The Mysteries and Intracacies of Lighting–NOT

I just received the following comment from Claudia Oliveira on the tutorial I posted today, “Lighting For Video That Doesn’t Suck, Part 2; 3 Point Lighting”  

“I’ve been doing 3-point lighting but end up spending too much time tweaking the set up and wasting time. As a lone operator myself, time and agility is essential to most of my jobs. Having rules of thumb such as the ones you shared will definitely improve my ‘thinking on my feet’.”

I told her that made the whole thing worthwhile for me.

It also reminded me of a story.

I used to work with both film crews, and later video crews. The video crews were 2-3 man teams of which I was the director/cameraman.  In both cases, there were gaffers (the lighting people). In the video teams, one of the two or three on the team was the gaffer.

Now I don’t say this critically, because if I was a gaffer, I’d treat my job the same way. But as a director, one has the responsibility of getting things done quick. Yet gaffers had the ability to spend the ENTIRE time of the shoot setting up and fiddling with lights, no matter how much time was available.  Naturally framing the camera comes first. But it would get to the point where there should have been plenty of time to get the thing lit so I could get the show on the road, so invariably my attention would turn to lighting which would often be holding up the show for very mysterious and technical reasons.

Eventually, in self defense, I learned how to light.

Now here I am doing tutorials on lighting. And while I haven’t covered all the bases yet on the subject of lighting fundamentals (which I have referred to briefly in the first two videos so far), one of those fundamentals is something I  haven’t even touched on yet–and plan to in greater detail.

But I’ll mention an important fundamental datum right now. And that’s on the even more basic subject of ART itself.

There is a purpose to art, and that purpose is COMMUNICATION.  I touched on this in the first video.

The reason one composes or lights, or creates sets, costumes, makeup, etc., or records sound, music or edits or any other part of videography or cinematography (not to mention any other formal art) is TO FORWARD A MESSAGE, i.e., to COMMUNICATE something. When all the parts contribute to that communication, you’ve got a screaming communication with emotional impact. You know it when you see or experience it.

Ok, that’s one thing.

But here’s a qualifying datum that is often overlooked:

There can be a wrong target or wrong emphasis in any art–and that would be the seeking of technical perfection.

Technical perfection is NOT the target. Communication is.

So how far do you take your technical application? You take it as far and as high as you can until you achieve the communication. Once you’ve achieved the communication, there’s no point in driving technical any higher (short of self-satisfaction).

In  a practical and business sense, yes, you certainly want to achieve a high technical standard,

Just remember, it’s more important to (the purpose of your activity) to achieve a high level of communication.

Once you’ve achieved that, you’re DONE.

On the other hand, if your technical rendition is inadequate or poor, it will DETRACT FROM THE COMMUNICATION.

So you have to achieve that balance where you have a high communication value.

The question becomes, “how good does the technical rendition have to be?”.

The answer (in any field of art) is: Good enough to achieve an emotional impact with the intended communication.

So back to the gaffer story:

I could, as director and cameraman, light the scene faster than the gaffer. Why? Not because the gaffer was incompetent, but because I knew when to stop. After all, I was responsible for the overall communication of the scene.

Which brings me to the point of what I eventually hope to achieve once the whole Lighting Tutorial series is complete.

By covering the fundamentals of each topic as well as the underlying fundamentals of art itself, I want to help people achieve the understanding and judgment involved with being able to perform their craft rapidly and competently with a minimum of kit (equipment) and to a truly professional result.

In the lighting series (and future camera series, etc.) I’ll eventually get to practical examples of “lighting in the real world”, including a real time set up of an actual live lighting situation. But I want to get the fundamentals in place first. Then we can get into tricks and shortcuts. But, as the saying goes, “you’ve got to know the rules first. Only then can you break them.”

And when you do break them, it’s all toward forwarding the communication. NOT just calling attention to yourself (which detracts from the communication, doesn’t it?).

Here are a couple of earlier articles on “Message: and “The Rules”:


“The Rules”

I’ll take these up and expand on them in a later video.

Thanks Claudia! You’ve got me going.

The Rise and Fall of Civilization, Part 2

The Resurgence of Art

The earlier article on the degradation of art may have seemed a bit grim. (read that first)

Perhaps so.

But life can be grim and rose colored glasses won’t change its essence.

Yet “The Degradation of the Arts”  wasn’t written as a gleeful, spectatorish, nothing-to-do-with-me commentary so typical of the mainstream media. It wasn’t written as a doomsday prediction or as an epitaph for this current civilization either.

