When the producers of Music and Lyrics approached BML/Blackbird Theatrical Services to provide all the lighting and rigging for the film's concert sequences, they got more than just gear, according to lighting designer Michael Stiller. “Recognizing the film's need for someone to provide integrated theatrical design services, BML's Shelly Diamond set up a meeting where I met the production designer, Jane Musky, director of photography Xavier Grobet, and director Marc Lawrence. Working from Jane's concepts and stage design, I presented a few renderings and sketches. Over the next two months, we all worked closely to create the final design, which incorporated the original set, four circular trusses, special effects, lighting, and various projection screens.” Music and Lyrics, released by Warner Bros. Pictures and starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, gave Stiller a great vehicle to realize a comprehensive show design for a film.
Stiller lit the concert segments including one of the big pop production numbers, “Buddha's Delight,” which features 15 dancers, several video screens, pyro, and a 16' rotating Buddha, used for the pop diva's reveal. “We had only three days to put in and program what was a pretty substantial rig, with a lot of cues fired by timecode from the song's track; this is not the type of situation where you want people seeing something for the first time and needing a lot of changes,” he says.
Stiller spent four days at Prelite NY working in ESP Vision to create a “multi-camera” cut of the song that he rendered to a DVD for presentations, giving the production team a chance to see the lighting and set in 3D and for various camera angles ahead of time. “After seeing the presentation, Xavier asked for some changes, which was great because instead of making physical adjustments onsite with the full crew on the clock, we had an entire round of notes under our belt prior to anyone even seeing the rig,” Stiller says. Mike Appel programmed onsite. Prelite's Rodd McLaughlin worked alongside Appel and Stiller, with a Prelite Onsite rig during the shoot, as well.
Stiller was pleased with the results, especially because his design had to appear to be more complex on film than it actually was for the shoot. “Even though it was a major release, the budget for this part of the shoot was not huge. We essentially used a few large, defining elements, and then we really had to fill in the blanks. We used the brightest lights that we could, but the issue with film is not just that you have to use fixtures with punch. You also have to be able to balance things in a way that makes sense for the camera. I was told by a number of people that, in the end, I would be asked to take all of the color and gobos out to get enough light, but I did not have to alter anything. Before the shoot, I talked with Xavier and his gaffer, Mo Flamm, about what kind of key levels and color temperature they wanted to use on the talent, so the moving lights would retain a good degree of their intensity and color range.”
Stiller used two MA Lighting grandMA consoles, 80 Martin MAC 2000 Profiles and 32 MAC 2000 Washes, 16 Robe 1200 Washes, and four Zap Technology BigLite 4.5 units. Conventional units included an assortment of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs and Altman Focusing cyc lights. Other lighting equipment included 12 PixelRange PixelBrick LED lights, 12 Martin Atomic Strobes, two Lycian 1275 Truss followspots, and eight Strong Super Troupers.
Stiller laughingly explains he had an interesting reaction when he saw the final film. “I found myself watching the concert sequence and saying to my wife, ‘Why do they keep cutting to these close-ups of people's faces?’ In the end, I am very happy with the look. It was a fun project where interesting solutions were needed.”