CMC Spotlight: Q&A James Moody

Jim Moody is the head of the Technical Theatre Program, technical director, and lighting designer for The Theatre Academy at Los Angeles City College (A Professional Conservatory Program). Considered one of the founders of concert lighting he received the first Concert Lighting Designer of the Year Award from Performance magazine in1980. He has also written two books: The Business of Theatrical Design as well as three editions of Concert Lighting; Techniques, Art, and Business. He is a featured speaker at the Live Design Concert Master Classes at CenterStaging in Los Angeles, December 11 & 12, 2010.

1. Can you provide a brief recap of how you got in the biz…

After my first job of working for Colortran, Inc. in Burbank, CA I was using AC/DC Lighting a lot for rentals. One day I got a call from the owner, Cliff Renfro, that he had recommended me to a producer who wanted to put on a concert in an old theatre in-the-round out in the San Fernando Valley that Sammy Davis had owned. The stage would revolve and no one knew how to handle the lighting. Cliff knew I had a music background and thought of me. I did the show, which was three acts: Billy Joel (opener), Kansas, and Badfinger as the headliner who had just performed at The Concert for Bangladesh. This was the summer of 1971. The sound company was Tycobrahe and the promoter ripped us both off. But the guys from Tycobrahe recommended I call a couple of guys who had just leased the Hollywood Palladium to do concerts. I got the job and ran headlong into every act on the road at the time including the Rolling Stones! Pretty soon people just assumed I had been doing this a lot longer than I had.

2. What was the most challenging concert project you ever worked on and why?

All projects are challenging. I know that sounds like a cop-out but if you approach the work always assuming you are going to do something original, no matter how small the project, it's fun and challenging and that is what keeps me going. The most challenging would have been selling the idea that we could do the first arena tour in-the-round. I had a solution for the staging and lighting that would double the front row seating and bring the audience closer to the star, John Denver, which he wanted. But such long cables, center-hanging positions, and no follow-spots were unheard of back then. I wanted a total theatrical lighting experience, no flashing lights or follow spots. The selling and execution of that plan gave me a lot of nightmares until we actually opened the show. It won the first Concert Lighting Design of the Year from Performance Magazine back in 1980.

3. How has concert lighting changed since you got into it?

It hardly resembles what we started with: A few PAR-64's on floor stands or TV antenna Rhone truss on stands. Everything had to be invented. Chip Mounk has to be credited with so many innovations especially in flying trusses but Bob See, Bill McManus, and Tom Fields also deserve a lot of credit. We all talked about what we discovered back then; what worked and more importantly what didn't. But I always kept thinking about what was around the corner and was not afraid to try any and all new equipment. By the way, I love the integration of video in today's concerts. I got into TV early on as a lighting director with the Don Kirshner's Rock Concert series and created the first concert lighting look on TV for the show.

4. How do LEDs play a role on the concert stage today?

LED's may not be the godsend that some would like us to believe but they have brought about the biggest revolution in our industry. One thing I think that is overlooked is that with LED technology, corporations have finally seen a viable market in entertainment lighting and have both pumped R&D money into companies and/or purchased them, which infuses more capital to expand. I do not believe this current industry expansion would have happened without the LED revolution.

5. What kind of courses should an aspiring concert designer take?

ART and BUSINESS. First you must understand the Elements of Design: Line, Scale, Light, Color, and Texture. Even an art appreciation class is worth the time. Then business classes: "We are salesmen!" we must sell our concepts to a producer, artist, manager, etc. We must make people believe we have the solution to their design problems or budget. Learning concert lighting techniques is best done on-the-job. Working with the equipment and time schedules of the actual road. I am certainly not against college, I have several degrees but I do not feel it is a must.

6. What will you be discussing at the CMC?

I am very excited about the first-ever Live Design Concert Master Classes. I will be discussing video techniques and requirements, as well as working relationships with the crew. Then I will participate in a session on the business of design; how to track potential clients, making yourself visible, pricing your services, etc.

Copies of Concert Lighting, 3rd edition, by Jim Moody and Paul Dexter are available on the registration page for the Concert Master Classes. The authors will personally sign copies on site.

Full schedule of CMC sessions.

Register by October 24 and save.

Related articles:
USITT History Project: Jim Moody

Book Release: Concert Lighting