Live Event to Film Programmer 9 – Stage Days

We’ve gone over Locations with Drop Packages, so now let’s dive into a typical Stage experience.  Stage is where the easy gets easier and the hard becomes harder.  You’ll spend hours or days in one look with you doing minor adjustments as the camera moves around.  Then you’ll spend an entire day doing multiple effects layers on top of each other, constantly evolving.  Let’s intro some concepts.

The Tools

Obviously, you need your console. What else? Make sure you have a DMX tester (I prefer the DMXcat) that can both receive and transmit data.  Be sure to have basic analysis programs installed on your computer that can show you every universe of Artnet and another that shows you all universes of sACN.  Make sure your computer has a network adapter so you can tie into the network from anywhere to analyze any issues that come up.  A Proplex IQ Tester is expensive, but it is a great device for troubleshooting and covers all of these needs. That said- I’m too cheap to buy one.

The Network

I’m not sure if I’m cursed, but networking problems LOVE to show up on Stage for me.  Be sure to not just test that everything is addressed correctly and responds to control, but give the entire rig timing stress tests (many things changing at a 0 second timing) to make sure things sync between nodes, test your sACN settings to make sure there are no power saving modes on in any of the switches- give this rig the works.  You will not regret spending this time making sure that you are positioned to succeed.

Wizards Do Their Homework

Most times, you will be peeled off from Main Unit on an appropriate day (or they will add a sixth day) for you to go flash the stage.  Do not ever think that is your only job that day.  You should have extracted everything you can from your Gaffer about what they expect to do on stage.  Go in, flash the rig, and build ideas until you run out of time.  Why?  Because of the Wizard Effect.  Since no one knows how the console operates, they think you are a wizard when you turn on a light and set the color temperature in less than five seconds.  They often have no clue that asking for a four color random intensity chase across 12 universes of fixtures in a very specific pattern and timing is a larger ask.  So I find the best way to help your department look good is to create a whole bunch of options so you can get them where they want to be quickly.  Then video the options and send them while you are still there to your Gaffer (who will hopefully show the DP) for notes.  If you are incredibly lucky, they will actually use one of the things you created with minimal tweaks.  If not, you will be deeply familiar with the rig and you will have already spent time trying to apply their ideas in your console, so hopefully you can pivot faster if they ask for something very different.  Use your Stage setup time to save even a single keystroke when all of Main unit is there.

Don’t Mix Your Mediums

I had a very rough day on stage once.  Amongst the things that threw me was I forgot that mixing fixture control of wireless, hard line DMX and direct network to the fixture can have different response times.  Try getting a flash to happen in perfect sync with one fixture on wireless and the other on DMX.  You will need to offset the hard line unit to match the delay of the wireless.  But the timing can be variable, depending on how stable your wireless environment and network system are.  So at the very least, have things that are on the floor all be controlled through the same medium.  Have things in the air be controlled by the same medium.  Never forget which is which and be forewarned if you need to sync events between control mediums.

Poor Man’s Process

A Process Trailer is when a car is put on a large flatbed and the actors pretend to drive it when really, it’s a Teamster driving.  A Poor Man’s Process (PMP) happens with the car in a studio against a green screen.  A hilariously ironic name, this can include many, many universes of lighting.  The car gets jiggled by the grips and the lights convey the passing light sources.  A typical method can have multiple layers of titan tubes up close to the car (nearly always in 16 pixel mode) and some other light sources at a greater distance.  

Though your Gaffer and DP will obviously have ideas, it’s not unusual to have chases of four color temperatures in an overlapping left/right movement pattern so that there is always motion coming from one side or the other.  They will want a random order to these colors typically.  This is challenging to do on Eos, as there is still no random order to cue lists, but fairly easy on concert consoles.  Remember that this motion is going to be a base line and you will layer other things on top.  Car lights approaching the PMP and turning off, tail lights pumping in front, and of course key lighting may also play.  Key details in the chases are: width of light source, rate of travel, amount of overlap from one side to the other.  Be sure to have a variety of groups set to control the direction from left to right, right to left, up to down and down to up.  Any time you create a process look/series of events, know that it will reverse several times through your filming.  Be ready.  

Stage Sets- a Few Tips

Make sure you walk through each room/area and look for any notable references to know which light is where.  Look for proximity of a light to anything notable in set decoration, etc.  The more familiar you are, the faster you can identify the fixture your gaffer wants you to change.  

When you have structures with separate rooms, I suggest you always have faders that can kill each room separately in a way that won’t be recorded.  In my experience, it is a common ask.  

You might want a drawing with just the practical channels overlaid on the set.  There will be a lot of conversation about “the light on the right side of the bathroom mirror” and stuff like that.  Make it easier on yourself.

You might want to dedicate separate cue lists to each setting in the stage.  Depends on your work flow and your Gaffer’s process.  

Ask your Gaffer if they would like to set a base day and night look for each setting.  You’ll obviously tweak things on a per shot basis, but it’s great to have an established base line for each moment.

It can get hairy pretty fast when you have characters doing simple things like entering a room and turning on the lights.  Why?  Because they often won’t tell you what order things will actually happen in (mostly because it will constantly be changing).  Be ready to turn things on or off in pretty much any order.  This is one of my favorite uses of inhibitive submasters on Eos.  Have the levels and color temperatures on the main cue stack and then turn them off/on from a separate fader.


This is not the only place where interactive show up, but I’m choosing to put it here.  An Interactive is when you take a cue live while the camera is rolling.  In sharp contrast to Live Events, rolling a cue while cameras are rolling is an exception, not a rule.  Typically (in my experience), no one wants to “call” the cue, they want you to take it yourself.  Obviously, your line of sight (or camera feed) influences this strongly.  My favorite memory is being told to take a cue on a line…and I had no audio feed.  Good times.  If you are warned an interactive is coming, start watching rehearsal and staging from your monitor like a hawk, because they might tell you to take the cue on an action you hadn’t been watching during rehearsal.  They will literally never run something so YOU can see it.  So be proactive.

Since effects tend to show up a lot in my stage time, the next installment will be all about effects.  Did I miss something else important to stage days?  Please comment and tell us all about it.  I’d love this to be a resource informed by YOU!

1 comment

  1. Chris Steele - Reply

    “… a four color random intensity chase across 12 universes of fixtures in a very specific pattern and timing…”

    Wait, I thought most professional consoles had a dedicated button just for this. Don’t they?


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