#wahomegrownhustle – The Heights Season 2

Tobiyaez Haynes shares his experience working on Season 2 of ABC TV Drama The Heights in the lighting department, and how it evolved from Season 1.

G’day I’m Tobiyaez and I worked as the Best Boy in the Electrics dept for season 2 of The Heights.

The Heights is an interesting beast in terms of shooting style and has been masterfully coordinated and executed by DoP Jim Frater ACS.

The show presents unique challenges, in that it is shot with 4-5 cameras, all handheld, primarily zoom lenses for quick reframing, primarily in sets but also on location. We were nearly always shooting somewhere around 10 minutes of content a day. The show presents an ensemble cast with a combination of closed ceiling sets and open ceiling sets. Putting up to 6 cast and 4 camera operators in a to-scale public housing apartment set comes with an array of challenges for all departments. Here’s a glimpse of what it meant for lighting.

Ever since the start of Season 1, Jim approached gaffer Perry Sandow to start collaborating on how to achieve a comprehensive approach to lighting for the show. There were a number of things to factor in to the approach, such as.

  • It’s all in shot – considering the amount of content to shoot (i.e the speed at which we have to move), with 4 cameras rolling, Jim decided to light largely and even sometimes fully from practicals – lamps in the sets, overhead fixtures and fluoros in closed ceiling sets/corridors etc.This was huge collaboration with Art Dept – Production Designer Emma Fletcher. 
  • Some sets were without a ceiling, in which case we could also light from the roof. We utilised lots of space lights for ambience, fresnels for hard slashes etc. The sets with no ceilings were designed by Emma Fletcher to utilise the space in that they would flip out those sets to flip in another, saving space.

  • Rigging – Sets flip to utilise space, and so lighting must flip too. Lighting set ups had to be able to be recreated exactly, in a timely fashion. In preproduction as Jim and Perry lit the sets, we would mark up lamp positions, stand positions, hoist and dimmer numbers etc and create paperwork for those sets – in ‘day’ and ‘night’ mode. This allowed us to easily, correctly, and quickly flip one set into another, ready for the shooting crew to come in and roll.

  • Programming – Rigging gaffer Mark McCumber brought a tactile approach to programming for this show. He ran a lighting desk program called Onyx Obsidian on a laptop, with a DMX-USB adapter, and programmed on the laptop. Creating different maps for the sets, each room, each day/night configuration had values saved. This was easy to recreate, and on Season 2, while running 3 studios, we had a laptop and DMX-USB adapter at each studio, so we could walk in and boot up. It was a very cost efficient, quick approach.

Going into season 2 from season 1, there were a number of new things to consider and approach, and a number of things that were already in place.

  • First of all the show was more ambitious – a whole new warehouse studio with roughly 5 new sets, more added location work throughout the week. This meant we needed 4 people in the crew to facilitate split days (the whole crew splits into 2 equally smaller units)/ set spins on regular days, were we need to leave two people on set and split two off to spin a set/ prelight a set.

  • In terms of set lighting, the bones were already there, so we were refining things we liked from season 1 and reinventing things we didn’t. Our paperwork and planning from S1 allowed us to hit the ground running in preproduction and focus on the new set additions.
  • Keeping good housekeeping was paramount, with 3 studios, a lighting cage, lighting truck all with gear from out of town. Keeping track of everything helps with being able to make things happen quickly, and keeping inventory was a daily exercise of what is where.

  • The Schedule was an ever-changing beast. The longform nature of the show was a blessing and a curse. It allowed 1st AD’s Brad Holyoake & Vikki Barr to be able to shuffle the schedule around whenever problems occurred, such as cast sickness, locations pulling out, script changes etc. This meant we had to always be ready to change the plan and adapt to a new schedule. Arguably the main bones of working the show is keeping on top of what is happening next, and allocating personnel and equipment accordingly.

Now I’ll briefly touch on my personal experience going onto season 2:

Having more responsibility as Best Boy. Perry is a big believer of giving people ownership in certain areas so they can step up. This came as a somewhat natural progression from already doing S1. Keeping track of inventory and current states of sets, equipment etc, archiving and updating paperwork/plans for each set. How much equipment each set flip requires etc. Perry and Mark (while he was still there) were able to focus more on big picture issues/ the look of the show, and keeping the sets swinging and the studio running, respectively.

  • Learning rigging/off-set duties/desk op’íng off Mark McCumber (Rigging Gaffer) as much as possible before he left for another prior commitment to a show. He taught me good habits for house keeping and rigging and showed me as much of the program we were using as possible.

Watch ABC The Heights as it airs, Thursdays nights 8pm on ABC

Or stream Seasons 1 and 2 online at ABC iView:


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