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Electrical Lighting Technicians (ELT) or simply Lighting Tech., are involved with rigging stage and location sets and controlling artificial, electric lights for art and entertainment venues (theater or live music venues) or in video, television, or film production. In a theater production, lighting technicians work under the lighting designer and master electrician. In video, television, and film productions, lighting technicians work under the direction of the Gaffer or Chief Lighting Technician whom takes their direction from the cinematographer. In live music, lighting technicians work under the Lighting Director. All heads of department report to the production manager.
Lighting technicians are responsible for the movement and set up of various pieces of lighting equipment for separation of light and shadow or contrast, depth of field and/or visual effects. Lighting Technicians may also lay electrical cables, wire fixtures, install color effects or image patterns, focus the lights, and assist in creating effects or programming sequences.
Most lighting technician work as riggers and install portable, temporary, electrical based modular, distribution units and portable cables. These plug or tap into other modular units fed from bigger premade cables and splitters with the CAM-LOK” TM - Trade name which has become a generic vernacular; moulded water resistant SINGLE PIN connector,under the standard IP44 splash or waterproof connectors. Light fixtures and luminaries are then installed onto the stage or set per the head of the department.
Changing lamps while the light fixtures are completely unplugged from power sources and other light fixture management keeps the equipment in prime working shape. Most light fixtures from a 2 kW down use male/dual bladed grounding plugs, or if it's a 5 kW or higher than 20 amps, light fixtures use either a 60 amp to a 100 amp grounded stage connector generically referred to as "BATES" due to the original manufacture. Today's modern portable electrical rigging setup is backed up with a grounding system, making portable power for the lighting technician safer than wiring a domestic light or socket in a home, where the cable circuits are permanent, hard-wired connections to an over amperage protection system.
Rigging safely is of great importance. Cable runs and light fixtures rigged above cast/artist and crew are as much a concern for safety as much as electrical safety using 'lock out/tag out' protocols.
Chief Rigging Technicians consult the Chief Lighting Technician and the Cinematographer on the amount of electricity needed, and what kind of lighting requirements are needed, and where and what to rig. Any shooting set can have as little as 150 amps 120/208 volts single phase of power to as many as 1200A 480/240/120 volts 3 phase (times infinity) of power depending on the requirements and the budget.
Lighting/Rigging crews mostly consist of young, unqualified, hands on training, non-state certified electrical technicians. Crews are overseen usually by a person who stands in a pecking order within the hierarchy of the department, but has no real power or voice. This person is called the 'pusher'.
Some local unions such as the International Alliance of Television Stage Employees (IATSE) Hollywood chapter local #728, have been qualifying members by certification and recognition through the Entertainment Stage Technologies Association (ESTA)with their Entertainment Technicians Certification Program (ETCP). Basic skill sets are now standardized, and sets and stage are safer through this program.
electricians when using the standard modular cables and light fixtures, and small location-based television crews have operated this way for 30 years since the 1980s (using standard 13amp 240v domestic circuits to power 2,000W "Blonde" lamps, 2,500W HMI lamps and smaller). Safety glass and safety mesh are very important on lamps in case of exploding bulbs. Bulbs do explode and their safety with a working crew or at a concert is based on how close they are rigged to people and not an electrical issue.
It's very important to use the correct gauge of electrical cable for the power carried in it. Cables will melt and become "bare" if too much power is pulled through too thin a cable. This type of situation can result in serious injury and/or death if the wire is not properly sized according to its ampacity. Sizing wire for voltage drop, ampacity draw and temperature is a complicated skill and is better left in the hands of the licensed electrician. It's useful to have an electrician on a lighting team in order to patch power from permanent power distribution boards attached to the national grid and other more complicated electrical tasks. The rest of a lighting technician's work concerns safety of rigging and working with objects which can be very heavy and get very hot. Light fixtures are getting more efficient so can provide more light output at lower power levels and motion picture cameras are many times more sensitive than in earlier times so big electrical rigs are not so necessary anymore.