It was written as an observation of something to confront.

The first step of being able to handle anything is the ability and willingness to confront what it is in the first place.  If a man with a gun and murder in his eyes bursts into your bedroom at 2am and you rationalize that he must be a policeman on his way home and just got confused about his address, you’re not likely going to handle that situation very well. It might also be the last situation you ever fail to confront.

So if societies are perverted in large part through a degradation of the arts, by turning the arts into vehicles for re-defining social mores and values–in other words by using the arts for propaganda to popularize and eventually “normalize” all aberrant behavior, then the antidote must be the sum of all actions that serve to popularize true art.

So let’s refer to these two different aspects as “true art” and “art-as-propaganda”.

Art is communication and communication is the inter-change of ideas.
Furthermore, true art elicits the contribution of the viewer. The viewer is invited to interpret the meaning of the art piece according to his own observation and frame of reference.

Innovation is the soul of art.

Ideology is the soul of “art-as-propaganda”.

With pure propaganda the communication is meant to be taken literally. Here the crafter of the piece is telling you what you should think. Before that are various shades of gray with at least the intent of getting the viewer to get a very particular message short of outright insisting on it. And, as with any propaganda, if you repeat a lie often enough people will eventually think it’s true.  I believe Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, said that.

When art moves into the realm of imparting ideological messages aimed as a society or culture, it surely starts moving into the realm of propaganda. When it moves further toward a shrill demand that you agree with those messages, it is pure propaganda. When things degenerate even further and eventually one is chastised or punished for not agreeing with those messages, freedom in that society is all but lost and a totalitarian state is just around the corner. When the totalitarian state arrives, disagreement is no longer simply chastised–it is met with punishment or imprisonment or both. But a less charitable dictator might deem summary execution a more fitting punishment. 10s of millions have died that way in just the past 60 years.

So again, here was the observation:


The article “The Degradation of Art” described the problem and left you to draw your own conclusions as to whether indeed this insidious cycle has been on-going in our own contemporary civilization for the last several decades. Who and Why is not the concern. Conspiracy theories, whether true or urban legend, are also not the concern. They’re a game of chasing shadows in the dark, and if you’re very lucky and stumble upon some forbidden truth, you’d probably wind up dead anyway. If you think you’ve stumbled on a truth and write a book about it, it joins a hundred other books on the shelf on the same subject thus helping perpetuate the secrecy of the conspiracy which remains hidden amongst a myriad of theories that each tend to take on a life of their own.

But more to the point, attempting to go head-to-head with powerful forces who have a strangle-hold on all of society is not a very good strategy. Ask the citizens of any present or former totalitarian state.

No, any resurgence of freedom–peaceful or otherwise–has always been brought about by the people.

Even Perestroika or Glasnost in the former Soviet Union would not have happened if not for the will of the people. It wasn’t just Brezhnev and, later, Gorbachev acting magnanimously to free the people. If ANYONE were to be given credit, it would be the Beatles because THAT was the artistic movement that pierced through that wall and boiled unstoppably in the hearts of the Russian youth. That and American blue jeans. So here again, it was a resurgence of art–if only a single innovative rock band and possibly a fashion trend, that eventually brought about greater freedom in a totalitarian state. Is it really that simple? Well, as we know, Russia also had some other problems –like Reagan and being broke– so its choices were made simple: War, another Revolution from a hungry and restless population–or “Tear down that wall”…

To reverse the cycle in the middle of an escalated decline is probably something that’s never been tried before.

I have an idea, but that’s summarized in about 200 pages of notes.

Maybe I’ll take that up later.

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations, Part 1

The Degradation of Art

This article is Part One of two parts and is an elucidation of the following observation:


The first real Golden Age on Earth was the Golden Age of Greece, also known as “The Age of Pericles”, the leader at the time. We all know there was a huge resurgence of art in many genres. But it was also a time of peace and abundance for the inhabitants of Greece. Pericles was a benevolent leader and government served its proper purpose, unperverted by corruption and greed (to a large degree one must presume).

The Roman Empire followed on its heels and was the longest surviving civilization on earth to this day.

 But Rome crumbled and collapsed under criminal and perverted leadership at the top tiers of government.

In the latter days of the Roman Empire, the restless population was quelled with free “Corn and Games”, i.e. free food for the audience there to be entertained by  death battles in the arena.  Next time you watch “Gladiator”, notice the scene where a food-laden cart is moved through the arena as the food is being tossed up into the crowd.

