Being Grown-Ups


Yesterday, I found myself in an interesting position. I was on a certain island with a very large statue on it. Said statue is a well known as a symbol of our friendship with a country in Europe (okay, France). I felt honored that I had been selected as the programmer by the local lighting company to do the event. The weather was beautiful, the breeze blew off the Hudson Bay, and a huge clear tent sat like a jewel in the middle of it all. The set was a very sexy modern lounge and bar in black and cream tones — a no-brainer to light it up and make it pretty.

Everything had been brought together well on the American side, but the designer had apparently misread some of the specifications: the tent was about 9.84' high at the outside and 16.4' high in the center. He lit the entire thing with ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, all 19° and 26°. By the time I got there, they were already hung, and cabling was almost done. That evening, we were to focus and program, so it would be ready by sundown the following evening.

If you are like me, you are doing the math in your head, wondering what we were lighting with these fixtures — not tiny figurines in glass cases or champagne bottles in ice buckets. These fixtures were to light tables and chairs, whole bars, and DJ booths. Here was a crack team of designers brought across the world and paid an exorbitant sum to create magic, and they goofed because they didn't pay attention to a detail.

This had happened a few years ago, involving another designer known for his ability to aggressively shift blame for his frequent errors onto his employees. I was brought in as crew chief to hang, program, and focus a fashion show and warned by more than a few electricians and producers about the designer's behavior. The designer was initially friendly, until load-in. Then, it turned out he had incorrectly measured the room and miscounted the number of columns, rendering his plot totally useless. My assistant and I had to re-plot the entire thing and had to come up with paperwork, channel hookups, and instrument lists from scratch.

Now, the difference in the two situations was that this designer from several years ago apparently thought it would make him look less culpable for his incompetence if he publicly berated my staff and me, especially in front of his producer. He railed loudly, and some of my favorite lines were: “I teach lighting design in France. Am I now expected to teach you how to do your job here, as well?!” “Whose responsibility was this?!?” Well, sir, it was yours. Now it's mine. I had to tell him if he insisted on behaving unprofessionally, I had no problem grabbing my backpack and leaving. In fact, it was him or me; one of us was leaving right then. He left.

It could have been quietly handled among friends, new equipment brought on short notice, and the budget worked out. However, he had done this so many times with other programmer/designers that no one wanted to help. I certainly will have nothing to do with him again. In fact, it is the only job I have ever quit before my contract was complete. I was to come back and focus with him another day (we were given two hours of his busy schedule) and then operate the show. I told the lighting company to replace me, as I would not spend another minute of my sanity with him in the room. In exchange, I happily took a hit of half my fee.

In the more recent situation, the designer did not use anger. He made another mistake, though. It was also pride-related. When the electricians brought it to his attention that the ellipsoidals all had very narrow beam spreads, the crew chief offered to return to the shop and get all new barrels, 36° and 50° or even the new 70° and 90°. I think the designer was embarrassed that a local underling would offer to solve the mess, so he declined. As a result, the event looked bad or, at least, not great.

The fact is, I've made mistakes and have gotten great recommendations from electricians. I have snapped at them, saying, “If I wanted your opinion, I would have asked.” I have learned better. Good electricians are as committed to creating magic as I am and often have a different perspective, the sharing of which can do nothing worse than make the event look better, to say nothing of making me look better as a designer.

In short, come prepared. If you don't, then admit it, and someone can often help. Consider all solutions. Just because another solution is better than yours does not make you a bad designer; it makes you a team player and an adult.