“The Camera Is Your Friend” — When Creating Designs For Live Events

Posted on January 6, 2014

Creating a lighting design for a live event? John P Marovich has some advice: “Your audience isn’t just made up of people, it also includes cameras.” Apparently, Marovich has done an excellent job playing to the camera members of the audience in his designs, having created the lightshows for eight consecutive nationally televised Thanksgiving halftime shows.

When we approached Marovich about doing an interview on creating lighting designs for big events that are aired on TV, he smiled and noted that all events regardless of size are “televised” today, pointing to the proliferation of cell phone video cameras. “Everyone is a videographer today,” he said, “and that changes everything for a lighting designer.”

We couldn’t agree more, which is why we’re happy that Marovich took time from his busy schedule to share his insights into designing events for video.

Ok, so can you expand on your statement that all events are “televised” today?

“Sure – even though not all events are actually televised, just about every one of them is captured on video in one way or another. Our cell phones have become our third eye. If you go to a live event today you can be sure that you’ll find a lot of people looking at it through their phones rather than with their own two eyes. So you have to approach your work as if you’re creating a lightshow for a televised event.

“Plus a lot of companies are capturing events for IMAG or archival use during corporate events.  You should also keep in mind that video is what your clients take with them from the event; it’s what they’ll see in the months ahead when they decide whether or not to give you the assignment next year! So you want to be at least somewhat aware that your work will wind up on video when you design for an event.”

Still, a local event captured on a cell phone is different from a nationally televised event…

“Very true and you want to approach your work differently when it is going to be televised. The cell phone ‘director’ is holding their one and only camera in an area designated for audience.  Camera directors have access to several cameras that can be placed just about anywhere you can imagine.”

Can you elaborate?

“I compare designing for a non-televised event verses a televised event to acting for stage versus film. In stage acting, your movements have to be more exaggerated. If you did the same exaggeration on film it could seem a little cheesy. So, moving fixtures that are really big, fast and dramatic may look good at a live event, but may not translate to television. With televised events you want to work with the cameras. You create beautiful scenes and let the cameras frame them.  The camera is your friend when you design for a televised event.

“I should add that working with cameras has become a lot of fun over the last few years because it opens new creative doors.  Cameras are able to do so much more thanks to HD and other advances in technology. In one sense, this gives you more freedom as an LD. For example, our key light level requirement used to be much higher to accommodate cameras. Now we’re able to use lower levels, which allow us to fill in the areas around talent with more saturated colors.”

Seeing your work with the Nexus 4×4 on TV, it seems to us like you favor wider designs for televised work…

“Yes, the bigger the show, the broader the opportunities are to capture it.   With TV, your show has to look good from every camera angle.  Whenever I work on a televised event, I ask myself, ‘Where are the cameras?’ I play to each of those cameras in my design — every camera represents potentially millions of viewers. The emergence of large flat screen high definition TVs has leant even more fuel to the trend toward wider set designs because that’s the shape of the frame we experience them through.

“The Nexus 4×4 is ideal for televised events because it plays great wide and close up. Thanks to the COB technology, the Nexus 4×4 looks great in tight shots because the color blending is so seamless; you don’t see separate red, green and blue LEDs blend; the color is just there!  At the same time, the Nexus 4×4 looks great in wide shots because the light is so consistent.  The coffin locking system also makes the Nexus 4×4 great for live events because it’s so quick and easy to align.”

Why is the easy alignment feature of the Nexus Series so important to live event lighting?

“As production schedules become increasingly tighter, every minute counts; every extra minute it takes to install and focus a fixture is valuable time that I could be using to create compositions.”

So what advice would you give designers who are just getting into lighting live televised events?

“Given the importance of video at events, the first thing you want to do is make friends with the DP (director of photography) and the camera shader. You are dependent on each other because you are creating a collaborative work.  Before there were a million cell phone and video cameras around, lighting design was more compartmentalized at an event. Now the process is more synergistic. I think this is a good thing, because collaboration typically yields better creative results. “

A graduate of The Theatre School of De Paul University in Chicago, John P Marovich has been a much-in-demand lighting designer for live televised events, corporate meetings, and private events for over 15 years. He is principal at Habitech in Las Vegas.