The person in charge of setting up the lights and lighting effects used in theatre, film, and television is known as a lighting technician. Their work includes everything from standard stage lighting to special effects like strobes, laser shows, searchlights, and more.
Lighting technicians collaborate closely with directors and art directors to create the best effects and looks for each shot in a film or scene in a play. They spend a lot of time setting up, repairing, and dismantling lighting arrays and the computer and electronic systems that control them, so they need a lot of technical knowledge and understanding of complex systems.
Lighting technicians’ basic responsibilities include assisting in the setup and dismantling of systems, ensuring that everything is in working order, and taking direct orders from a stage or floor manager.
With experience and certification, technicians can start coordinating larger shows, programming complex lighting effects with computers, and generally taking on larger and more ornate jobs with the help of a crew of technicians.
Lighting technicians work some of the least social hours in the entertainment industry, as their job requires them to arrive at a set long before the rest of the crew to set up the lighting systems, and to leave long after the rest of the crew has gone home to dismantle those same systems.
Lighting technicians require extensive training because they are responsible for operating more equipment than any other member of a film or television crew. A lighting technician must be familiar with a variety of cable types, extension lugs, various adapters and connectors, a bewildering array of lighting systems, and complex, programmable computers for handling difficult transitions, to name a few.
Electrocution is a significant risk in the field (especially on outdoor sets in inclement weather), as are injuries from falling equipment or ladder accidents, and extensive burns from scalding hot lamps.
Despite these risks and the relative obscurity of a lighting technician in a film or television show’s final mix, the market is highly competitive. In 2000, there were approximately 1,700 lighting technicians registered with unions in California (the state with the most lighting technicians), with a much larger number vying for jobs. In California, the union wage scale ranges from $21 to $30 per hour, with workweeks frequently exceeding 75 hours.