TV series, or even a television commercial. The rigging crew works ahead of the main unit, installing cable and distribution boxes, hanging lights, and taking care of any work that will be time-consuming for the main unit to accomplish on the day of filming. The electric rigging crew works in tandem with the grip rigging crew. This may involve weeks of work to rig a major set or half a day laying in some cable on location.
A rigging crew consists of a rigging gaffer, rigging best boy, and rigging electricians. A rigging crew is invaluable to a production, especially to the DP and gaffer. The thought, planning, and careful, unrushed work, testing, and troubleshooting put in ahead of time translates into smooth sailing for the shooting ...

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