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Is an electrician qualification expected of new Sparks and Lighting Trainees?

sparks lighting technician electrical qualifications industry

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#1 Joanna Garrard

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 01:33 PM

Hi Everyone, 

Im a 2nd year film student studying in the UK who's new to the forum but very interested in going down the lighting route and eventually becoming a Gaffer or DP for Film and T.V. 

 

My Main Question is about weather you guys believe its essential for Lighting Trainees or Sparks to have a Electricians Qualification to take on jobs in the industry? Especially when you first start out?

and if possible I was also hoping to hear how you guys started your careers? and what you would suggest my first steps should be to go down this route?

 

Im aware there are different laws and practices in different countries about what might be needed for the different roles and would be interested to hear about the different countries views on this topic. 

 

I look forward to your replies!


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 03:08 PM

Eventually yes. Contact the appropriate BECTU branch, they'll give you chapter, verse, and instructions on the first steps to take.

 

Although don't, because I suspect there are four career openings a year at the moment.

 

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#3 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 04:57 PM

It's essential. You can't get insurance to work as a spark without having qualifications as an electrician


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#4 Jack OGara

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 06:22 PM

Not qualified but been getting spark jobs between other camera and lighting jobs for the past 2 years.

All the sets I have been on are pretty chilled about it.

 

Worth getting qualified though. It would help.


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#5 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 07:24 PM

All the sets I have been on are pretty chilled about it.

Lee Lighting, which is now Panalux, wouldn't hire anyone who didn't have the right qualifications. I'd guess that the other lighting firms would be the same. Maybe smaller companies don't care so much about liability.


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 08:08 PM

I think it depends whether you're taking about someone who's there to make safety critical decisions about complex, large-scale electrical supplies, or someone who's basically an assistant to the DP on a small shoot, running out cables and plugging in lights. I wouldn't call that person an electrician. One could make a case that either situation creates safety concerns, although I'd take the position that it should be possible for someone to use electrical equipment at some level without requiring a formal qualification.

All that said, to make a living at any job titled "electrician" you're going to need paperwork. The upside is that the real core of it is fairly simple, if you know what an earth is and how to divide things by 240. The downside is that the rules, regulations and general red tape are endless and constantly change.

I have never been that impressed with film industry electricians. They have a terrific tendency to quote the rules when it suits and ignore the rules when it doesn't, all the while betraying the fact that they know what's in the book but don't really understand why it's there or what the wider implications can be. The most unsafe electrical work I've ever seen was done by union electrics who thought they knew what they were doing but knew very little beyond what was in the course they'd done.

Please don't become one of these people. You can do better. Incidentally they're probably one of the two groups, along with grips, who are most likely to indulge in casual misogyny.

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#7 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 10:38 PM

All that said, to make a living at any job titled "electrician" you're going to need paperwork. The upside is that the real core of it is fairly simple, if you know what an earth is and how to divide things by 240. The downside is that the rules, regulations and general red tape are endless and constantly change.
 

 

As far as I can remember, lighting technicians in the UK need to have completed the first half of the NVQ courses, which is the part that deals with electrical safety and theory, rather than installation.

 

You can, of course, work without qualifications, but no major lighting company will hire you, because they can't insure you.


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#8 Joanna Garrard

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Posted 27 January 2017 - 11:31 PM

Thank you guys,

Your insights has been really helpful. 

 

It's essential. You can't get insurance to work as a spark without having qualifications as an electrician

 

 

Stuart - I will definitely be signing up to a electricians NVQ as soon as possible as it seems that that is the best way forward. In your view would you say it would be ok for me to work on low budget/level work or would my lack of electricians training cause me to be frowned upon? 

 

 

Not qualified but been getting spark jobs between other camera and lighting jobs for the past 2 years.

All the sets I have been on are pretty chilled about it.

 

Worth getting qualified though. It would help.

 

 

Jack - Thank you for sharing your insight its interesting to hear a opposing view, however I think I will gain a qualification as you suggested as wouldn't want to create an issues for someone else down the line. 

 

 

Contact the appropriate BECTU branch, they'll give you chapter, verse, and instructions on the first steps to take.

 

I have never been that impressed with film industry electricians. They have a terrific tendency to quote the rules when it suits and ignore the rules when it doesn't, all the while betraying the fact that they know what's in the book but don't really understand why it's there or what the wider implications can be. The most unsafe electrical work I've ever seen was done by union electrics who thought they knew what they were doing but knew very little beyond what was in the course they'd done.

Please don't become one of these people. You can do better. Incidentally they're probably one of the two groups, along with grips, who are most likely to indulge in casual misogyny.

 

Phil - Thanks for the advice on BECTU I will look in to it and ask the people in the relevant field. Hopefully I wont become like the person described, I just wouldn't want to miss sell myself and cause other people problems. I'm aware of the level of misogyny but I also believe that change has to start somewhere and with the rise in minorities in the industry, I'm willing to fight for the job role that I really want to do despite the discrimination.

 

 

Sorry to ask another question, but I was also wondering if possible what you guys would look for in a good lighting technician? and what kind of tools you would recommend me to have on me when working in the role? 

 

Thanks again for your feedback.


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#9 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 12:18 AM

 I will definitely be signing up to a electricians NVQ as soon as possible as it seems that that is the best way forward. In your view would you say it would be ok for me to work on low budget/level work or would my lack of electricians training cause me to be frowned upon? 

 

 

I was also wondering if possible what you guys would look for in a good lighting technician? and what kind of tools you would recommend me to have on me when working in the role?

