Living The Lighting Life: A Guide to a Career in Entertainment Lighting

You may think that by its title, Living The Lighting Life: A Guide To A Career In The Entertainment Industry (published by Routledge, 2021), could be just another showbiz bio/memoire laced with juicy tidbits of tour bus antics and behind-the-scenes anecdotes by a well-known industry personality. You would most certainly be wrong. Though Brad Schiller’s latest book includes many reflections on his successful and storied career, they all serve in support of literally guiding us readers towards creating a meaningful career path in the entertainment lighting industry. 

Brad begins by introducing us to the vast potentials of employment in the current lighting industry with brief descriptions of their functions and how they relate to others in the bigger picture of entertainment production.  He distills this down to, “Understanding your role regardless of genre is a key element of a successful career.” From there he writes to help us to form a path not to just a career, but to a SUCCESSFUL career. He assumes that if you are making the time and effort to read his book then you are probably a person with ample ambition and intelligent passion to succeed.

The book is laid out in seven parts with a bonus Part 8 providing us with the author’s underlying research data. Parts 1 thru 6 break out the general topics of career discussion— jobs & opportunities, career path, and business considerations—with the added industry-specific topics of Creativity, Lifestyle, and Travel. 

In the chapter “A Growing Career,” Brad writes of his own unexpected career path. In it, he describes a career culture of transformation and the importance of keeping a mindset to be open to opportunities and new experiences.  He encourages us to “Look for Surprises”: 

“The entertainment lighting field is full of opportunities, and you should always consider unexpected possibilities. Transitions to companies, joining a house gig, starting a rental company, becoming a consultant, teaching others and developing new products are just some of the changes that lighting professionals have made to their career paths. The choices are up to you, and no matter what you decide you will have a great career within the entertainment lighting field.”

An underlying theme to the book is that entertainment lighting is an industry of relationships. Forming them, fostering them, and sharing them. The chapters on networking say best, “No matter what role you have in the lighting field, you must continue to meet and socialize with others to increase your potential.”

The better part of three-quarters of the book is made up of practical advice and instructions. It doesn’t bog us down with laborious details but gets right to point with clear, concise, and actionable suggestions on furthering our career journeys. Brad leaves ample room, however, for demonstrations of generosity of spirit, sincerity, and respect for talent, self, and others. He relates an encounter with a student where he brings the notion of passion into clear focus. The guidance and encouragement he describes to combat intimidation with excitement is a lesson we can all take to heart, regardless of how long we’ve been in the business.

Brad doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He tells it like it is and provides honest life lessons.  He is clear about tempering glamor with the business of The Work–while still making sure that the work stays fun. You could almost build your own “Lighting Life Quote of the Day” calendar from some of his best affirmations:

“A good working mantra is to always treat the current production as the very best one with which you will ever be involved.”

“Remember that it is up to you to put yourself in a position of opportunity as much as possible.”

“Seek out guidance and support when needed.”

“Honoring that the production is ‘someone’s big moment’ will provide purpose and focus to your own lighting work.”

“It is up to you to teach them [clients] how to see you.”

“… if people like working with you, then you will work with more people.”

“Share your knowledge.”

“… you should strive to be an active architect of your own work.”

“Rejection happens.”

I could easily go on, but you get the point.

Part 7 concludes with profiles of eight luminaries who are not only well known by many in the industry but who greatly exemplify successful careers. You may be familiar with some of them but their origin stories all prove interesting and well worth the peek into how they each navigated their own path to happy success. Though each has lived and walked diverse paths in their lighting careers there remains a series of common threads that knit together the sources of their successes – passion, intention, discovery, sharing, and collaboration.

Part 8 gives us a behind the scenes tour providing us with a graphic view of the data Brad collected from industry professionals in writing this book. Like Brad, I was surprised to learn that of the 1,000 respondents to his survey 60% identify as “self-employed” as opposed to a more formal business entity. 

Whether you’re a newbie coiling cables, a seasoned pro cruising down Easy Street, or a grizzled veteran thinking about packing it in; this book is loaded with practical inspirations for your consideration. In Brad’s own words, “Don’t be afraid to fail or change directions, and know that prospects for success are abundant yet may not always follow your plan.” At the stage of professional life I find myself, reading this book gave me pause to take a personal trip down Memory Lane.  It helped me to validate some of the choices I made and refreshed the optimism that I have for the creative passion of those in our industry. Living The Lighting Life isn’t just about creating a career, it’s about making happiness for yourself and everyone you work with.