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Tales from the Front Lines of Lighting

Chris Lose • LD at LargeSeptember 2020 • September 11, 2020

Illustration by John Sauer/johnsauer.com

July 30, 2020

My dearest Sharon,

I hope this letter finds you well. I must write you from the barracks because there is much news to tell. After a fortnight on the front lines of lighting, I am relieved to tell you that my battalion and I are safe. We are taking the necessary precautions to defend ourselves from the ‘rona. We have seen much loss in these parts. The suffering and sorrow are too much to bear. I can only tell you of my story. We are making lights in the sky, and the commander is in good spirits. The other men and I are cleansing our hands, wearing masks and staying diligent as we battle the invisible enemy. The many hours of programming in these conditions have left my hands so chapped and I fear that my hands will become irritated with chilblains. I am very pleased to say, dear, I am keeping very well indeed, and I trust you are the same.

Your dearest husband, Chris.

P.S., please don’t forget to wash your hands and wear a mask, my dear.

 

I am as happy to send this tongue-in-cheek letter to my wife as I am to tell you a story from the front lines of lighting. At the time of this writing, I have been working on a lighting gig in the middle of a pandemic for two weeks. I have never considered myself an essential worker, but I do consider providing for my family and my clients an essential part of my duty. Here is a brief description of my story.

‡‡         Travel

I live in Canada, but the gig is in Las Vegas. The international border is closed due to the high levels of Covid-19 cases. I had some difficult decisions to make just to get to work. My flight is out of Detroit, MI even though I live in Windsor, ON. I can’t take a taxi across the border. I could have driven across the border with my U.S. passport, but then I would have had to park my car at the airport for two months at $23 a day. If Sharon drove me to the airport, she would have had to self-quarantine as soon as she came back across the border. That’s not an option while she is alone with both kids. We had to get creative. The best idea that we could conjure was for Sharon and me to drive to Toronto just for me to fly right back to Detroit. This prevented us from having to cross international borders by car. It was inconvenient, but it worked. The Toronto airport at six in the morning was a ghost town. The airport in Detroit had slightly more people, but all were wearing facial coverings of some sort. Flying on Delta was fairly straightforward. The middle seats were all blocked off, and the attendants were all professional and calm. After signing an agreement to wear a mask in the car, I was able to get an Uber at a reasonable price. The driver and I both had masks on for the duration of the ride, and hand sanitizer was provided.

‡‡         Working Conditions

As soon as I landed in Vegas, I went straight to work. The hotel was more vigilant than most about maintaining safe working conditions. Temperatures were taken, the staff was tested, masks were provided, and sanitizer flowed liberally. The casino floor was a scene straight from a hospital operating room with booze and smoking. The gamblers were socially distanced, but they would often pull down their masks to swig a beer or puff a cigarette. They stood in their cubicles of Plexiglas in order to place their bets at the Blackjack tables. It’s intriguing to see what people will endure in order to gamble.

As the programmer, I had a lot riding on my shoulders. Neither the designer nor the associate designer were able to fly out of the U.K. or into the USA. We had several meetings to figure out a way for them to be onsite without leaving the U.K. Thanks to modern technology, this was not insurmountable. The hard-working locals were able to set up several Microsoft Team meetings that allowed both designers to remotely view four different webcams as well as a TeamViewer session with the lighting console. We were closely working together even though we were a world apart. For the most part, the distanced programming sessions were a huge success. We were able to bang out 12 time-coded songs in as many days. The small problems were numerous, though. Firstly, the color balance of different cameras was distracting. In one camera, the greens were vibrant and rich, while in the other camera the greens looked white. Furthermore, the refresh rates were different. Any time we used lasers, one view would make the lasers look like they were strobing, even though they were solid. This required constant affirmation that scenes looked as they should. As the programmer, the designers would have to rely on my reassurance for every look. Confirming precise timecode events over an intercontinental webcast proved to be taxing as well. The audio could be delayed while the image was hitting in time, and vice versa. This put the onus back on me to confirm the quality of the show.

‡‡         What is New?

The world has been flipped on its head. A pangolin/bat consuming individual in a far-off country has changed the course of history forever. We can all be affected by the actions of everyone in the world. We need to be able to adapt to the missteps of others. We have the tools available. We have the necessary technology to work in extreme conditions. The way that we are conducting this show was impossible even a few years ago. We can create art without even being in the country. We can move mountains with mouse clicks. Rivers of streaming ones and zeros can portray meaningful information to individuals across the world. Embracing the technology and the modern working conditions can open our worlds to jobs that were never available to us before. I can admit that these conditions are far from optimal. I refuse to let suboptimal conditions prevent me from collecting a paycheck, though. Our industry is based on that principle.

‡‡         What Can We Learn?

The major takeaways here are threefold. One: Please listen to experts and scientists instead of politicians. Wearing a mask and washing your hands will keep you and the people around you as safe as possible. We will never be able to eliminate all safety hazards, but we can eliminate enough risk to make entertainment viable sooner rather than later. Two: embrace modern technology. I used to be skeptical of webcast meetings. I didn’t like seeing myself on camera and I didn’t like the sound of my own voice. I would prefer a lunch meeting over a Zoom call every time. The pandemic has thrust all of us into the world of zoom calls, team meetings and Google Hangouts. Three: If we work together, nothing can stop us. Entertainment is essential. Whether the politicians know it or not, the masses need to be entertained.

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