Dealing with Loss

in Feeding the Machines

This month, I am writing to all of you about a serious situation in our industry. Every production inevitably ends up suffering from this serious condition at some point in preproduction, or even after the show opens. It is time that we all work together as professionals to help reduce further occurrences of this terrible state of affairs. As I am sure most of you reading this are aware, all too often, cues and looks get programmed and never used.

Hours of programming time go unseen by audiences, producers, artists and even LDs. We must examine how this condition evolves and work together for a reasonable solution to help the lost cues.

Recently Lost Work

I can probably best make a plea for help by providing you with a recent example of how hours of programming can simply go missing. The atrocity occurred in the middle of a 10-day programming session for a major rock tour. The show was split into two halves, where the first half was very video-centric and the second half a more traditional light show. Early on, it had been decided that, for the second half of the show, we would take control of the media servers from the video department and use the video elements as additional lighting sources.

Upon arrival at the first day of programming, nature struck hard with a massive storm that took out all power for miles. This outage caused enormous delays to the load-in taking place, and resulted in the LD and me taking the consoles back to the hotel to get some work accomplished. We spent a few hours in the hotel combing through the drive of video content I had brought with me. We made decisions as to what would be useful and for which songs.

Once power was restored to the rehearsal site, actual lighting programming could begin. About six days in, we had enough lighting programmed that we felt we could spend an evening programming video cues. Over the course of one long night, we went through 25 songs and added simple video elements based on the established lighting cueing. It was a fun night, but it took many hours to find and program all the looks accordingly.

At the rehearsal the next day, the band said that, although they liked the looks, they did not want to see any video in the second half of the show. So just like that, almost at the snap of their fingers, all the hours of preparing and programming of video cues for this show became another case of “missing” work. No audiences would ever get a chance to see the cool and inspiring looks we came up with. The complex programming to create unique effects would never be seen again. All that work became just a series of numbers in the data that were instantly rendered useless.

We are Not Alone

I was not surprised by the decision to eliminate the video cueing. I have seen this sort of thing happen before. As I stated in the introduction, nearly every production is plagued by the curse of the missing cues. Over the years, I have programmed countless looks, chases, effects and sequences that simply had to be scrapped before the show could open. Sometimes it was due to changes in the production, or because the programming did not quite go with the show, or simply because the timing did not work out. I have even seen elements cut due to performers or animals not being able to relate to the looks. Almost every touring show will have entire songs programmed that the band never plays.

If you have programmed the lighting for any production, then surely you have built cues that never got to enjoy time in front of an audience. This can be rather unsettling when you have spent your time and energy creating and building the particular cues. It can be difficult to not take it personally and feel like your work was unappreciated or rendered not as important.

Remember that, in show business, we are part of a team. This means that our work must always be in the best interest of the show. We must realize that lost cues are not lost opportunities. Be grateful for the time that you had with them before they disappeared. Remember the experience you had in building the looks and the joy gained by seeing them played out.

Lost but Not Forgotten

When you spend time creating a particular look or effect, it is usually worth keeping. Maybe it does not work for a particular section of the show, but it could prove useful later on. In these situations where I am asked to remove programming from a production, I always ensure that I have a backup show file with the original programming. Furthermore, I will never actually delete the cue(s) from the show. Instead, I will move them out of the main cuelist and into a “holding cell” within the show file. This way, if I ever need to bring them back from the dead, I know where to find them. In the case of the example above, I simply unpatched the media servers and left the data within the cues of the show. If the artist suddenly decided that they DO want video cues for the second half of the show, I can restore the lost programming simply by re-patching the media servers.

Experience Gained

The best way I have found for me to deal with the loss of programming is to look at the experience I gained by creating the cues in the first place. If no audiences get to see the fruits of my labor, then that is okay with me. I love programming lighting and treasure any opportunities to do so. In fact, I actually create missing cues on purpose in almost every programming opportunity. Yes, I admit it; I am part of the problem. As often as possible, I will take the opportunity to “play” with a lighting rig and see what can be built. This usually results in some looks that can be used in the show and others that cannot. For instance, when working a corporate event, I might play with the lights and make a great effect with all the lights in an effect that is blinding to the audience. This is likely never going to be appropriate for the particular production, so it will go unseen by anyone but myself. However, the experience of programming it usually leads to discovering uses with the rig that can be applied to the particular production. So those lost cues gave their life for the betterment of the overall show.

There is No Cure

The cases of missing cues will continue to grow with every production programmed. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to stop the devastation. As professionals, we must remember that these lost cues are part of the process and should not be look upon as a waste of time. We must keep in check with our emotions and realize that the removal of some programming is usually done in the best interest of the overall production. With this understanding, you too can come to terms with the loss of hours of work and continue on to craft more creative and productive programming.