Tect Talk: Lighting Budgets
How is it that some events have giant lighting budgets, and some don’t have anyby Warren K. Kong | Published in September 2009 budget | lighting | tech talk | Departments
Q: How is it that some events have giant lighting budgets, and some don’t have any?
A: I’ve chosen lighting as my career path, and each year I do upwards of 50 shows. Because I do shows of all types, budgets and clients, I sometimes wonder, who decides how big or little the lighting budget should be? Who’s to say how much should be spent or not on lighting? I recently asked myself this as I sat in front of quite possibly the largest undertaking of my lighting career, with over 6,600 control channels and enough power to light a small city. How is it that I’m able to do this in the worst economy our industry has ever seen? Is it mere chance, or do my clients understand something that I don’t?
All these questions remind me of my typical response when someone asks me why I’ve chosen lighting as my lifestyle. I always answer the same way: “I love lighting because it’s the most understated discipline in the A/V world, yet I have the most control over my audience.” Without the audience members even knowing it, I can make them feel happy, sad, scared or silly, all with a simple change to the lighting.
Because lighting is such an omnipresent aspect of our lives, most of us often don’t pay attention to it, yet it has such an impact on us. Little children are often afraid of the dark. Flashing lights at a rock concert frame our mood and our experience. We avoid dark alleyways at night that we are glad to walk down during the day. We find romance in dimly lit restaurants eating the same spaghetti and meatballs that we get from the cafeteria lunch counter.
We humans are greatly, and usually subconsciously, affected by the lighting of our environment. Producers who recognize this fact leverage it to help create impactful event experiences.
Last week, as I sat in the packed 15,000-seat arena for the Guadalupe Festival, a celebration of the appearance of the Virgin Mary in the New World and indigenous peoples’ subsequent embrace of Catholicism, I realized the power I wield. As I looked around me, there were tears pouring from many faces. Fifteen thousand pairs of eyes were fixated on a single item, small and understated, a piece of cloth mounted in a frame no larger than a cell phone. Now, it may have been the sheer power of the ancient artifact that evoked these emotions — but didn’t the single beam of light striking it from 70 feet in the air and deep blue light filling the arena contribute to its emotive power as well? Something tells me that an entourage walking into a room lit with pale fluorescent lights just wouldn’t have the same effect.
As I walked away from the festival, I felt a renewed appreciation for my career and gratitude for my friends, clients and colleagues who allow me to do what I love. In an economy where lighting seems to be the first item cut, I’m fortunate to work with people who see it, as I do, as a necessity. By understanding what lighting can do, on a subconscious level, we can leverage it to its full potential.