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Lighting: Roles and Responsibilities


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#1 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 06:16 PM

I've been asked to "do lighting" for a low budget student project (my first formal lighting assignment).

So, I was wondering what are the "typical" roles, responsibilities, and the relationship between the DP, the Director, and the grip/gaff/light crew (or in this case, the single lighting person) in regards to planning all the lighting requirements for each shot?

For this project there is no grip or gaff crew, it's just me, and as such I was sort of expecting that the Director will have a good idea of how he'd like each scene to look (mood, feel, perhaps color and maybe even a general lighting approach); I'm also expecting that the Director and DP will dialogue about all of the scenes and the general lighting requirements sufficiently in advance of the shot dates.

My plan is to try and schedule a meeting with both the Director and the DP to go over the storyboards and scenes to assess how to achieve each of the lighting setups: equipment requirements, physical setups in relation to the shot list, power requirements, corrective temp requirements, etc.

**They know that I'm not a lighting expert by any stretch, I've been up front and honest about my limited experience, and to be honest if I had my druthers I'd only be setting up lamps, gels, and cables based on the direction of someone more seasoned and knowledgeable, but if the expertise doesn't exist on this set then I'll rely on my own eye and the technical knowledge I've gained on the boards, in the books, and in limited practice.

Just wondering what is reasonable to expect from the DP and the Director in this type of very-low budget scenario and how it typically works out in larger productions.

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

~Shawn
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#2 David Sweetman

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 08:26 PM

That seems strange to me, usually the DP decides light placement, then the grip & gaffer make it happen. The key grip will probably be a competent lighting technician himself, but If my understanding is right, their primary function is to carry out the DP's plan of attack, which most often involves specific light placement.

Does the DP have some aversion to "doing lighting?" If so, he's pretty much neglecting his entire job...

although I am admittedly coming from a kind of auteur mindset

Edited by David Sweetman, 02 February 2006 - 08:27 PM.

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#3 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 08:43 PM

Your assumption regarding the DP is the same as mine (though I've definitely read a number of variations on that theme depending on the Director's previous camera/lighting involvement).

My main point here is that in the realm of no/low budget filming I'm certain I'll experience all kinds of strange interpretations of who does what, when, and where (and for obvious reasons of budget and experience), so, although I'm not overly interested in Union style dogma regarding roles and responsibilities, I was hoping to get a better understanding of to what extent the DP, the Director, and the Grip/Gaff crew dialogue in pre-production for planning lighting.
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#4 Daniel Madsen

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 08:47 PM

With smaller productions the DP oftens plays the role of gaffer as well- making you more of a grip than anything else. On professional sets the DP and gaffer are both overseers, the gaffer being considered the DP's lieutenant of lighting/head of the electrical dept.
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#5 Shawn Murphy

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 09:04 PM

That's kind of what I thought, but I'm concerned that this isn't the case with this project, so I proposed two scenarios to one of the Co-Directors:


This is the email I sent him:



..because I'm not familiar with what your approach is in preparing for lighting, there are two scenarios that I see given that this is a low budget (no grip/gaff, other than me) crew:



1. I could meet up with the two Co-Directors in conjunction with the DP to go over all the scenes/storyboards that have lighting requirements in advance so we can assess equipment needs as well as actual lighting setups based on the shot list and schedule.



2. If you guys have already assessed all the relevant scene/setup lighting questions, as well as necessary equipment preparations, then I'm also ok with just wrangling lights, cables, and stands, I just want to make sure I'm clear on roles and expectations to make sure we do the best possible job.



The response I got was that they want to do option #1

So, I still need to find out to what extent the Director and DP know what they want in regards to the look/lighting, and if they have a good idea of how to achieve it.

I'm also wondering who's responsibility it will be to make sure that they are planning (scheduling time) accordingly for all the lighting setups and possible lighting changes for any given scene/location?

I'll continue to dialogue with them about these questions and see how it goes, I just really want to avoid any confusion or significant delays or "gotcha's" on the shooting days.
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#6 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 09:23 PM

Please don't assume anything; you leave yourself open to defeat.

Meet with your director, and DP, they want to know that they can trust you; that you are going to pre-light their scense before they get to them to help speed up the process.

You need help. Bring one friend, and try to be nice to him/her, but make them understand that they are under you, and they need to help, and not offer their opinion so much.

Obviously be safe and careful about light placement, Think about motivation, and think about intensity. Buy some gels, and some diffusion to make it nicer (CTB, CTO, 216, OPAL), and ask to be paid for them.

Always keep in contact with the DP, and make sure he/she is happy. Be ready to jump up from doing nothing for a while, to re-arranging the whole set.

Bring tools, tape, gloves, rope, pipe clamps, tinfoil...etc.


light it
block it
tweak it
shoot it
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#7 Barry Cheong

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Posted 02 February 2006 - 09:53 PM

Each DP/Gaffer relationship is a little different. I'm currently gearing up to shoot 4 projects in the next month as part of school. I'm gaffing 2, key gripping another and finishing up the month DP'ing a show. Each relationship with my respective DP's and as a DP myself has been different.

I think the key in prep is to know as much about the script and production as possible and to make yourself available to your DP when needed for consultation, etc. I've gone over lighting plans and gearlists, lighting strategies and various other things with all my DP's. As a DP i've consulted a little bit with my gaffer and will do so more as the shoot day approaches.

On the day, keep a watchful eye, be focused and come prepared with all the necessary supplies.

There's an interesting read at Cinematography.net about the DP/Gaffer relationship:

http://www.cinematog...KudosCrimes.htm
http://www.cinematog...otTheGaffer.htm
http://www.cinematog...Gaffer__Mk2.htm
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