The Art Dept Elex is alot more than "Joe Sparks, Electrician". You
need to know how the camera sees things, and what the DOP is trying
to do. In most cases these aspects of the job are totally foreign to

"Joe Sparks".

Any light source on set is just that - a light source. And while the
Art Director may want the fitting to have a particular look, it is
the DOP (or more likely the Gaffer) who will tell you what he wants
it to actually light up. The light that your "practical" emits must
work in harmony with the Gaffer's lights, and in many cases can be a
major light source on the set. Such requirements may mean camera
tests are necessary to test if your plans are going to work on film
like they look in real life.

Another aspect is the way that the Best Boy wants the lights cabled
  1. In some cases each individual light will need to be cabled back
to a separate dimmer channel on a rack of dimmers. You need to know
where the camera is going to be looking, to make sure any cables,
holes or screws you install are not going to be visible to the lens,
and that the lights are positioned properly. Quite often the position
will be decided by the Production Designer, and it's a good idea to
have regular "walk throughs" with the Prod. Des. to check on
positions and discuss any extras or alternatives.

Then there is the actual lamp which is going to be used in the light
fitting. In many cases the lamp will just be an ordinary "GLS" lamp
(General Lighting Service) which presents no extra problems. However
if the DOP has chosen a slower film stock or for some reason is using
more light on the set (for example, Day for Night shooting) then your
practical lights are going to have to pack a wallop! It is not
uncommon to see special studio lamps of over 300 watts inserted in
regular practical lights. This can often happen without your knowlege
on the day of filming, so make sure you check with the Gaffer if any
"high powered practicals" are required.

You can imagine what is going to happen to Grandpa Joe's bedside lamp
with a 300 watt Photolita lamp in it. Within minutes the bakelite
lampholder will disintegrate, and not long afterwards the plastic
cables will melt, probably short out and trip the Best Boy's main
earth leakage breakers. Lots of time will be wasted, a safety report
will be filed and.. guess who gets the blame!

In situations where it is necessary to have high powered practicals,
usually you will have to completely rewire the light fittings, even
if supplied to you brand new. You will need to install brass or
porcelain lamp holders and silicon (or even glass fibre) cables to
withstand the intense heat developed. In many cases (particularly
with table lamps) ordinary light fittings are supplied with "double
insulated" fittings, and are not earthed. In order to install your
high temperature brass socket, you will need to be able to earth it
for safety reasons, as brass sockets are not double insulated. This
will mean a 3 core cord, often made of thicker silicon cable. More
often than not this means a total rewire of the light. It can even
mean you have to partially redesign the light and drill bigger holes
or even put the cord in a different position because often the
original holes were only large enough to take the small, original 2
core cable. As you can see, the need to have high powered practicals
can present "snowballing" problems and costs - which should be
clearly explained to the Art Director or Production Manager before a
decision is taken to adopt them.

Another problem is flourescent and neon lighting. Recently camera
manufacturers have provided "infinitely variable" cranking rate
adjustments (i.e. frames per second) on their cameras. These are used
extensively whenever special effects are required, which is in
virtually all of todays' films. Conventionally ballasted flourescent
and neon lights flash at 100 cycles per second. If a frame rate is
chosen which is not a close multiple of 100, then the light on camera
will appear to "flicker" when seen on the film.

The only solution to this problem is to either select only "certain"
frame rates, or to install special "electronic ballasts" in all
flourescent and neon lighting. These flash at over 80,000 times per
second - meaning that any difference in frame rate is only going to
manifest itself as less than 0.1% of total light output and will
certainly be invisible to the eye. Electronic Ballasts (in Australia)
are difficult to obtain and cost more than ten times that of the
equivalent ordinary ballasts. In many cases fittings including
electronic ballasts cannot be obtained quickly or in small quantities
which means ordinary fittings must be "rewired" with electronic
ballasts - a time consuming job. In some cases they cannot be
obtained to suit certain tube sizes at all.

On locations where there are a large number of existing "real"
practical lights, the DOP may decide to restrict the frame rate to
those which will work with conventional light fittings, to prevent
the enormous cost of say, having to replace every existing light in
an airport terminal. In situations such as these it is safe to use
conventional fittings for additional practical lights.

Another consideration is color temperature and color rendition. The
color temperature of an ordinary GLS incandescent lamp is very
"yellow" when compared with Tungsten Halogen lamps, or special film
lamps. Depending on how the DOP has balanced the film stock or lens
filters, it may be necessary to obtain special lamps to match the
settings used on a particular set. Again these lamps are likely going
to take days to source and deliver in Australia with no alternative
but to deal with one company with a particularly bad customer service
department, in an industry where competition is what only happens at
the football on Sundays.

