Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

Lighting Cinematically For Stage Performances

Published : 4th April 2010

I'm writing to ask for advice on lighting a small, location venue for a one shot live performance to be captured in HD. I was wondering if there was anyone who had staged lighting for a live performance scene with a dedicated end to film.

My lighting package is simple- four fresnels: one 350, one 650, and 2 1ks, and that is it besides the venue's fixed swivel Source 4 and basic three gelled stage Par set up. There is no spill from existing lighting for the audience space. And no rigging available from above.

The director has determined the lighting be hidden, or at least unobtrusive as the extras for the shoot will be actual paying patrons and the tickets for the eve are quite expensive. The stage and room to work around it offer little to no space for fixtures, or stands. I need to light eight members of a band (in black) in front of a red wall with an incident reading of 1.8 and the lead performer (in the Source 4 spot) reading a 4/5.6 without detracting from the stage presence and keeping the room light suitable for the event patrons.

One locked down HVX200 as well as a roving one. Is there a "know how" to lighting an event like this, or at least good advice for consideration in keeping depth on stage and in the audience?

Thank you very much for taking the time,

Eric M.
DP-
Portland, OR USA


What's the musical genre? Do you have any specific lighting looks you or the

director would like to achieve (there's a lot of choice for bands)?

Not having much choice on where to place lights is common for small live stuff, it's a pain if it's to be used as part of a broader narrative. I shot a similar live gig a few weeks ago (where the focus was just the gig, not a broader story) where it was so cramped I had drunk people knocking into my tripod. I hope you're not going to have the same though I'd really consider if this is a possibility when placing lights (if it's going to be that kind of venue), I'd say OH&S comes first in this kind of shoot, then it's a matter of where you can get the lights.

Matthew Mulrine
Founder, DOP, Inspire Media
Canberra, Australia

***************************

Eric,


Often in these situations, it's not about where you want to put the lights but where you are able to put them. For example, it's no use wanting to put backlights if you don't have a grid and the venue is
small. What has worked well for me in this kind of situation is sidelighting - the light isn't flat but doesn't get into the eyes of the audience.

As for mounting the lights it sounds as if you have 3 alternatives:

1) Use the same mounts as the par cans if there is room


2) Floor mount - can be nice for lighting the background if there is enough space (8 people in the band!)


3) Spreader from floor to ceiling - it's not a tripod so it looks like it's part of the venue. When I had to light an event in a concert hall, I camouflaged my equipment to look like stage lights. I used rock'n'roll truss to set my lights on so people didn't realize that it was supplementary lighting for the video cameras and didn't complain.

Can you get some depth cues from using colour on your lights? If you light the band bluer than the front performer you should have a little extra depth.

As for the audience, you can get away with subtly backlighting them - they will think you're lighting the stage. Just don't put lights in their eyes!

Good luck,


Bruce Douglas, DP
Sao Paulo, Brazil


Hide your lights as best you can. When I find myself in these situations I hang fabric, blacks etc. and hide back lights behind them. I put baseplates on the ground, behind amps etc and create something interesting on your BG for depth.

You can also hang a back ground and get your stands high enough so that they come up over it to back light the band. You then create a few spots and splashes from the sides to key the band.

As was suggested subtly back light the audience with some colour. and your laughing.

Give yourself plenty of time to tweak things, if you have enough time you'll get it sorted.

When it comes to stage lighting...all I can say is Par cans, Par cans and moooore Par cans!!!

Good luck!

Kevin Rasmussen


Thank you for the reply Matthew and for the words of support. The music is a Big Band with a full grand piano and eight other players on a stage that measures about 30ft across. It is a sit down event but of course in something like this the audiences both safety and their propensity to slosh drinks around has been taken into the highest consideration.

I appreciate the response.

Thank you for contributing. The spreader is actually an ingenious idea I hadn't thought of. Tripods are definitely going to cause problems in and around the stage, and more I look at the specs the more I am realizing a long Matth Pole might work for rigging as well above the band. Back lighting the audience would actually be quite simple in this space. I believe I make do with what I have, and just keep the band side lit with some full CTB on them to break them up from the very David Lynch red backdrop, and the female singer who will be in teal.

Many Thanks,

Eric C. Macey
DP
Portland, OR USA


Eric,

Long ago I designed theatrical lighting and more recently have shot lots of video in theatres of rehearsals and performances and I have to say the situation your describing is a tough one. If video on this project is an afterthought (as it often is) I think one is obligated to explain very carefully to the client that what they see on TV or in the movies is achieved as the result of a great deal of careful preplanning from day one and appropriate preparation by many experienced professionals and that there are practical limits to what can be accomplished. The lights need to be hidden? Ambient levels need to be kept low? Fine, dear director, but understand that the video will be dark and/or noisy. If that description of the final product does not match their expectations, then they'll have to compromise a bit.

My first approach would be to try and use the existing lighting plot as much as possible by bumping up levels and/or swapping in higher wattages of existing instruments then adding instruments to fill in as needed to bring you up to where you need to be. I'd be looking to get specials added for the band members if practical. In any case, there really is no way to solve the problems without experimenting in the space during a technical rehearsal. Of course this requires lead time and working relationships with the producer, director, and lighting designer you may not have. Adding your own lighting to theirs is asking for trouble on many levels.