Portable, temporary power distribution equipment for events is commonly of the “plug and play” variety which doesn’t require a degree in electrical engineering to connect a system together but it does a good understanding of electrical theory and safety.1
Officially called the Electrical Lighting Technician (ELT), or the Rigging Electrical Lighting Technician (RELT), are also called or known as Set Lighting Technicians, Lamp Operator, Electrician, Electric, Spark or a Juicer.
The Lighting Technicians on a motion picture set handle all of the electrical needs as well as place and focus all of the lighting under the direction of the Gaffer (Chief Lighting Technician).
Lighting Techs also:
- Study the script and consult with the director to assess what lighting is required
- Discuss production requirements with the camera operator
- Select lights and equipment to be used and organize any additional equipment
- Set up, focus and operate light fixtures and equipment
- Control consoles and auxiliary equipment
- Choose and combine colors to achieve the desired effect
- Operate the lights during the performance
- Use manual or computer control consoles to control lighting throughout a production
- Use devices such as barn-doors, scrims and other attachments to control lighted areas
- Perform routine maintenance functions such as replacing lamps and damaged color filters or patterns and maintain lighting equipment in safe working conditions
- Explore new techniques and special effects
- Placement and focus of lighting fixtures for any given scene to be photographed.
- Distribution of power and work lights around the set and support areas (including actor's trailers, portable production offices, catering, etc.).
- Management of electrical generators.
- Providing electricity to all support services and departments on the set.
Also specialty duties are called upon the lighting technician such as...
- Follow Spot Operator
- Console/Dimmer Board Operator
- Manual/ Poor Mans Operator
Hours of work also vary. For example, those employed by large television productions generally work more than 40 hours a week,60 hours or more are not uncommon. Technicians and other crew members typically work a 12 hour day.
Depending on script requirements, stage and locations bring on their own requirements for lighting and effects. Out of state, or country to get the right look in a script is not uncommon. Location work always brings on its own challenges. Weather is always a factor when going to a location. Technicians are like scouts and have to be prepared for all kinds of weather as per the season.
Working conditions for lighting technicians vary a great deal from one job to another. Lighting technicians generally spend a lot of time on their feet and the pace of work can become hectic. Last-minute changes are often required and safety precautions must be observed when handling hot lamps, climbing ladders or working on high voltage electrical cables and equipment. Lighting technicians are routinely required to lift and carry the heaviest and more dangerous equipment compared to the other departments and office staff.
The film set electrical department hierarchy is as follows:
- Electrical Lighting Tech/ Rigging Electrical Lighting Tech.reports to the Best Boy or the Assistant Chief Lighting Technician (ACLT)whom reports to the Gaffer or the CLT, who is the head of the department. The Rigging Best Boy or Rigging Assistant Chief Lighting Technician reports to the Rigging Gaffer or the Chief Rigging Technician who is the head of the rigging, but not the department. Both rigging heads reports to the ACLT and CLT of the department. The Gaffer or the Chief Lighting Technician is the Head of the Set Lighting department and reports to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) to make decisions on the creative lighting on the set (or on location), and is responsible for executing those decisions. A budget deciphered from the production schedule, script and vision mandates the types of lights and how to proceed with rigs.
In live music performances, concerts, and other entertainment, stage lighting technicians (also called a lighting tech, lighting operator, "sparky", "lampy", or "techie") set up lighting and make effects for live performances, concerts and any other show/production involving lighting.
- Setting up and focusing lights
- Patching and or wiring up lights to dimmers or electronic control consoles
- Changing the set-up of lights during a performance or concert (e.g., changing color gels)
- Packing down lights after the show
The Stage lighting department hirearchy is as follows:
- Chief lighting Technician: works with the production manager to determine what effects need to be created, creates a plan to achieve the desired effects, and then directs the other members of the stage lighting department to set up the appropriate lighting equipment.
- Lighting Programmer: Works with the chief lighting technician to program the lights using electronic or digital light programming equipment. The goal is to create light and color effects and sequences that enhance the onstage performance.
- Lighting Technician: sets up lights and wiring, and changes lights during a show
- Stage lighting assistant: Works with the lighting technician to set up and patch or wire up lighting, also lugs gear to different areas of the stage area.