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LD On The DL: The Mythical Perfect Pack

We all have funny stories about missing gear on job sites. I remember a time I forgot truss bases. It was an extremely unfortunate oversight because the entire job consisted of movers on truss towers. It got worse, though. One, all the truss bases in New York City were in use. (Remember those days?) Secondly, we were two hours away from the shop. On a different job the rigging company forgot truss bolts. Not a few bolts, but every single one. Load-in resumed a full seven hours later. Recently, I found myself with Source Four lekos and scrollers, but with adaptor plates fitted for a 7.5” frame size. The shop was three hours away in good traffic, which, in the Northeast is about as rare as ... well, I don't know like what, but it's extremely rare.

Perhaps “funny” is not the right word?

All my career in events I've strived for the perfect pack. This mythical pack has every piece of gear you know you need and you don't know you need. There is not too much or too little -- no cases of extra cable, extra pipe, or extra sand. It is a pack where no additional drops are necessary, and nobody on-site has to, “make it work.” It is perfection in all things gear, from the biggest light to the smallest BNC barrel. I've been told that when a perfect pack arrives on a job site, the crew can hear angels sing and the truck is bathed in a warm, golden light from the heavens.

I've never seen that happen, and it got me thinking: Are perfect packs even possible? I know some may disagree, but I say no and for several reasons.

One, human error is a powerful, unrelenting force. Shops have a lot of clients, and gear is constantly coming and going. Our business isn't constant but frustratingly episodic. When shops get busy, no matter how good their people are, things can get missed. Even when non-shop staff prep a job, they are not immune either to making easy mistakes because of fatigue or stressful, looming deadlines. Rushing helps human error, but unfortunately when we're not rushing we're not making money.

Secondly, freelancer apathy can prevent a perfect pack. Nowadays there's a lot of downward pressure on price, and labor is probably the first to feel the pinch. If fixing mistakes later equates to extra OT later, then nobody has any financial incentive for a perfect pack now. Is boosting pay the answer? Maybe. Higher costs are a hard sell right now. Also, see point one above regarding human error.

Third, poor communication guarantees a non-perfect pack. Things change, and these days quickly. Unless you have efficient managers disseminating information quickly and effectively, staff are prepping and packing a job that's now different. It's not going to be perfect on-site or even close. I cannot imagine how frustrating that must be for a shop foreman, who then gets an angry or desperate call at 1 AM with requests for gear nobody knew anybody needed.

Fourth, we operate complex systems -- be it lighting, sound, staging, or video -- which need a lot of small pieces to function. Those pieces make a perfect pack that much more difficult to achieve. For example, take the following proverb:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Now, let's adapt it for production:

For want of a CAM turn-a-round the neutral leg was lost.

For want of a neutral leg the dimmer was lost.

For want of a dimmer the leko was lost.

For want of a leko the show was lost.

For want of a show the client was lost.

And all for the want of a CAM turn-a-round.

Often production hinges on tiny pieces. The advent of FileMaker, barcodes, or other complex inventory systems have helped immensely. However, I've found what derails a load-in is the gear without barcodes. I've never seen a barcode on a color scroller adaptor plate, but when you absolutely need one nothing else will do. One little CAM tee not packed, then it's not perfect.

Five, preproduction is expensive. I've said it before: figuring it out on-site means trouble. However, with such downward pressure on price companies may be forced to skip thorough preproduction as a matter of economic necessity. That's a real shame, because it's unlikely the pack will be perfect.

Perfection takes so much energy and money to attain. It begs the question if anything about our world is absolutely perfect, or, if it even should be. Maybe imperfection is what attracted us to this career. We are problem solvers, always striving to fit small pieces together and tame entropy. It's a rush, a thrill, and a quick win against a difficult opponent, i.e., the universe.

So ... I ... Lance Darcy ... have become a perfect pack atheist. I have lost my faith. Instead I will endeavor to budget additional truck drops. I will do thorough preproduction, even if nobody will pay for it. I will not fight the force of human error, but will embrace and accept it. I will over order gear. I will plan as many contingencies as I can. I understand I will loose potential clients to cheaper vendors with shadier policies. I accept the reality I will never hear angels singing and see the truck washed in a golden light, indicating a perfect pack has arrived on-site.

And I realize that some of you may still be believers. As I write this, a few in the office adamantly oppose this perspective. They contend they have seen a perfect pack and that I am wrong -- absolutely, undeniable, indefensibly wrong.

So I ask them for proof. Let's ask the crew on that job to corroborate this belief. Show me the data, or tell me the exact job this mystical phenomena occurred on. The reply is always the same. “Well I'm not sure. So I guess you had to be there, but I swear it happened!”

Uh huh, sure it did.


Lance Darcy is a Lighting Director and Director of Photography for The Lighting Design Group, based in New York City

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