Lighting is the strongest medium available to transform a meeting or gala into an exciting, elegant environment. Our job as a lighting production company is to take the end client or event planner's dream and create it by using a large assortment of highly technical lighting fixtures. To accomplish this, we have developed what we call the “Nine Steps to Successful Event Lighting.”
Ask lots of questions
Some points to consider: What type of function is it — general session, awards dinner, gala, wedding? What is the facility — convention center, hotel ballroom, church, temple, tent? How many guests are attending? Will they be eating, and is it sit-down or buffet? Will there be centerpieces, and how tall will they be? What size are the tables? What are the room dimensions, and are there chandeliers or soffits that alter the ceiling height? Is there a theme, and what colors relate to it? Will there be dancing?
Is there entertainment or a speaker, and what are their lighting requirements? What is the size of the stage? Will guest speakers speak on stage or on the dance floor, or do they wander?
Who are the hotel's convention services manager, engineer and house electrician? Who is the local fire chief and chief of police? Do specific local regulations come into play? Is it a union or nonunion site? Are there rigging points, and do we have to use hotel riggers? Are there air-wall tracks? If the facility does not have sufficient power, can we bring a generator in? Is fog or haze allowed, and do we have to have a fire marshal present to shut the zone off?
When is load-in and strike, and how long do we have? What is the size of the elevator, are there any weight limitations, and does the elevator operate 24/7? Are other groups loading in at the same time? Can we leave the truck on the dock, or where can we park it? Does the facility have a lift? Can the lighting company use the hotel lift if we name the hotel as an additional insured? Is there a room where we can store our equipment?
Who wants to be named an additional insured under our wraparound insurance policy? What is the budget?
Make a layout
Once we have gathered all the facts, it's time to develop a room layout using a CAD (computer-aided design) program. It is important to include all the tables, stage, dance floor, video projection area, bars and buffet tables. The layout must also conform to all local ordinances.
Light buffets, centerpieces, floral arrangements and bars
Lekos, par cans (38's and 56's) and pin spots are used to light centerpieces, floral arrangements, buffets and, occasionally, bars. Hanging pin spots is an art, as you do not want them to shine in guests' eyes. Usually we have one pin spot for a low centerpiece and two pin spots for a high centerpiece. Pin spots are between $20 to $50 each for an event. Remember that if your client is spending from $100 to $500 for a centerpiece, they certainly will spend a little more to see that it is lit properly.
Wash the room
The purpose of the room wash is to ensure that guests can see each other and look great, and the food looks appetizing. The room should never be too dark, yet nothing is worse than going to an event that uses house lighting on at 100 percent. We love using a Coemar I Cyc 250 in 100 percent magenta: Women look beautiful, guys look handsome, food looks scrumptious, the crystal gleams, and the room has a warm glow that makes guests feel comfortable.
Light the walls and ceiling
A room or tent can be completely transformed using a wash of one color on the walls with another color on the ceilings, and having an ETC Source Four fixture project a geometric pattern or theme-oriented pattern such as palm trees on the walls.
Light the stage
We like to use ETC Source Fours for a general stage wash framing the entertainers. Also, the lamp in the Source Four is the correct lighting temperature for I-MAG, or image magnification, for a video camera. This ensures that the stage is fully lit. We also like to use stretch fabric to create a band shell. If you have the budget, follow spots are always great, but amateurs will complain that they cannot see the audience because the follow spots are so bright. If the budget permits, in addition to using standard par cans to light the stage, it is great to use intelligent lights to wash performers from above, from stage right and left, and from behind. Intelligent lights are lighting fixtures that are controlled by a separate computer or lighting controller and permit the lighting operator to move the fixture and change the intensity and color. There are two types of intelligent lights: wash fixtures, which light a specific area, and gobo-driven fixtures, which usually produce an effect. It works well to use fog or haze with an effect fixture as it enables the audience not only to see the end effect, but also the light path of the fixture.
Light the dance floor
We believe dance floor lighting is one of the most important aspects of lighting. A properly lit dance floor permits the guests to become part of the event. We let the guests be the stars by putting them in the spotlight. Use intelligent lighting suspended from a truss over the floor in the same shape as the dance floor — not over the head of a DJ! If you are using 360 degree intelligent lighting as opposed to mirror-driven fixtures, the truss system should be 60 percent to 70 percent of the size of the dance floor to allow for the intelligent lights to spin on the dance floor instead of on guest tables.
Add video projection
Lighting fixtures and video projectors are slowly becoming one and the same. Within ten years, state-of-the-art lighting fixtures will also be a video projector and fully computer controlled. This means that if you want to put a client's logo up or if you want to create moving snowflakes on a wall, both images will be computer generated and projected via a video projector onto any type of surface. Several manufacturers already have fixtures that do this, but at present they are cost-prohibitive. Currently we incorporate video with our lighting proposals; we project video images that relate to a specific theme onto stretch fabrics or walls. We also incorporate live I-MAG with video cameras.
Don't forget exterior lighting
Exterior lighting is a growing field. When I first moved to New York City in the late '70s, they used to light the top of the Empire State Building to incorporate various holiday themes: green and red for Christmas; blue and white when the Yankees won the World Series; and red, white and blue for Independence Day. Today, many public buildings and structures are incorporating intelligent lighting to illuminate their surfaces at night. To make a great impression on arriving and departing guests, nothing has a more dramatic effect than lighting the outside of a tent or a museum or the grounds of a house.
Following these nine steps will virtually guarantee successful lighting for your events.
Brian Winthrop is president of Roxbury, Conn.-based Big Wave International Ltd. He can be reached at 860/355-2173; his Web site is www.bigwaveint.com.