Lighting technicians work on motion picture crews under the supervision of the director, the director of photography, and the art director. Lighting is an extremely critical element of filmmaking, and it is up to lighting technicians to create lighting setups that set the right mood for scenes. Lighting technicians set up and operate electrical lighting equipment. The photographer describes to the chief lighting technician what he is trying to accomplish in the scene. Then, the chief lighting technician tells the other lighting technicians how the scene should be lit. Lighting technicians also hook up any electrical equipment needed for powering lights. They may use portable generators, high voltage/ amperage power distribution cans, or power transformers.
Lighting technicians must figure out how to distribute the power from the electrical equipment efficiently using wires and cables. This requires a knowledge of how to balance the electrical load throughout the set, as well as an understanding of electrical capacities. They are responsible for a wide variety of other equipment, including extension lugs, connectors, adapters, auxiliary attachments, stands, aerial lifts, and booms. Lighting technicians utilize computers in their work for inventory control, specialized effects.
Successful lighting technicians are usually adaptable, dependable, alert, and observant. They must have the ability to follow precise instructions and have good listening skills. Because so much of their work is team-oriented, they must have a comfortable understanding of group dynamics and teamwork. They need to be able to exercise good judgment because small mistakes can be very costly to the production.
The union wage for entry-level lighting technicians is $19 per hour. Experienced technicians can earn $23 per hour, and chief lighting technicians can earn $26 per hour. Technicians do not work anything close to a standard work week. The number of days and the hours per day vary wildly according to production schedules. Union benefits may include vacation and holiday pay, pension plan, and group health and life insurance coverage.
Training and Education
Most lighting technicians receive their training on the job, and nor formal educational requirements exist for this occupation. Good preparation for the job can include courses in electricity theory and sometimes theater arts. Applicant for lighting technicians positions must demonstrate color vision by passing a color blindness test administered by the Contract Services Administration and Trust Fund. Those who gain experience and demonstrate their competence in the work may advance up the ranks to lamp operator or chief lighting technician. Promotions can be slow in coming, possibly several years, because of the low rate of turnover in the occupation. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of lighting technicians is expected to increase more slowly than the average. More and more production of motion pictures and television is occurring in Canada and other countries where wages are lower. This will result in job openings remaining low. However, some growth is expected due to demand for technicians in network and cable/pay television and private film production companies. And some job openings will result from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.