Lighting for comedy has its own special characteristics and lighting designer Marc Janowitz, who recently lit comedian Jimmy O. Yang’s debut stand-up comedy special on Amazon Prime – Jimmy O. Yang: Good Deal – using Elation Rayzor 760 and Fuze Wash Z350 LED wash lights, knows all about them. “In the concert industry you can end up with a thousand different ways to use a light in a single show but in comedy you work hard to come up with a perfect look that stays throughout the entire show and needs to look right from a multitude of camera angles.”
Recorded last fall at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle and aired in early May on Amazon’s paid subscription service, the Silicon Valley and Crazy Rich Asians star laid down a hilarious hour of comedy in a blossoming career as a stand-up comedian. “When lighting a comedy special, there is typically an intro look with a bit of fanfare as the comedian walks on stage,” Janowitz says, “but then that settles into a look that stays for the rest of the show. It’s a different way of thinking about lights. You study a bunch of different features of a light simply so you can find the one feature that makes it on camera as opposed to finding a light that has a lot of features because you need a multitude of flexibility.” There is a walk-out look as well, typically similar to the walk-on look, but Janowitz says it often ends up on the edit room floor.
Chief designer at lighting and production design firm E26Design, Janowitz’s extensive lighting experience includes a decade with Blue Man Group, designs for New York theatre and years working with top touring bands like My Morning Jacket and The Lumineers, among others. He has a great deal of experience lighting for broadcast as well and says there was a good rapport with the Jimmy O. Yang creative team from the start, a team that included producers Comedy Dynamics, director Marcus Raboy, production designer Tom Lenz and director of photography Dylan Sanford.
Design for the Jimmy O. Yang special started last August with the comedian heavily involved in establishing what kind of aesthetic he wanted. “This was his first televised special and he wanted to make sure it stood out and had its own unique look,” Janowitz said. “He presented some great references and that really helped us latch on to something and come up with a look together.
“We discussed the notion of light as display, using light as a scenic element, which production designer Tom Lenz took and worked with in the form of linear strips of light and beams. That allowed me to expound on the concept and find the right fixtures to support that.”
Already in the house rig at the Neptune Theatre as part of the overhead lighting package were Elation Fuze Wash Z350 single source par moving heads. Janowitz had 10 of the units on two overhead electrics at his disposal. “It was great to walk in and know I had a homogenized wash light to work with,” he comments. “There aren’t a lot of companies doing wash lights with LED that look like an arc source with one beam out the front so having that in house was already a great start.”
Featuring prominently in the many camera angles and a good match for the in-house Fuze Wash fixtures were 24 Rayzor 760 LED washes, placed on the deck and on booms both downstage and upstage. In keeping with the linear theme, each boom-positioned Rayzor had a single line of pixels running across its face. “When shooting multi-cam, meaning any camera can be active at any time, you have to make sure that every angle has the picture you want it to have,” Janowitz said. “What was great with the Rayzor 760 was, even when I went down to just enough pixels to create a line, it still had decent output and created beams in the air. I knew it would have a lot of camera time where you look right at the face - you could see them in all the cross shots, closeups and wide shots. Having the ability to select the pattern with the individualized pixel control was great.”
Thematically, a color reference was shown to the team early on that went from a warm amber gradient to cyan blue. “A through line of cyan blue appears in the scenic and color treatment and was part of the color pallette we came up with from the start,” the LD said. The floor-based Rayzors shone in the warm amber and provided a surround for the comedian to work within while the side fixtures projected a linear format of cyan with the overhead Fuze fixtures also in cyan. The upstage boom Rayzors grazed a scenic wall of liner flats while the downstage boom fixtures provided eye candy and beam effect onto the wall and into the crowd.
What actually led Janowitz to the Rayzor 760 however was an inquiry into the refresh rate of some different Elation fixtures that he had planned to use on the show. He explains: “I was looking at potentially bringing in some older Elation fixtures from Christie Lites but we were unsure what the refresh rate was. When I reached out to [Elation Sales & Marketing Director] Eric Loader, he suggested the Rayzor 760 for our more camera sensitive requirements as it has variable LED refresh rate control from 1200 up to 25000.” Made available to him through Chris McMeen at Christie Lites, the Rayzor 760, he says, was camera friendly with no flicker issues. “We were happy with them and they performed really well.”