Technical Workshop: Get A Grip and Learn to Light!

Written by Dan Spriggs – Gaffer

I am writing this now a few weeks after the grip and lighting workshop and wow, so much has happened. We had an inkling about the gravity of the Miley Cyrus but there was still a bit of denial and lots of jokes. Anyway, I have been asked to reflect upon the day. Mr Greg Stirling started the day showing off his dolly ‘made in Italy’, ‘I like it cos I can buy it’ these little quips, that maybe weren’t completely understood but showed to me that here is somebody who has dedicated their working life to the film biz. He’s hugely passionate about skills he was presenting but also about the sustainability of our small cottage industry here in Western Australia.

Greg is of enough skill that he could work anywhere in the world and he has given it a go. As he mentioned in his presentation, he has worked in the South African, Malaysian and East Coast film industries. But he has chosen to work here, raise a family and build a home, but why? Well it’s because of the unique circumstance we have here. Vast (dare I say it isolated), untouched wilderness that begins not too far down the road from our capital city. Telling/creating stories in this ancient landscape is a wonderful occupation with a rich lineage so vast the mind boggles to comprehend how many stories have been told over the millennia.

Anyway back to the workshop, Greg went through all his gripping toys, clamps, magic arm, c-stand 101, what each role in his department does and how in particular the key grip brings some practical knowledge to a set, which he likes to think is very important when you’re surrounded by a bunch of ‘arty farty film types’. And the truth is we all need each other. We laid a track and talked about the art of dolly movement, which is a classic old school tool of film making and maybe one that is getting lost with the advent of Ronin and handheld aesthetics. This guy loves working, building and creating original camera movement with the resources at hand. I can vouch for it myself; his practicality onset is priceless.

After a small break it was my turn to present the lighting workshop. I wanted to go through some basics about the language of film lighting, c-stands and electrical power, what each role in my department does, but also the role of the gaffer in the larger picture of a production. The collaborations that happen are usually between lighting and art department, lighting and producers and obviously grips and lighting. I showed some different lights, sky panels, Nang tube lights, HMI, Fresnel/Parabolic, balloon light, then some different techniques with hard light and soft light. Then I got to the crux of what I am most interested in when working on drama, and that is the ‘motivation of light’. It’s a wonderful concept that I find brings so much creativity to the job of storytelling with light.

The relationship between DoP and Gaffer is about this conversation, often a manic brainstorm session on set with minutes ticking by but sometimes meticulously planned out over months of pre-production. Creating mood, atmosphere, super realness, good and evil, beauty and beasts, turn night into day and days into nights. I spoke a bit about the pleasure and poetry of going to work with the infinite resource the sun provides, especially in this part of the world.

To finish up I set a little scene with just a standard desk lamp and chair and demonstrated how to light a scene for exposure all motivated by a simple desk lamp. Greg pulled out the dolly and thanks to the ACS WA branch, we had a camera and demonstrated the two departments working together.

The biggest thing I got out of the workshop was showing that there is an industry alive here although it may be small, people have dedicated their working lives to it and have fostered a community welcome to all!

Posted on