Nearly every production whether television, concert touring, house of worship, theater, or special events, requires lighting. The concepts and ideas for the lighting starts and is the responsibility of the lighting designer. However, he/she is usually assisted by a crew of experts to achieve the lighting vision for the production. Behind every lighting design, there is a full team of lighting positions that contribute to the success of the production. In some cases a single person may take on multiple (or all) roles, but most often differently skilled people fill each position.
Lighting Designer (LD)
The lighting designer is the top dog of the lighting food chain. This person will work with the director, client, producers, artist and other creative staff to understand the needs and goals of the production. Then the LD will develop concepts for lighting the production including choosing the types of lighting fixtures and placement of each. Typically an LD will draft this idea into a lighting plot, which is a blueprint of the lighting fixture layout.
During the pre-production and rehearsal period the LD will work with a programmer to adjust lighting levels, movements, colors and the overall look of the lighting. The LD will realize his/her original vision during this phase and these looks will be stored in the lighting controller for playback during the production.
As mentioned above, the lighting programmer will work with the lighting designer to build and store lighting looks in a lighting controller. The programmer is typically an expert at the lighting console and spends all his/her time writing specific instructions on the specialized computer system that instructs the lighting fixtures how to look and move throughout the show. Quite often the lighting programmer will also assist the LD with creative input and offer suggestions to achieve the lighting requirements.
Lighting Director or Board Operator
Some productions such as concert touring, theater, and television will employ a person whose primary job is to operate the lighting during the production. They typically have very little creative input into the show, but are essential to the production by ensuring that every performance looks the same. In addition to operating the lighting console during shows, the lighting director or board operator will also maintain the original concepts and adjust the lighting as needed when performance changes occur.
Lighting Crew Chief
The lighting crew chief is in charge of the lighting crew and responsible for brining the lighting plot to reality. The crew chief must read the plot and then direct a crew of people to position the lights as laid out on the plot. This person also must ensure that all power and data cables and rigging requirements have been correctly planned and implemented while adhering to budget and safety limitations. Working with the lighting designer, the lighting crew chief manages the entire lighting crew.
The lighting crew will consists of several lighting technicians that physically hang and cable all of the fixtures according to the lighting plot. They will work together as a team to achieve the daily goals per the discretion of the crew chief. In addition, they will maintain the lighting rig by solving problems and repairing fixtures when failures occur. This could be as simple as swapping out a bad light or as complex as repairing bad components within a fixture.
The above lighting crew positions are common on most every type of production. When each department or individual works together with the rest of the team, amazing lighting can be achieved. However, there are still further positions that can be found on a lighting team that are also essential to success. The following are not common with every production type, but serve very useful when utilized.
Other Lighting Positions
Associate or Assistant Lighting Designer
Mostly found in theatrical settings, associate or assistant LD’s help the lighting designer with paperwork, data tracking, and more. Some assistant LD’s will prepare the focus (where the lights point) and even develop lighting looks from time to time. Associate designers are often tasked with mundane routines, but gain a valuable insight into the workings of the designer they are aiding.
Many productions make use of spotlights that are manually operated by trained lighting technicians. There are usually multiple followspot operators and generally they receive instructions over headsets from the lighting designer or lighting director. Often the followspot operators are also lighting technicians. The followspots may be located high in the ceiling in the back of the venue or even mounted to truss above the stage.
Television events usually require a gaffer who will guarantee that the lighting levels and quality of light is correct for the camera. By utilizing experience and highly technical skills the gaffer will adjust followspot levels, check color temperature consistency, and balance the overall brightness of scenes to produce the best television picture possible.
When a production involves video elements such as video walls or creative pixels, a lighting designer will often seek the aid of a media specialist. This person will create his/her own team to work with the technology and content required to achieve the vision of the creative team. Often the media specialist will work with the lighting designer to balance the creative looks between video and lighting into a cohesive appearance on stage.
A draftsperson will be hired by the lighting designer to draw the lighting plot per the instructions of the lighting designer. Most of this work is achieved with CAD software, although a few people still draw by hand.
When a lighting team works together they can achieve excellent results that enhance any production. Rarely does one person handle every aspect of lighting, but instead a team of skilled individuals comes together to fulfill the needs of the production and the vision of the lighting designer. The next time you watch a production, think about the team that worked together as you watch the lights move and change colors.
Do you work with performance lighting? Tell us about your role in the comments!