I’m not a historian, so correct me if you will, but these are broad strokes to make an observation that probably isn’t in the history books…

The Arts have always been the preferred communication medium of the people–long before there were governments.

 Then came politics, a new communication medium.  But due to the inevitable infiltration of those who seek only money, power and control, politics would quickly get a bad name and take a back seat to the arts.

It’s one thing to pervert government (which has a vital and proper function) through chicanery; it’s quite another to actually win over the will of the people when they are not actually in favor of what you actually stand for as evidenced by what you DO and not what you SAY.

Dear, dear, what to do?

First, let’s step back to that Golden Age.  In such an age, the ethics level is high. Unethical action which deters or disrupts the survival path of the group is frowned upon or punished in an effort to save the group against the bad or evil actions of those who would thwart its forward progress. This is the natural action of an ethical group. The Moral Code or Laws which the group adopts are a summary of those actions found to be good or right and those found to be bad or wrong in terms of survival and progress.

So how do we get “bad government”?

Assuming bad government means “mal-intended individuals running it”, it’s a long process over a period of decades of slowly but surely undermining and re-defining the moral code that made the civilization great in the first place and replacing it with a new “moral code” that normalizes all aberrant behavior, eradicates the difference between right and wrong, and worse, starts to defame and penalize those who still manifest the highest ethical standards. And that can only be done through the Arts.

Few youth today would know that the Arts, and most noticeably the Music Industry and the Movie Industry were pretty much owned and run by lovers of music and film back in the middle of last century. I’m sure the same extends to the other arts including literature, fine art and the performing arts.

But in the last couple decades or so of the last century, these institutions were taken over by Media Conglomerates. Yep, the same guys who owned the rest of the mass media and the marketing companies who work for them.

So, if you’ll notice (those with a long enough memory), over this time all that was once thought to be immoral, evil or bad (criminality, drugs, prostitution,  and even profanity) has now finally moved into the mainstream into music, TV and motion pictures.  It took some 30 years, but it’s a done deal.  Now the gates are down and anything goes.

But it’s even more pervasive than that. The education, justice system and political have been perverted and this too finds its way into all forms of media and art. Then we have other coinciding movements such as “political correctness”, the vilification of the institutions and people who made this country (the US) great: freedom of religion, marriage and family, free enterprise and so on.

Propaganda is a re-definition of words and events from their actual meaning.

Check out the school books of our young people these days.

And check out their video games.

And the movies they watch and the songs they listen to.

I know that’s a generality that doesn’t apply to EVERYONE, but there’s no quibbling with the fact that ENOUGH of the younger population (the present and future VOTERS) have grown up in a world where all that was once considered to be wrong, unethical or immoral, is now considered NORMAL.

And that’s how, primarily through the arts, the decline of any civilization happens.

That’s not to say that current leaders were necessarily a knowing part of this evil plot. It just takes a small percentage of evil people climbing into positions of power and decision-making that starts the process. I dare say some of the current kids in the White House are victims of the very re-definition and degradation of art and society discussed here, while a small percentage throughout government in this country and others are the truly evil ones with a happy bunch of brainless do-gooders propping them up in exchange for the privilege of power and a few tasty morsels tossed their way. Some of those particularly zealous and brainless do-gooders even get promoted to high positions of power. Let them take the heat.

Remember, in the latter days of the Roman Empire in the 4th Century, it was “free food and games”. And crowds roaring for death in the arena.

Then came the Dark Ages, a period where communication was so suppressed relatively little is known of that period.

It ended a thousand years later with the Renaissance–another resurgence of the arts; a period which eventually gave us Shakespeare, countless other great writers and poets, all the great composers, new movements in music, dance, choreography, fine art, film making, architecture, and even fashion, where living and life-style became an art form reaching a peak in the 1940s only to be interrupted by a couple lunatics in a couple of countries that tried to bypass the whole tried-and-true” rise and fall of civilizations thing” by trying to enforce their collective will on the rest of the world through the use of overwhelming force.

And when the dust of WWII settled, the world stumbled into the 50s trying to get back into the groove, but too many other insidious factors had already been worming their way into the woodwork of society–the very sorts of thing that could even let a world war happen in the first place. The 60s marked, perhaps, a last desperate attempt to protest the imminent decline of civilization, but by the 70s the Arts had sold their collective soul to the Merchant of Chaos, more charitably known as the Mass Media.

And now another 40 years have passed.

Look around.

Get the picture?

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