Grow Your Lighting Skills Today: Interview with Brad Schiller – Learn Stage Lighting .com

Grow Your Lighting Skills Today: Interview with Brad Schiller

band lightingOnce again, I’m really excited to bring you an interview with a lighting professional!

Brad Schiller has been in the lighting industry for years, and is one of the top educators and experts in programming moving lights.

He writes monthly for PLSN and is the author of “The Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook” as well as working for Martin Professional as a Business Development Manager.

Besides just talking about moving lights, Brad imparts some real wisdom from all of his years in the trenches.

Now, I’ll stop blabbering and let the interview speak for itself!

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How did you get started with stage lighting?  How did that lead to where you are today?

I started with stage lighting in eighth grade and have never stopped since the first show where I was in one scene on stage and spent the rest of the time at the lighting desk while still in full costume.

I quickly discovered that the magic that can be created with light was a true passion of mine.  I could have never imagined that my career path would evolve the way it has, but I have no complaints either.

At what point did you know you got bit by the “lighting bug”, or the love for stage lighting?

Water Based Haze in Action

Thanks to Incase on Flickr.

Early in high school I wanted a career in special effects.  In fact, I attended the first ever LDI primarily to meet some special effects experts that were going to be there.

As I was looking towards effects for tv/film and theatre, I became a very involved theatre technician at my school.  Lighting was the most interesting to me, probably because it really is a special effect on its own.

I quickly switched my focus from special effects to lighting, especially as I saw the “new” automated lighting products and opportunities take hold of our industry.

What’s the most important skill someone can learn to be successful in production?

Always have the best interest of the show in mind.

When working as a tech early in my career, I was taught to ask “what’s next” when I finished a specific task.  The most important moment is when the curtain goes up and everything needs to be ready for that moment.

If you work as a team member towards that goal, then you are going to do well in production.  Those that are focused on themselves and what is in it for them inevitably fail because they don’t participate for the good of the show.

What is your greatest daily challenge that gets in the way of creating excellent lighting?  How do you get around it to make your art happen?

Time is definitely the biggest challenge as there is never enough.  Even when a production gives you a full week with a rig to program, you never get everything in place to complete the required work.

For instance, when programming for a concert tour you typically have 20-30 songs to program into the desk.  While you might be lucky enough to have a week to program (either with the rig or virtually) there are always roadblocks that limit your time.

In order to get around this, I try to budget my time accordingly so that the most important elements are not neglected.

Recently I was programming a corporate event and I chose to “put off” programming the standard ballyhoos and band busking bits until after I had created the looks for the main stage work and product reveals.

If something was going to suffer due to time, then I would rather it be the ballyhoos than the major product reveal segments.

What inspires you on a daily basis to create excellent work?

I am grateful to have been raised with a dedicated work ethic.  My parents taught me that the best kind of job is one that you love doing and that the paycheck seems like a bonus.

I really enjoy working on projects knowing that the audience will be entertained by my contribution.

It does not matter if they are aware of the lighting cues and the work put into it, only that they enjoyed the show and that I had a good time working on it and helping to make it a success.

Also our industry is full of lots of great people and I enjoy working with others towards a common goal.

stage lighting console

Photo Credit: B Rosen via Compfight cc

Brad, your career has had a big focus on education, particularly around programming moving lights.  

How can someone who doesn’t have any experience begin learning how to program a rig of automated fixtures?

When I started programming automated lighting there were very few of us that had programming skills and experience.

Many people regarded the information as job security and were not willing to share their knowledge.  I have always wanted to share my knowledge and experience with others as it only helps the entire industry grow and mature.

The best way to learn to program automated lighting is to simply get your hands busy and start doing it.  I always suggest that newbies reach out to their local lighting companies and ask to come to the shop and “play” on a desk.

Often they can also get a few lights to plug in as well.  I tell them to pick some songs and program a light show to the songs.

This is what I did and not only did it help me to learn, but I got to know the guys in the shop and eventually was asked to do some gigs.  Those first gigs were technician gigs not programming.  It takes time before crews will put you in the driver’s seat, so people need to be patient as well.

Now people can learn from watching YouTube videos and working with free PC versions of consoles.  Of course everyone starting out should read my book as well as it is packed with lots of common practices and suggestions. I wrote “The Automated Lighting Programmer’s Handbook” specifically to share the knowledge of myself and other professionals with anyone with an interest in programming.

What is your favorite piece of gear right now and why?

Lighting Design

Photo Credit: Ark Images via Compfight cc

It would be unfair for me to list a specific branded piece of gear due to my position at Philips Vari-Lite, but I can say that I think that there are a lot of remarkable products coming to the market that further open the door of creativity for lighting designers and programmers.

I enjoy the challenges of finding new looks and uses with new equipment while also meeting the aesthetic needs of the production.

The amount of new lighting gear released each year is both staggering and amazing at the same time.

A lot of Learn Stage Lighting readers are part-time at lighting, either working with bands, churches or small production companies, so they don’t have tons of extra time.  

What is one simple tip that the LearnStageLighting tribe can use this week to improve their lighting?

It is amazing how many people never read user manuals.

I suggest that LearnStageLighting readers take a few minutes to read a chapter or section in a luminaire or console user manual and see what new-to-them information they can find.  I bet they will be surprised by what they never knew was possible with the gear they use often.

Where can we find more about you and the company you work for?   What are you currently working on?

You can find out more about me at www.bradschiller.com, although I admit I have not updated the site very much.  Currently I have several productions coming up and am always busy with my primary job developing new lighting products as the Product Manager for Philips Vari-Lite  Update: Brad currently works for Martin Professional as a business development manager.


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