The Big Game from PokerStars.net dealt its first hand June 15th on Fox, airing on Fox affiliates around the country and online at PokerStars.net. FLDA Lighting Designer Bruce Ferri brought his signature lighting style to the six week poker program. “We shot for six days at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, covering 150 hands of poker per day,” explains Ferri. “In total, we shot 900 hands of poker to get six weeks of programming. Each round of 150 hands is five days of broadcast episodes. It was actually really interesting because poker is unpredictable and the stakes are high.”
The Big Game is a no limit hold' em cash game and the table features five players from the Team PokerStars Pros and the sixth seat is a Loose Cannon player, an amateur who made an impression playing online poker at the PokerStars.net website. There is a minimum buy-in of $100,000, the Loose Cannon is staked the 100 grand by PokerStars and there is a 150-hand limit per round. The Team PokerStars Pro members featured in the first week are Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Phil Laak, Tony G and Phil Hellmuth; and Loose Cannon player Ernest Wiggins.
Ferri has been lighting poker shows for a number of years and worked with PokerStars.net for the television production PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge, also for Fox Sports and producers Show Partners. His signature method of lighting television, using ellipsoidals mounted to the grid for all of his keylighting, is a departure from the usual use of large light balloons for poker broadcasts from casinos. “I established my method going back to the Poker Dome Challenge in 2006 and on Million Dollar Challenge,” says Ferri of his approach to keylighting, which allows him to provide a fixture-free wide shot to the camera. “I make a serious, conscious effort to hide all of the equipment. They like a really wide shot in poker that is open and clean in keeping with the aesthetic of the show. I always use ellipsoidals to keylight the players and dealer, to me it's standard, easy. All of my shows are lit that way. I'm not the only one using ellipsoidals for keylighting, but I was the first to do it in lighting poker.”
This hidden keylight approach was essential to work with the set of the Big Game, designed by Europe-based Florian Wieder. “In this particular show, there was no way I could not hide the equipment. It would have been unacceptable to light the Big Game like a standard television show,” explains Ferri. “The only way we could go with a set like we had and get the look that we did, was because I made a conscious effort to not show the equipment. We got a really clean, wide shot.”
The sculptural set is very open with LED panels walls angling up and away from the poker table at the center and two large, round headers over the poker table. The producers wanted a design that was very different from other shows. “They didn't want it to look like a game show and they didn't want to be like a poker game in some club or suite,” comments Ferri. “The design mandate was make it simple, clean and elegant with an Asian influence. Florian came up with this big piece of sculpture and the header was a dramatic exclamation point to it.”
That exclamation point consists of two white spandex headers that hide the extremely important â€˜flop' camera, which provides the straight down shot onto the cards being dealt by the dealer. Ferri also has some lighting instruments tucked inside out of sight. However, the headers also provided a lot of challenges to the lighting design team. “I spent a lot of time with my Associate Lighting Designer, FLDA's Mick Smith on threading the needle of the header with our lights,” explains Ferri. “When shooting poker, the two things that they always need is a clean wide shot and a clean flop shot so that they can always go to something. Poker hands are so unpredictable, sometimes in edit you have to pull up the hand and the only way to get that is to go to the flop or go to the wide shot.”
There are miniature cameras in the rail of the poker table to get close-up shots of the player's hole cards. There is a strip of white LEDs around the rail to help illuminate the cards. “These cameras usually prove to be a challenge with the lights,” says Ferri. “The nice thing, this time, they went with wider angle lenses than normal, which we were afraid might be a problem with flare from the keylights, which in the past has been a serious issue, but actually the cameras were so wide that they see the light rather than the flare.”
The walls of the set consist of angled panels of Pulsar Lighting's 2x2 ChromaPanels fed DMX for control. Ferri and Smith spent a lot of time programming different color looks onto the walls. In the negative space between the angled ChromaPanel walls, Ferri placed ETC PARnel units in between each of the panels. “The PARnel has a distinctive wave lens,” notes Ferri. “The happy accident with them was the pattern in the lenses was kind of interesting. Rather than it just being a hit of light, there is actually a nice pattern in the light. We had the crew spend a lot of time getting the wave lens of the ETC PARnels lined up just right.”
Besides the table area, the Big Game set has a lounge area where host Amanda Leatherman is based. "As the game gets going and the players get into it, especially the pros, start talking trash to each other," comments Ferri. "Amanda, who is well known in the poker world, eggs them on. She also interviews players who come over and chat with her if they folded or didn't want to be dealt in on the next hand." For lighting the lounge area Ferri points out, "On-site, it's all about problem solving. One of the biggest challenges was lighting the lounge area, because on-site, they moved that area 12' away from the poker table. In the original position, the lights for the lounge came from under the header; when it was pushed out, all of the lights had to be upstage of the header, which made the lighting positions too steep. In the end, we made it all work and relate to the main area of the set and the poker table. I am proud of that solution because we didn't affect the wide shot."
The lighting equipment, supplied by Palm Springs, CA-based CYM and owner Kevin Swank, also included ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, many of which were used as keylights; 10 SeaChanger Entertainment Technology's SeaChanger Tungsten Profiles to put color onto the header; and for automated lighting, Ferri used Martin MAC 600 Wash and MAC 700 Profiles for adding color and movement to the lighting. The lighting was controlled via an MA Lighting grandMA console, operated by Lighting Programmer Paul Sonnleitner. John Lotz was Gaffer for this project.
You can catch the PokerStars.net Big Game on Fox affiliates; be sure to check your local listings or watch full episodes online at http://thebiggame.pokerstars.net/.
Television lighting design firm FLDA, focuses on what they do best—multi-camera television productions. FLDA adheres to the core principal that while lighting should not be a conscious element to the viewer, it is a critical element that at all times should support and complement a project to enable it to communicate much more effectively. Lighting Designers Bruce Ferri, Fred Bock and Mick Smith along with Director of Production Shannon Curran work from FLDA's offices located in New York City.