Ordinary "white" flourescent lamps will appear green on film unless
color balanced. On locations the lens is usually balanced with a pink
filter, and then green filters are used on all the gaffers' lamps to
compensate. However on set it is usually the practical lights which
must be balanced, either by replacing the tubes with special "Kino
Flo" lamps or by wrapping the tubes in gel "condoms". In some cases
lights that appear "too hot" on camera can be wrapped in "reduction"
(grey) gel to reduce their light output without the need for dimming
the flouros.

In many cases low cost options are acceptable, such as using standard
domestic "warm white" tubes in sets where there are other
incandescent practical lights also present. Likewise (in particular
for backlit signs) Daylight "Tri Phosphor" tubes should be used, as
they have better color rendition and are unlikely to need further
correction at a distance, and are also brighter, meaning less tubes
(and electronic ballasts) are needed for the same job. Some gaffers,
when presented with a location (such as an office block interior)
which uses almost all fourescent lighting, go to the trouble of
temporarily changing all the tubes in that part of the building to
Tri Phosphor Daylights. They then change them back after the filming
is complete. Naturally this has to be discussed with the location
manager if it is to be considered an option.

Another world the Art Dept Elex lives in is the world of Extra Low
Voltage. Many lights on film sets are fed with voltages less than 32
volts, in some cases because that's the voltage the lights work on,
but in most cases for safety reasons such as sets which are likely to
become wet, or in sets or props which are likely to be damaged while
stunt actors are about (or on top) of them. In many cases these
lights must appear as normal low voltage (240v) lights, with wattages
around 100w.


A single 100w lamp at 32v consumes 4 amps - alot of current. A
typical set containing many low voltage lamps can consume hundreds of
amps - requiring large step-down transformers, or large collections
of smaller ones if appropriate. On wet sets it is sometimes necessary
to transmit the extra low voltage over long distances (more than 10m)
which gives rise to serious voltage drop problems, and the need for
oversize cables. In turn if these cables are to be visible in the
film then they may be too large and look un-natural. The solutions
are challenging and varied. Remember that a 12 volt light need only
lose one volt to lose 31% of it's brightness. This could be caused by
as little as three metres of extra cable.

Another requirement might be the need to "overdrive" lights -
particularly extra low voltage lights, such as Christmas tree lights.
Operation of 12v lights on voltages of upto 18v is common, just to
compete with the Gaffer's lighting. Naturally this shortens the life
of the lamps - so viligance may be required to make sure they are
only activated when absolutely needed, such as during a take. Other
problems arise when a large number of practical lights (such as
behind a compact but complicated futuristic control panel) generate
excessive heat. Fan cooling may be required. Alternatively a set
which is prone to overheat can be deemed a "shoot & save" set,
meaning that the lights are only activated when the "action" call is
given and "saved" when the camera "cuts" - however many directors do
not like working this way, and it should be seen as a last resort
only.

In science fiction and action films, it is often necessary to provide
"movement" in practical lights. This simply means some sort of
flashing, dimming or action. Simple needs can often be met by just
wiring several circuits to the Gaffer's dimmers and a suitable chase
pattern programmed. However complex looks need to be designed more
carfully or they will become a cabling and safety nightmare. In many
cases Extra Low Voltage is used.

Just a note on "Safety tagging". Depending on the needs of the
Gaffer, the Art Dept Elex may be called upon to test equipment and
"tag it" as safe. This peculiarity is unique to the Australian film
industry, and it's enforcement ranges from "none at all" to
"paranoid". The tests conducted are simple, and usually involve earth
continuity (on earthed appliances and leads), insulation resistance
(on appropriate equipment, mainly leads, distribution boards and
anything that comes in contact with water), and (most important of
all) a visual inspection of flexible cords. Once passed, the Art Dept
Elex affixes a standard "test tag" with his details including the
date of the test, to the lead of the appliance.


Many gaffers have dispensed with the tag and simply use red or blue
cable ties affixed to each item to indicate when it was last tested.
Whilst this works fine within a single department, it is not suitable
for other applications.

Wherever there is a clear "passing of responsibility" from one
department to another, safety tags should be used. On a film set,
this means practical lights and appliances. They are initially
installed and checked / tested by the Art Dept Elex, who affixes an
appropriately dated tag to each lead, indicating to the Gaffer's crew
that the item has been tested and is safe to connect to their
equipment. After this "handover", the practical electrics then become
responsibility of the Gaffer, who then makes any alterations and
re-tests if required.

The tags are a useful and safe way of indicating that a particular
circuit is "ready for connection" by the Gaffer's pre-lighting crew,
as in many cases the pre-lite crew and Art Dept elex are often
working on the same set at the same time - just before shooting
commences.
WHAT DOES AN ART DEPARTMENT ELECTRICIAN DO?
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