Live Event to Film Programmer 10 – So. Many. Flicker Effects.

Photo by Joshua Bartell on Unsplash

Welcome back to this series that intends to help live event programmers orient themselves in the film world.  Today, we are going to talk about effects.

Where in Live Entertainment, it’s common to have a whole host of effects- color, pan and tilt, iris snaps, rotating gobos, etc, in film it’s almost exclusively intensity effects.  Obviously, I’m oversimplifying and there are scenes where moving lights are part of the environment, so they get used for all sorts of things, but in general- it’s intensity effects.  

Leave Reality Behind

An example: Though in reality a flame will have subtle shifts of color temperature as well as flickering intensity, I’ve only been able to interest one DP in a slight color shift in a fire effect.  Realism may be the stated goal, but I don’t think realism is actually what is valued.  Though my very literal mind sometimes has trouble with this difference between request and expectation, it makes a certain kind of sense.  Films are obviously not reality.  So reducing or simplifying or amplifying reality to suit artistic needs is to be expected.

Don’t Go Over and Above

Go over and above in service, not in intensity.  In general, I have intensity effects set to reduce a value for an effect.  This makes it very easy to set the high value and not exceed what the camera would like. I’ve not yet met a Gaffer or DP that didn’t appreciate this, whether they knew what I was doing or not.


Relative effects (that will effect a parameter in a proportional way to the base value) are the way to go.  Imagine you spend a whole mess of time making a custom cue stack that flickers absolute values, and they finally like it.  Then they ask you to take the whole effect down in intensity.  You might be able to do it from bringing down your fader, but I think it’s best to be able to apply something you’ve built to any base value.  You’ll still have to tweak the effect to suit the needs of the moment, but at least you have the benefit of creating something you know the Gaffer and DP like as a template.

Key or Not?

I’m currently doing a movie with many lantern flicker effects.  We did a camera test and tweaked the effects till they were happy.  On location, the first time they wanted to see the effect we created and approved together, they hated it.  I was confused for a while before I realized that when we did the camera test, they were using the lantern AS the key light.  On the first location, the lantern was being used ON TOP OF a key light.  The subtle flicker that was great for a key light simply didn’t read as a flicker over a key light.  All this to say- track whether there is a key light in the scene or whether the effect is the key light.  It will help you know what to offer them.

Protect Your Sources

Never overwrite an effect or submaster or cue the Gaffer and DP have liked and used in the past.  Always make a copy and edit the copy if they want changes.  I made the mistake of not doing this once, and it was a bad and memorable experience.  Please learn from my mistakes.

Put it on a Handle

Whenever I create an effect and show it to the Gaffer, I put it on a fader and keep it.  They will call for it in the future, and I can immediately start where we left off.  If they want changes, I make a copy quickly and change it to suit the moment.

Flip it Good

Any time you make a directional effect (light chases going from left to right), right after they approve it, create a copy and reverse it.  They will ask for it 99% of the time in minutes-to-hours when they turn around.

Don’t Forget- You’re Probably Blind

In my experience (and please- other film programmers, chime in here), they might give you a heads up about an effect they want anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours ahead, but they never want to se you build it.  So of the effects that I’ve made in film, I’ve made and refined 99% of them without ever seeing the light.  It’s a certain level of familiarity required to be able to do this with confidence.  I’d highly recommend getting familiar enough with your console that you can predict how something will look when you haven’t been able to view it.  The only exception for me is some of the stuff on a Poor Man’s Process.  They will allow you to build some of that live.

Maybe it Should be Random

In my experience, the entire concept of “order of selection” is something only the programmer knows.  So be sure to keep it in mind with effects.  If you want a satisfying flicker across multiple fixtures, a random order selection of the fixtures is going to be more satisfying.  Most Gaffers will never think to ask for this.

What’s Your Background?

When firing off effects from a submaster or secondary cue list, you probably have a cue in the background holding the key values and other things.  Beware of the background state that cue is providing for your effect.  Example- I’m firing a flame effect on a submaster.  It has color and intensity data.  If the gaffer asks me to reduce everything by 20%, I might bring the fader down by 20% instead of editing the submaster data.  If the effect has the lamp at 2000k and the default state for the fixture is 5600k, that daylight value will be in the cue.  So if I fade the effect down 20%, the light will drift 20% closer to 5600k.  Gaffers can get very anxious about such things.  Keep these things in mind as you are doing effects.  It’s immediately obvious when you can see the lights, but since we are so often blind…be proactive and record at least color data into the background cue for your effect channels.

For now, this is where the series will pause.  We’ve gotten through a lot of material here, and hopefully I’ve filled you in with enough information to get you through your first experiences on set.  It’s been a great surprise to me how much I’ve enjoyed my time in film, and I’m looking forward to more experiences.  (Currently, I’m looking forward to wrapping the movie I’m on so I can catch up on some sleep!). If you have thoughts on anything, please comment so this can become a resource for everyone.  If you have questions- hit me up.  Maybe it will become the basis of the next post.  Happy programming!


  1. Chris Steele - Reply

    I think you are explaining the realities of explaining effects for film very well here. One additional note I would add: be prepared to change/add instruments to your prepared effect. This can be trickier on some consoles than others (looking at you Onyx).

    I wonder if you would do a more detailed article on Poor Man’s Process? I read with interest your discussion of it in the last chapter. I have included all those things you mentioned in a PMP, but never all at once! In particular, I’d be interested in how you put the width on fader in Eos. I can control width of course, but I’ve never figured out how to put it in a fader in MA or Onyx.

    Great series!

  2. Thomas Ditzel - Reply

    Thomas Ditzel here.

    I am a lighting technician and for the last 25 years have worked on film, TV and commercials in Denmark.

    Before that I worked with concerts and Touring

    I am working on making an ETC Nomade setup that will work on location and smaller studio productions.

    I am ready with a fairly good basic setup, with colors, effects, etc

    But I have hit a wall in terms of saving and retrieving the individual settings in the scenes.

    “So how do I return to a scene we shot 2 days ago” ?

    Have tried with cues but they are locked data.

    So how can I recall a scene and still have full free Control over the lights ?

    It would be great if you could make a deeper tutorial just about on set film programming.

    Kind regards

    Thomas Ditzel

    • admin - Reply

      Hi Thomas,

      Can you tell me a bit more about how you recall the data, how you try to edit it and what the console does? Happy to help if you can be a bit more specific.

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