The beautiful and compelling content found on AM’s various digital video platforms depends on great writers and on-screen talent, but much of the magic comes from behind the camera. We asked one of our resident wizards, Key Grip/Best Boy Matthew Patterson, to help us visualize the film production work that you don’t see.
AM: What range of duties do you perform on AM productions, and what are some of the projects that you have worked on?
MATTHEW: On a typical day, I work with our gaffer and directors of photography to be their arms and legs and sometimes voice. They have the ideas of how they want the image to look, and a team of us scurry around like ants to accomplish the goals. I’ve been fortunate in my 11 years here to have a hand in most of our video projects. Sometimes it’s helping set the look of a new video series, sometimes I get to follow a lighting design already in play.
AM: What does a typical shoot schedule look like for you? How long does it take to assemble a lighting rig?
MATTHEW: We generally have an hour or two (for bigger setups) to prepare for our talent. Then on some jobs, I’ll peel off and start the next set while everyone works with the actors. That’s pretty necessary to acquire the amount of content we’re after. The time it takes to assemble some of the lights, all depends on where Rodney Autaubo says he’d like to put it! We’ve had big ones in 80-foot telescoping man lifts, hung them from ceilings, taped some to a wall in tight corners, and also the stand they’re designed for.
AM: What do you see yourself as contributing to the look or trademark quality of an AM production?
MATTHEW: I watch for the details. I try to pay attention to everything and help in any way.
AM: What do audiences tend to miss about the importance of lighting?
MATTHEW: If our job is done correctly, most people won’t even notice the lighting! It has to look natural, without distractions (dark or bright) to take your attention from the intended focus: our talent’s words coming out of their mouth.
AM: How does your job differ based on the individual people or objects that are going to be filmed?
MATTHEW: The beautiful thing about life is everyone is different. Our faces each take light and reflect it differently. Same with inanimate objects we’ve filmed. It’s all a geometry game to me though, objects and people still have three basic sides that need to be lit.
AM: Are you generally done with your job by the time filming starts, or do you find yourself making adjustments between takes/shots based on what you see on camera?
MATTHEW: On productions with multiple takes per scene, there’s always room for improvements – until the horse doesn’t look like a horse. On interviews, we want that consistency throughout; so we quietly chase the sunlight with a flag or add anything necessary when the light outside starts to fade.
AM: Does new technology make a big impact on how you do your job, or do the tools of the trade remain pretty stable over time?
MATTHEW: LED lighting is only getting better and more true to color – they had a nasty green tint when LED lights first started coming out. With options such as LEDs, we’re able to have strong output without using much electricity, and we can use them in older homes with weak breakers or off battery power. There is something to say about the quality of light from tried and true fixtures like Arri and Mole Richardson tungsten lamps and HMI daylight lamps, which remain unmatched.