The key to having a show go as smoothly as possible is good communication. Simple communication requires that you tell others what you need and that you compromise when it is necessary. I like to think of this as knowing when to pick your battles. Chances are if that screen isn’t hung exactly where you need it or it’s slightly smaller than you asked for, you can make it through the show and the show will not suffer. But if the screens are hidden by shimmering silver Mylar or blocked by the set, then you may need to have a word with someone about the video for which the client paid top dollar to have produced—you know, the video of the corporate CEO singing at the company karaoke lunch. It has to take top priority, after all!
– From Vickie Claiborne's Video Digerati column in the March issue of PLSN
April 15 is coming at us faster than we realize. It’s a good time to discuss one of the big bugaboos in the entertainment business: the status of the freelance worker. The term “freelance” translates in IRS-speak to “independent contractor,” a category that has undergone significant revision and clarification over the last decade because, in an age when few people stay at one job more than a few years, the notion of self-employment has gotten fuzzy around the edges. Back in 1996, the Internal Revenue Service redefined what constitutes an independent contractor, establishing a complex set of 20 common-law factors plus interpretations of numerous tax court cases. A useful FAQ list can be found at www.irs.gov/govt/tribes/article/0,,id=134976,00.html.
– From Dan Daley's The Biz column in the March issue of PLSN
Another part that I deal with a lot [in teaching] is how to make the transition out of academic training into the professional industry. I always encourage students to aim high. I came out of apprentice-style training. I did my undergraduate training and although I got accepted to graduate school, I was getting work straight out of undergrad, working for top New York and London designers. That became my apprenticeship, assisting those designers for the first five years of my career, which was a private reading with each of those designers. If you look around at lighting designers working in the theatrical community, about half of us have apprentice-style training and about half have a graduate degree. And those are both valid ways to go. My great fortune, coming out of my undergraduate program, was falling into a top design circle in the United States, so it can happen.
– From the PLSN Interview with Dawn Chiang in the February issue of PLSN
I chose a straight front truss with five wash lights, five hard-edge lights, some Molefay blinders for crowd lighting and six Lekos for front key lighting. I need the Lekos because I know many of my bands start out hating spotlights for two reasons. The first is that they grew up playing clubs and would have a blaring light from 30 feet away blinding them the whole show. The second was that their first LD had no idea how to properly utilize followspots as front light. The Lekos I use on the front truss are done in what I call a “zone defense.” I focus five 26º Lekos across the front edge of the stage. The sixth Leko goes on the drummer. I use them as key lights and leave no dark spaces for band members to walk into. I only use two followspots at a time, one on the vocalist and one to pick up solos. Lekos cover the rest. I had one rule I followed for every band—I either keep all the wash lights focused on the band while the hard-edge fixtures remain in graphic foci, or vice versa. This way, I always “light the money.”
– From Nook Schoenfeld's LD-at-Large column in the February issue of PLSN
There are a few essentials in preparing for a programming session with a digital media server. For instance, the content should be organized ahead of time. Whether the source is the producer of the show or an online content creation company, all the content should be properly formatted according to the server’s recommendations, which means you must get the content from the source well before the day of the show. Specific formatting information for all media servers is readily available online, so definitely consult the manufacturer’s technical support Web site for that particular media server, because all servers have different recommendations for file resolution, file type and codecs. A piece of content optimized for one media server may or may not playback the same on another server, so it’s not worth the risk to let it go unchecked. Not sure how to properly format your content? Many software programs are available in a variety of price ranges that you can use to change formats, including Quicktime Pro, Final Cut Pro and Riverpast, for starters.
– From Vickie Claiborne's Video Digerati column in the February issue of PLSN
In order to fully understand the purpose of patching, you must have a notion of the basics for DMX communication. The automated lighting console outputs 512 distinctive DMX channels per universe of DMX. Each of these channels is capable of 256 unique values between 0 and 255. A DMX-controlled lighting fixture will respond to a pre-assigned number of DMX channels and relate their values to the various parameters of the fixture. For example, a simple fixture might use seven DMX channels to control all its functions, with one channel controlling each parameter (pan, tilt, cyan, magenta, yellow, zoom and dimmer). This mapping is known as the fixture’s DMX protocol. The specific DMX values of each channel relate directly to the associated mechanical function. So a DMX value of 0 on the seventh channel will cause no light output, while a value of 255 will result in full light output.
– From Brad Schiller's Feeding the Machines column in the February issue of PLSN
For smaller cables like XLR data cables, I teach my cable-rolling helpers to coil in about 7-inch circles using the over/under technique. The technique is better shown than described, but uses a lot of common sense and a bit of Navy seamanship. Generally, you will attempt to get the cable loose from all others and lay it out in somewhat of a straight line. Then, grab one end with your left hand (if you’re right-handed), and with the other hand, grab the cable about 2 feet in front of you. Coil the cable one loop at a time, alternately twisting the cable one way and then the other. With your thumb and fingers, you should make the cable turn as each coil is formed. Alternatively, you can grab the cable with your left hand (if you’re right-handed) and using your right hand, grab the cable a couple of feet in front of you. Then twist your wrist 180º so that the loop goes under the previous loop. Alternate between twisting and not twisting. You will notice that the far end of the cable will not be twisting if this is done correctly, as it prevents looping and tangles.
– From Mark Amundson's Focus on Technology column in the January issue of PLSN
We can’t allow the quality of the show to suffer just because technology allows us to achieve certain things. Ultimately, in every case where lighting and video is used in a production, it must be decided how both aspects will be integrated into the show, and then it can be decided whether or not one person should be responsible for wearing both hats, or whether the production as a whole would benefit from dividing the two roles and allowing techs to focus on each aspect individually. There are no easy answers because no two shows are alike. There are programmers who are experienced in video and can easily handle both roles. Those programmers are keenly aware of balancing video and lighting in a show, and therefore, the show will have a cohesive look that is sometimes harder to achieve when you have separate personnel running each aspect of the show. If the communication between the lighting team and video team isn’t well-established, the end result can be disastrous for both aspects.
– From Vickie Claiborne's Video Digerati column in the January issue of PLSN
I’ve noticed a downward trend in lighting techs over the last few years. When I was young and new, I was taught to respect the LD and production personnel. I was in awe of these people and wanted to learn by example. I didn’t complain when they ask me to do something, I just did it. I was proud to have people notice me as a guy who could take care of things when asked. When I ask for something to get done, I don’t need a “Yes sir, I’m right on it.” I just want to hear them say, “OK Nook, we’ll get to it as soon as we can.” I earn respect because of a good attitude and I demand my techs maintain one.
– From Nook Schoenfeld's LD-at-Large column in the January issue of PLSN
I know many programmers who carry around a disk loaded with palettes or presets of their favorite color mix combinations. Some of these combinations are made to match gel colors, while others are just favorites. Either way, I often can tell that the shows are programmed by certain people by their color palette. I personally like to take the time to custom-mix colors for each production (unless I have very limited programming time). This way I am creating a different light green that better suits the actual fixture, set, costumes, act, etc. OK, so maybe it is hard to tell the difference between 20% magenta and 25% magenta, but I know that my colors are unique for each production. Just imagine what new shades or hues you might find if you spend 10 minutes and explore the possibilities in the amber range of a fixture. If you can not let go of your standard colors, then at least take the time to see what new colors you can add to your good ol’ palette.
– From Brad Schiller's Feeding the Machines column in the January 2006 issue of PLSN