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Interview

Don Dean, Lighting Director

How did you plan the lighting for the KET production of Liz’s Circus Story?

DonFor Liz’s Circus Story, as in any major studio or theatrical production, you have to learn the content, familiarize yourself with what the storyline is and the characters. That generally involves reading the script. It involves working with the director and the talent, watching rehearsals, working with the set designer, so I know how to organize myself and the resources I have available to work with. As far as the studio is concerned, we have a very specific environment we work in in terms of dimension—a specific number of circuits on a particular number of grids that give us access to lighting positions.

What is your role once taping starts?

Once we start production, what I’m looking for are things I didn’t anticipate—and you can’t anticipate everything. I’m looking for little surprises that might deviate from the effect or look that we hope for. I’m constantly making intensity adjustments between the backlights, the keys, the fill lights, which all affect the general look.

What is the “look” for Liz’s Circus Story?

Primarily there are outside and inside looks. Very simplistically, if you’re working in a studio, an outside look will be brighter, primarily front light. An inside look will be lower-key. Generally, the way to make something appear to be darker is to have a little bit more backlight than front light, so that you still get enough light around the talent and the set, but instead of lighting flat from the front, you’ll have more edges.

For Liz’s Circus Story, what types of lighting adjustments were made once taping began?

Most of them were pretty typical. KET has a very good production unit. The directors do a good job. Bob Pickering is an excellent set designer. We hope we do a fairly good job anticipating what we need with lighting. The shooters work with directors very well and anticipate their shots. Nevertheless, no matter how much you prepare, there are going to be things that weren’t anticipated. In my case, that most often will be angles. Once the set is physically in place and we see how the talent is working with various juxtapositions of the set pieces, the director may decide on a new angle or move the talent. Since I didn’t light for that angle, I’ll need to adjust; sometimes we’ll have to hang lights in positions we didn’t anticipate. That’s probably the most time-consuming thing we can do, because by the time the set is in place, access to lighting positions is very limited and very difficult. We have to get 20 feet in the air somehow, using a lift or a ladder, when the studio floor or stage is full of set pieces. That’s basically the kind of adjustments we made.

When viewers watch Liz’s Circus Story, what should they look for in terms of lighting?

Hopefully, someone who is watching Liz’s Circus Story, or any production, shouldn’t be distracted by the lighting. Good lighting should be seamless. It should support the set, support the talent. It should make the talent look good—or appropriate; there may be a dramatic reason you don’t want the talent to look attractive—make the set look good, and give the ambience of what the director is trying to project to the audience. The audience shouldn’t be drawn from the story to a production aspect.

If you are watching specifically for lighting techniques, I think the most important thing is to ask, “Does the talent look good, and does the lighting support the set and offer the mood the director was looking for?”

How did you learn to do lighting?

I learned to do lights from shooting [running camera]. There are people who get into lighting from a technical, engineering aspect. They’ll know about the electricity, the intensity, the foot candles, and so on. There are people who get into lighting in the theater and know how to light a set to be seen by a live audience. I think for television, you find that the people who light the best started out as shooters, because film and TV are primarily portrait work, going from wide shots to tight shots. You’re always working with the face of the talent, and the better you can light the face, the more control you have over lighting the face, the better you are going to deliver what the production requires. People who start out looking though the camera lens, through the viewfinder, are sensitive to that.


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