What Does a Lighting Director Do?

This was published on Dream Row’s website on July 8, 2012.

What Does a Lighting Director Do?

By Nicole LaChance

When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he probably had no idea all the functions it would serve and all the jobs it would create. One of those jobs involves planning the lighting for films and live productions, also called the lighting director.

What They Are

The lighting director is the highest position in a lighting crew. Directors often do the overall planning of the lighting for productions and handle the administrative end of the lighting duties. They are also responsible for delegating tasks to the rest of the crew.  Directors must be able to work in a team as they will have to consult with the director, producers, set designers, costume designers and other people on set.

Where They Work

Lighting directors can work in variety of fields in the entertainment industry. Lighting is important to both live and on-camera productions. However, directors do not have to stick to just one discipline. Lighting director Tom Kenny primarily does concert lighting for bands like The Who and The Talking Heads, but because of his experience and connections has been able to branch out to theater and television lighting.

  • Television

For most scripted sitcoms and dramas, lighting designers will receive the script a few weeks in advance and consult with the director and producer as to the tone and mood of the show, according to the Society of Television Lighting and Design. The lighting director is then responsible for making a lighting plan and showing it to the producers. The director must decide which lights and colors to use. The toughest part of the job is often trying to make the lighting look good while pleasing the producers and directors. The day or morning before filming, the lighting director, gaffers and electricians go through every light to make sure they are working properly. Once the cameras start rolling and pick up the light, the director must make sure everything looks as planned. After the shooting is done, the lighting director and colorist “grade” the show to make sure the tone and light translated to film. Lighting for reality and outdoor shows is a little more spontaneous, as weather can be unpredictable, but generally the same.

  • Film

Lighting for film is very similar to lighting for television, just with a longer production schedule.

  • Theater

Being a lighting director for theater also requires a lot of planning. At the beginning of production, lighting directors meet with the director to discuss the tone of the production and the set designer to coordinate placement of lights, according to the American Association of Community Theater. Designers attend rehearsals to get a feel of the movements of the actors and how the lights will look during the show. An important part of the job is collaboration with the director, set designer and costume designer to perfect the look of the live show. The director’s work is all done during the rehearsal stage and once the show opens the lights are turned over to the stage manager and lighting crew.

  • Concerts

As with other disciplines, lighting directors must work with others, in this the case the band and those producing the concert, to establish a vision for the show. They must then produce a lighting plot detailing the type and placement of lights, like this one lighting designer Jeff Ravitz used for a Bruce Springsteen tour. They must also program the cues for the songs. Unlike in theater, lighting directors usually supervise and work the lights during the show and update them for each venue.

Education

While no specific education is required for being a lighting director, having a degree in show production or theatrical design is helpful. The most important thing is to be familiar with lighting equipment, consoles, dimmers and other lighting equipment as well as software such as Vectorworks, AutoCAD and ShowDesigner. Some lighting directors are also certified as electricians.

Many lighting directors start out as stagehands or assistants and work their way up to a designer. Experience is very important in the field. Almost all lighting directors work on a freelance basis and having quality experience on a resume helps to get booked for jobs.

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