If you're working on low budget projects then probably no one will care about your qualifications, but if you want to work in the TV or feature world, it's a must.

 

The things I look for in a lighting technician are initiative, an understanding of the why, not just the how, and an ability to work fast.

 

Good Luck!


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#10 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 06:33 AM

By the time you get to the point of needing tools, you'll probably know what you need. From what I've seen of electricians on film sets they don't tend to need tools much, it's mainly just plugging things in. However:

 

I hate to slip into my accustomed role here, but I hope it's been explained to you how vanishingly rare these jobs are. There are no more than a couple of dozen people - and really twenty or thirty, I suspect - in the entire country who make a living as film electricians, and they are very careful about protecting their jobs. I would not expect more than one or two trainee vacancies a year to arise. Probably several years regularly go by when there are no vacancies. I'd warn you to expect fierce competition, but to be honest there really won't be any competition, because the jobs will be filled by someone that existing electricians already know - someone's cousin or brother, etc. None of these people like interlopers. You will make yourself unpopular even by asking.

 

The problem is that the people who run film courses like the one you're on make a living out of the idea that the UK has a film industry to work in. Really it doesn't - we have a very small service industry which exists to make American films, and not much else. If you can get a US work permit, or if you speak a European language and can get out to somewhere else in the EU in the next couple of years, your chances improve, but only slightly.

 

Young people in the UK currently face a hostile world that does not want them to succeed. Anyone under the age of about 40 at the moment who wants a decent standard of living, let alone to own property, give their kids a decent upbringing or ever dream of retiring needs to make a huge amount of money very quickly. The film industry is very unlikely to give you this.

 

P


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#11 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 07:08 AM

Oh, a lot more than 20 or 30 earning their living as film or TV sparks in the entire UK, one or two major studio films with big sets could take that number. however, they're less used on documentaries and general TV production than in the past. Once upon a time they even used to go out on news in the UK, now it's the heavy duty stuff.

 

Like any area of the industry you need to build up your contacts, which takes time..


Edited by Brian Drysdale, 28 January 2017 - 07:09 AM.

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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 07:21 AM

Even if it's twice that, it's still vanishingly tiny.

 

What really irritates me is the way some people try to write off the problems with statements like this:

 

 

 

Like any area of the industry you need to build up your contacts, which takes time..

 

How? Nobody wants you. Nobody will talk to you. Nobody will give you a break, until you've been given a break. 

 

When these roles are oversubscribed literally several thousand to one, why would you give anyone the time of day? You wouldn't.

 

What you'd actually do is slowly become more and more irritated by the endless requests - "how do I become an X" - when the answer is always that you really can't.

 

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#13 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 10:19 AM

It's a small number compared to the total number qualified electricians around, so it's worthwhile getting the full qualification, at least you can do other electrical work. I know sparks who work in the construction industry between lighting jobs.


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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 28 January 2017 - 10:49 AM

I'm not sure you can work on electrical installations with half of an NVQ, can you?

 

I guess it depends on which qualification we're talking about here. There are specialist ones for film and TV lighting technicians which are, predictably, of the type which require on-the-job assessment, and which were obviously pushed through by existing sparks so they can control who gets qualified and create a closed shop.

 

To our original correspondent: this is how a lot of film trades, such as grips and sparks and soon camera, controls who can work. If you want to get the qualification, you have to know someone, so you can be assessed on the job. This is in effect a "closed shop" and is designed to keep wages high by excluding people from the industry. It's understandable why people want to do it, but it isn't very helpful to new entrants.

 

I very much doubt the construction industry would take such a sinecure course very seriously.

 

It's possible we're talking about some other qualification.

 

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#15 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 03:33 AM

They are qualified electricians before they move into the film industry, then learn about aspects of film and TV lighting. Generator operator seems to be a way in for sparks, also having a HGV driving license also helps.

 

You'll will always have to break in, so networking and making contacts is key, that's no different to other niche industries. I'd allow 5 years for doing that. Asking a couple of times won't do, it's persistence and the established sparks feeling that you'd fit into the team.  

 

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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 29 January 2017 - 06:08 AM

I think the difference between filmmaking and other niche industries is that other niche industries might have, say, five hundred people working in them, as opposed to, well, five.

 

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#17 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 30 January 2017 - 03:59 AM

Being a gaffer on a major studio feature film may have five possibles, but there are other electricians working on bog standard TV dramas and commercials. Apart from film & TV, electricians are also employed on major events, many of which have big lighting rigs and these can also be broadcast TV recorded events.  


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#18 Joanna Garrard

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Posted 03 February 2017 - 02:57 PM

Thanks to all who have replied. 

your suggestions and views are really useful. 

 

Brian - Thank you for your input, I already have a full driving licence, would you suggest I get a car? or do you think its is not that important?  

Also I was thinking of trying to get some running jobs, for TV shows so that I can meet industry professionals. Are there any other ways you would suggest I use to meet people in the industry? 

 

Phil - Once again thank you, I will endeavour to get contacts before I go on a spending spree for tools and what not. 

 

Also thank you Stuart, your suggestions have been invaluable. 

 

Thanks again for all your feedback.


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#19 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 03 February 2017 - 04:34 PM

Regarding a car, I don;t know where you live, but if you don't have public transport getting to a location in the early hours can be difficult. If you're a trainee you wouldn't be expected to drive your own car as crew transport, although some means of personal transport is handy.


Edited by Brian Drysdale, 03 February 2017 - 04:34 PM.

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