I’ve worked shows in clubs all around the world. Most of them have an in-house lighting system. With that comes at least one tech who knows how his system operates. Or we would like to think he does. Clubs usually do not possess a lot of state-of-the-art fixtures, nor fixtures with all of their parameters functioning correctly. Half of the time I will have a console I know little about. So I am dependent on my local lighting guy. And it’s uncanny how little some of these professionals know about their own gear.
The Local Guy
Every year, I find myself shooting some live special, direct from an intimate venue. That’s a loose term for a small, beer fragranced, undesirable hellhole where someone has erected a stage. This winter, I met up with my friend Stan Crocker for the sole purpose of shooting a webcast event in a small club in Flint, MI. Stan was the acting TD, adjusting lighting levels for key lights on the stage, while I was there to run the house system of movers and PARs. Stan shows me a couple of lighting consoles I have never seen the likes of before. Then he steers me over to our local lighting liaison, “Butt Crack.”
This is the actual moniker that the house lighting director has chosen. The club has an actual-sized photo of his namesake printed on a bar table there in his honor. Butt is proud to bring me into his world. His boss is the proud owner of seven of these one-armed moving lights I believe are made by American DJ — or perhaps they were Chinese lights running off of an American DJ controller. It’s hard to tell, as there are blank spaces by the consoles’ knobs where little letters and numbers that have been removed by years of sweaty, beer-soaked fingers. But it’s okay. I’m informed that over the last six years, my trusted technician has programmed hundreds of cues and has his console crammed full of ‘em. I start scrolling through all the cues he has and think to myself, “I am set.” He had some good stuff here. I simply needed him to erase one page on his desk and move the cues I liked to that page.
No Ifs, Ands or…
Butt Crack hangs his head in shame as he apologizes. “Dude, I can’t do it. This console only allows me to write a whole new scene and capture it to a fader. I can’t move anything.” Okay, then. I hand him a quick list of what I want to see on the 12 faders on the desk. He hadn’t planned on programming anything and admitted to me that, after six years, he kind of knew how to program stuff on the desk, but writing things like a shutter chase while the lights are moving was going to take some time. I left him alone and, within an hour, he had come through with what I needed. No excuses, no buts…he just did his gig flawlessly.
Next, I ask that we change gels on a few PARs and focus them. A complete look of dismay came across Mr. Crack’s face. It seems the owner of the club likes an American theme, so all the PARs have either red, blue or no color in them. That’s not so important now. Refocusing the PARs themselves will be a little more of a problem. Butt Crack is not sure they had ever been refocused during his tenure.
My poor lighting guy is confused as I explain to him that I need to focus the colored lights into any holes where there were no musicians standing. If I shine a colored gel on a performer’s face while the camera films him, all we will see on the playback is blobs of color radiating from the skin. However, if we shine beams of light that the camera picks up behind or between the band members, it will look good on camera.
I ask if he can turn off the PARs on the side of the stage, since I can’t refocus them for any good use. He hangs his head in apology again as he explains that those PARs are two-fered with the ones on the rear truss. “So what? Can’t you just re patch them at the rack?” I inquire. At this point, I realize that my new buddy has never plugged anything in or out of his analog dimmer racks in the whole time he has been there. But I will give him credit as he took his large frame and dove into an abyss of cable, determined to re-patch his system for me. In the end, we accomplished everything we needed, and Butt Crack learned a little bit about his own light rig.
A Different Example
Last weekend I found myself in Atlantic City playing a single performance with one of my acts. This particular gig had about 40 moving lights and they all worked flawlessly. The PARs were all gelled with nice primary colors and focused in nice arrays of light beams. The only problem I had was that everything was running off an Avo pearl console. This is usually not a problem as every club has an LD that can usually program what I need to get by on 15 or so faders. The problem was, I encountered a local lighting guy who was stuck in a job he didn’t want. He had to listen to yet another touring LD ask him to do stuff, and then have to sit there and watch a schmuck like myself make his light rig look like crap.
I look through the cues existing on this desk, and there are a few I can use. I ask the house programmer to move some to a blank page. He informs me it can’t be done. I know it can, but don’t wish to argue. So instead I make a suggestion. How about I make a stack of cues on this one fader that bring up different color combinations. Every time I hit the “Go” button on the one fader, it should change all my movers to another color. My programmer then informs me that “Yes, this can be done.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t know how, but I am welcome to figure it out. I’m a bit baffled, so I ask him if he has a manual for his console. He laughs and says he’s never seen one. And I get the impression now that he programs all his shows one way, while I prefer another. He gets up to walk away in disgust with my obvious lack of knowledge as a lighting director. I actually chase after him to explain that I am quite fluent on four other lighting desks, and I work well with whatever gear I have, I just need some help for like an hour, tops. He comes back and we whip out a few pages of punt stuff.
Gear vs. Tech
I truly believe that the success of most gigs is not about the actual quality of all the gear you are using, but the quality of the tech who is servicing the gear. In one gig, I have old, unheard-of gear, but a tech who would go the extra yard to give me the best show ever. And I will never forget his name or the beers we shared after the gig. The other guy had one of the best working system of lights I had ever seen in a club. But because of his dismal attitude and lack of knowledge about his own gear, I had forgotten his name before the show was even over.