Best of luck,

Peter Wiley
Producer, Editor, DP
Arbour Media
Lewisburg, PA USA


>>I'm writing to ask for advice on lighting a small, location venue for a one shot live performance to >>be captured in HD. I was wondering if there was anyone who had staged lighting for a live >>performance scene with a dedicated end to film.

Please don't take this as bragging, just informational.

I lit a one-woman live play for an Emmy winning TV Director and a Broadway leading actress a few years ago on a 20' square stage in a black box theatre. The Director said he wanted it to look like a lit sitcom television production. No bad angles, no dark holes, basically full and even lighting.

I did use a fair amount of coloration but was very careful to design the colour so it was very smoothly blended, no coloured shadows, etc. How much gear did I use? 24 6" Fresnels (babies), 24 Source Four Ellipsoidals with various lens barrels, 12 scrollers, 36 channels of 2.4kW/channel dimming, and an automated light board. I did leave my Cyberlights at home :-). Since my actress was reasonably famous in OKC, the NBC affiliate came out to shoot a rehearsal and some interviews with her on the lit stage. The station's videographer said it looked good to him on camera...it also looked good to the Director. both live and on screen.

I had all of your problems, audience on three sides, no spill allowed, etc.

It can take a ton of gear to pull off a reasonably good job of lighting live theatre...for an audience and/or a camera.

Hal Smith
Engineer and Somewhat DP
Edmond, OK


>> My lighting package is simple- four fresnels: one 350, one 650, and 21ks, and that is it besides >>the venue's fixed swivel Source 4 and basic three gelled stage Par set up. There is no spill from >>existing lighting for the audience space. And no rigging available from above

From suggestions of others I think you should be right to light the stage, though you might need to pick up some more cheap stage lights if possible (you can get away with cheaper lights since the colour doesn't need to be perfectly balanced). You could consider lighting the piano and big band in
separate colours and if possible fade these up and down to add emphasis to what's playing at different times during the music. Lighting the background from very low shining up with a few of your lower wattage lights could keep the zone down compared to the others and create a nice shadow and light pattern on the back wall, that way you could use some very low floor stands or otherwise could light the wall from off-stage to the sides.

How much light you put on the stage really depends on your lenses and how far away your camera is. I think you could get away with putting a fair bit of light on the stage if done tastefully (if the band is a main point to the evening, if it's just background dinner music then it's a different story). Maybe bounce some light of the ceiling above the tables (if possible) to add some ambiance to the crowd. Since people will be eating it might be acceptable to bounce a bit more diffuse, indirect light in there than would be acceptable for other genres of music.

If I was lighting it I'd probably go a fairly hard-edged broad blue spot on the grand piano with another light to pick up the pianists face (if possible) or at least add some general fill across the stage. Do a two light key and fill on the big band in a different colour and then do a three point on the singer (width of light depending on how much they'll be moving around). Balance the camera for the lights on the singer and try to get some really indirect diffuse fill on the audience at the same colour as the singers lights. I'd light the background from the sides from off-stage (if possible) or get a number of low wattage lights to place along the floor to light it from the bottom if not (I'd do this last to see if my other lights illuminate the back enough and look nice enough to not do this). Liaise with the venue to set this up before hand during a practice (if possible, or at least get stand-ins, the grand piano and some instruments on stage to see the specularity of instrument reflections and make sure you can position the light on the instruments and people properly), then make sure any other stage lighting will go well with the rest of the setup and move other stage lighting around, change colours, timing etc if it doesn't. I'd use the suggestions of others to hide the lights.

Cheers,

Matthew Mulrine

Founder, DOP, Inspire Media
Canberra, Australia


Peter Wiley writes:

>>My first approach would be to try and use the existing lighting plot as much as possible by >>bumping up levels and/or swapping in higher wattages of existing instruments then adding >>instruments to fill in as needed to bring you up to where you need to be.

If the lighting director is willing to compromise a bit you can start by trying to pull the existing lighting back from the extremes of colour and levels that tend to characterize stage lighting and make
life miserable for the videographer.

I do a regular gig that involves video coverage of theatrical events at an upscale private school that does incredibly ambitious and professional theatrical productions of Broadway musicals. Since the
results are for personal consumption by the students' families I don't need to maintain "normal" standards ... but I do my best to deliver as professional a product as the budget allows. Because in
this situation the live performance is more important than the video, I tend to stay out of the Lighting Director's hair, and end up doing exposure and contrast/gamma adjustments in post as needed. Occasionally I'll do something like a two-camera comp just to distract from the impossible lighting, but that's pretty rare.

I also depend on auto-iris to track the light levels that not only shift from scene to scene, but also as we pan from one part of the stage to another -- the differences can be radical. I usually dial down the cameras' chroma by a notch, which helps tame the colour extremes, and I bias the auto-iris down by about a half a stop to minimize the inevitable burnouts. There's no perfect way to do it, but with a little fiddling here and there the results end up being quite acceptable, given the context.

<< Adding your own lighting to theirs is asking for trouble on many levels. >>

Agreed. It would certainly not endear you to the house lighting staff.

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA