From Theatre to Television

in PLSN Interview
LCT04-1.jpgAndre Huff took a unique route on his way to the world of television lighting. He started working for a lighting manufacturer, then in theatre and concert touring. His biggest challenge? Helping his clients understand that not every show can be like the Grammys. In this month’s interview, we caught up with Huff and he explained why it’s a challenge that he’s ready to (True) Grip.

DSC_0213.JPGPLSN: How did you get your start in the industry?
Andre Huff: I started lighting in high school and liked it. As I started college, my first job was at James Thomas Engineering. They were really good to me while I started college here in Knoxville (University of Tennessee), getting my lighting design degree in theatre. So, I really learned from the ground up—how to wire lamp bars, how to solder multi (cable). It was a great experience while I worked there. When I left, I worked at the theatre department. There is a LORT D (League of Resident Theatres) theatre here at the university and I worked there while I finished my degree. Then, when I graduated, I went on my first tour; the Wal-Mart Country Music Across America Tour. From there, I got a job with my first lighting company at Bandit Lites.

As a designer, do you find your experience working for a manufacturer has been of benefit to you?
When I first went to work there, straight out of high school, I’d heard of pre-rig truss but didn’t know how it worked. It helped me a lot with problem-solving. I’ve literally been there and know how lamp bars are wired. There’s a benefit to being at the manufacturer level and understanding how the truss works, how the loads work, without having a physics degree or anything. They took me under their wing and showed me the basics as I was learning how to light.

DSC_0197.JPG Now you work for True Grip & Lighting.
Yes. I freelanced for a while…True Grip & Lighting is a company that was started by a 17-year veteran cameraman of NASCAR as a grip and lighting company. While I was freelancing, I met them, and my interest was in television, so we started growing the moving light and theatrical side of television lighting when I came to work for them.

Would you say that automated fixtures are becoming more prevalent in the TV world, as manufacturers design fixtures that are well suited for TV application?
Exactly. We do a lot of shows that use moving lights for ESPN, SPEED Channel, in addition to the shows that I do. And even some of those shows, like SportsCenter, are starting to add moving lights to their repertoire.

As of late, you’ve been doing a lot of work with gospel music.
Correct. Right now, it’s been the focus for where we’ve been going. What I do is more on the contemporary Christian gospel side of the market. It’s kind of where we’ve been led, and our connections are really working out.

Winterfest.JPG What’s it like designing for that?
We’re focusing on the new technologies and new tools that we need to produce those shows. The hardest thing to make people understand about the theatrical lighting—coming to the television market and the quickly-growing market of new Christian television networks—is how much money it takes. They’ll look at the Grammys and say, “I want that.” That’s the creative side of it that I like. With smaller budgets, as we grow with projects and people, it’s trying to take the smaller projects and making it look the best you can and as close to what they see when they’re seeing these larger budget shows.

Would you say that one of your challenges is to design a smaller budget show and make it look big?
Some day, I hope to do very, very large shows and I know we’ll get there. But you’re right. The challenge is, when you’re dealing a smaller budget show, and you’re trying to make it look like a big production, you really have to think about and spend your money wisely.

Tell us about some of the productions you’ve been working on lately. What are you working on now?
The main show, that just finished, and they’re getting ready to release the DVD for, was The Crabb Family. We also shot some promotional footage for a tour they’re going to do this summer, which is a current project we’re just getting started on now. We’re also in the process of doing a large youth event down in Atlanta for 30,000 kids at the Georgia World Congress Center in mid-April.

DSC_0306.JPG The Crabb Family DVD design used some pretty cool truss designs. How did you go about designing that project and what was the goal?
They didn’t want machinery industrial, but they didn’t want everybody to feel like they’re in church. So the first concept was some scaffolding towers with lights hanging off of them, which was an idea I got from a beauty pageant four or five years ago. And then I added video screens hanging at different angles. I knew we were going to be in a theatre, so I wanted to take full use of line sets to be able to hang stuff anywhere and not have to hang a super structure. So I drew it up and they liked it, but they decided to shelve that one for a while. About a month later, they asked me to come up with something else. I wanted something, again, to be non-churchy industrial-ish, so we went with the truss idea. I also wanted it to be asymmetrical, and I knew the theatre had a cyc and I knew I wanted to use it, but I didn’t want a plain cyc the entire show. So I came up with the idea of this wall of truss. It was kind of funny as we are building it; everybody was kind of like, “What do you want?” I gave them an outline and told them to start putting truss wherever they wanted. Then, we stood it up and moved a piece from here to there. I had an idea, or concept, in my head, but it was a build-it-on-site kind of thing.

Given the variety of experience you’ve had in manufacturing, theatre, touring and TV, what has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career has been coming to work at True Grip and focusing on television lighting. Almost every project I light has something to do with video, whether it’s for broadcast on television or a DVD project. I also get a wide variety of situations—a stage with lots of PARs and moving lights or an outdoor set with HMIs. I get to approach every show with an opportunity to experiment and find what works for me, so as my career and the shows grow, I am prepared for whatever comes my way. 

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