From Theater to TV/Film-Part III
Updated: Jul 16
There is no direct translation between lighting designer in theater and a position in lighting field of TV/Film. Plus, newly joining an industry, it is reasonable to start from the bottom and earn your seat some where in the pyramid. First day on the job, I almost got run over by a hamper full of 100ft 4/0 cables. Second day, in another production, we had 10 electricians on set. I was the token of minority and female representation. Rest of them were all white male over 6 ft with a beard, wearing sunglasses, T-shirt and cargo short. It was a bit disturbing. I felt pretty useless at the time. I knew at least 65% of the equipments on our truck but when thing were called I had no idea what those were. ( In TV/Film, gaffers usually have nicknames for things they like to use, and different gaffers might have different nicknames for the same instruments. ) I remember vividly I cried rivers in the shower that day after work.
Soon, my body, especially my legs, is full of all kind of burns and bruises. My foot were hurting every day from standing and moving about on set 10-16 hours, though I had already spent a fortunate on heavy-duty hiking shoes. The paychecks were shocking too. Every minute I sweated on set was accounted for plus accommodations that came with overtime and meal time delayed. It was tough but fair. On top of it, the productions usually provide two meals and snacks on set. It was easy to save up money comparing to working in theater.
Other than physically draining part, there were a lot of incidents shaking my mental core as well. First was all the creepy staring I attracted when I was on set. I could feel eyes followed me everywhere like I was a delicious piece of meat. Then was occasionally not-funny jokes, like “You can’t even pick up a 100ft 4/0, why are you getting the same pay as me?!” Or strength testing, like “Go rig that 10K on the lift, don’t help her. She should learn to do it on her own.” For readers that are not familiar with things I mentioned in both example: 100ft 4/0 cable usually is about 96 pounds at normal temperature and it can potentially go up to 100 pounds or over. 10k tungsten fresnel is roughly about 53 pounds. When you rig it on the lift, it usually requires lifting the unit to at least chest high or flipping the unit to fit at certain position. And I am 5’4” and weight 118 pound at the time.
Looking back, I don’t think those colleagues did it out of despise but more like they didn’t know what to do when females are around and the system was established without considering any females as its force. Because there was NEVER any females around.
But gradually, I started making friends and people learned that I am really good at operating/programming lighting consoles. A few productions started requesting me from the hall to cover their board op needs. There even were a couple union board op taking me under their wings and cared for me like I am their baby sister, to whom I am forever grateful. My progression in the TV/Film industry really surprised myself. I was prepared to worked at least a year or longer as an electrician before I could really make others trust me as a light board operator. But, I got recommended for a board op position only 3 months into my new journey, which, I consider, was extremely fortunate. This opportunity and all the fair paychecks quickly cleared my doubts.
Starting my board operator life in TV/Film marked a new beginning of my lighting life.