Darran Webb: A Passion for Story
Darran Webb is one of the most accomplished lighting designers in Hollywood. Especially well known for his work in reality TV, he has lit such shows as American Idol, The X Factor, America’s Got Talent and Last Comic Standing. Ever inventive and resourceful, Webb has a reputation for remaining cool under pressure and always ready with solutions to the daunting challenges that arrive in his world on a daily, and even an hourly basis. A big fan of new lighting technology, Webb was among the first to use LEDs for primary lighting in television production. One of his current favorite tools is Practilite 602 from Kinotehnik, the world’s first bi-color, variable beam, smartphone-controlled LED light.
Recently, Darran Webb spoke with Manios Digital & Film about his career and choice of gear.
Manios Digital & Film: How did you get your start?
Darran Webb: By accident! I was hired to build electronic props for Batman and Robin. I built the Freeze gun. Through that I ended up working in the electronics shop at ABC with a guy who was the gaffer on the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys for 30 years. He became my mentor. One thing led to another and here I am, an LD.
MD&F: What is the biggest challenge you face as a lighting designer?
DW: Determining what the producer actually wants. The lighting designer is typically the last to know, but they first to get looked at when something goes wrong.
MD&F: What do you look for in lighting gear?
DW: I’m really into new technology. LED lights have given us more freedom and versatility than we’ve ever had, especially compared with conventional style lighting where you have to change gels. It’s a labor issue. Plus, gels degrade over time due to heat. With LED fixtures—at least the better ones—I can set a look and come back two weeks later and it’s still the same.
MD&F: What are some of the challenges you face in reality TV?
DW: Having enough in your back pocket to pull off the impossible. If you do a scout and they tell you, you’ll be in this small room, you’ll probably end up on the roof next door at noon. If they say they want you to do an outdoor shoot, it will be a night shoot in a ballroom. Reality television is the most unreal experience you can have. In scripted television, you know what you’re doing. With reality TV, it’s whatever happens.
MD&F: So, things change fast?
DW: Yes, but that’s one of the interesting things about the job. When I arrive on the set in the morning, the first thing I think is, “What exciting challenge is today going to throw at me today?” When you build your rigs, you plan for the unexpected. If you walk into a room and think, “This will never happen,” it will.
MD&F: How does Practilite help you meet those challenges?
DW: In a couple of ways. It’s Bluetooth, so you can change color temp without a complicated Wi-Fi system. On a reality show, you don’t always have time to set up a network. With Practilite, you can grab your phone and go.
I just used the Practilite on Marriage Boot Camp. It was a three month run in a mansion where we shoot 24/7. I had the whole house wired except for two rooms that we hardly used. But when they were used, I could walk outside the room and change the level seamlessly. No one knew I was doing it. That’s great flexibility! There is no need to stop the scene because I’ve got to touch a light. It speeds up production. Others things may slow it down, but as long as it’s not lighting, it’s all good by me.
MD&F: What do DPs think of Practilite?
DW: When I take out my phone and say I’m going to adjust a light, everyone immediately wants to have a look. Some of the practical jokers have downloaded the app and realized that they can actually get into the light. I’ve had to slap a few hands. A few cameramen are actually interested in acquiring Practilite units for their own personal kits. And that’s another great thing about it: it’s small. I took some on the road with me the other week in my suitcase. They took up less room than my toiletries bag.
MD&F: Is portability a big part of your choice of gear?
DW: It’s not an overriding factor, but any light that is multi-purpose, that can serve two or three roles, is a godsend, especially when you are working run and gun. You jump over here. You do a set up over there. You hop into a van to go someplace else for an interview. You don’t have time to pack conventional lighting. Plus, you may be going to a location where you don’t know the environment and you don’t know the power, but you still have to get the lighting done. The great thing about LED fixtures is that if you can get one circuit, you’re fine. You can run the whole show.
MD&F: What tips do you have for a young lighting designer hoping to follow in your footsteps?
DW: It all comes down to experience. If you are starting out in the business, I’d say, don’t be afraid to try. It’s only a mistake if you make it three times. Sometimes, you don’t know what is going to work until you do it. Until then, experiment!
About Manios Digital & Film
A division of Ste-Man, Inc. and led by President Steven Manios, Jr., Manios Digital & Film has been bringing the world’s highest quality products to professional filmmakers, videographers and ENG crews in the United States since 1992. The company has longstanding relationships with leading manufacturers around the globe and an extensive dealer network spanning the United States. It is an authorized distributor for Cartoni, Vocas and Kinotehnik. By working closely with its customers, and by listening to and understanding their needs, Manios Digital & Film has become a trusted partner to film and video professionals worldwide.
Manios Digital & Film 10663 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601; 818.760.8290.
Steve Manios Jr
Manios Digital & Film
10663 Burbank Blvd.
CA 91601 NORTH HOLLYWOOD