The Rolling Stones Gather No Moss… and Neither Should You!
Hey, this is not the easiest business to get into and then to stay in.
I’ve seen lots of guys and gals come and go… because it’s a tough job physically and mentally. You have to be prepared for anything. You have to keep rolling forward, no matter what.
Truth is that there are a million reasons to seek an easier job. (I bet a few come to mind as you read these words. I’ll even bet you’ve thought about quitting after one of those particularly long days on set when you think you can’t keep going, right?)
However if you love the production life, everything else seems boring by comparison. It’s likely you’ll stay in as long as you can, especially after a few really remarkable things happen to you on set. Or you meet some interesting celebrities.
Maybe it’s just me, but I realized long ago one of the things that really excites me about our business is that you never know what’s coming around the next bend. And I was proven right yet again recently.
It was early October and I was sitting in my office. Nothing particularly exciting was happening; I wasn’t working on anything special; it was just business as usual.
Then it all changed…
The phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. In this business you let no call go unanswered, even if you don’t recognize who is calling. Maybe I should say ESPECIALLY when you don’t recognize the number, because answering can make the magic happen.
In this case, the person on the other end of the line was a woman with a very pleasant voice.
“Hi, Burnie, my name is Cheryl,” she said. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I work for The Rolling Stones, we have a need for some lighting. I wanted to check your availability.”
Stunned, I couldn’t get the next words out of my mouth fast enough, but I remained cool, calm and collected. After all, I didn’t want to let her hear just how excited I really was. “Um, yes. I am available whenever you need me.”
In this business a phone call… especially one like this… can make you feel like you just won the lottery. At least that’s how I was feeling at that moment.
This wasn’t the first time I’d worked with The Stones.
A little more than a year earlier I got to light interviews for a documentary celebrating the band’s anniversary of their Sticky Fingers album release. In fact, it was just prior to their last USA tour!
This second opportunity would never have come to me if I hadn’t put in the time and effort of meeting all the people working on that first shoot. As a word to the wise, it’s something you need to do, too. In fact, on every shoot, try to meet everyone you’re working with and always leave a positive impression.
This strategy always pays off for me.
Typically I’ll get the call-back when the client has another shoot. Even if I don’t get the call-back from the client, someone on the production team will remember me, which means sooner or later I will get a call from them… even if they have moved to a new production company.
It’s actually something I’ve been doing since my very first days on set as the guy who carried apple boxes and assisted in any way I could on set.
If I hadn’t have bothered to shake hands and keep a positive attitude in those early years… if I hadn’t continued the practice on every shoot… I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have done as well as I’m doing today.
Yeah, yeah… but what about The Stones?
Well, the first time I worked for The Stones I was blown away by the world-class professionalism I witnessed in the members of their entire organization. Many of them have been with the band for more than 20 years, which shows in how well everything in their operation runs. At least the parts I was privy to see.
What they needed this second time around was for me to light their rehearsal hall, a fairly large room of about 60’x30′ with all the walls and ceilings covered with black sound-acoustic material. The only lighting in the room were two room-length single tube fluorescent fixtures. Not very pretty, but functional.
The band was rehearsing for the Desert Trip and Las Vegas concerts; they wanted to record a song in the room. However, their tour lighting director told them the look was a no-go and they’d need to hire someone who could properly light the room pronto. That’s when my phone rang.
I quickly shuffled a couple of things around on my calendar and the next afternoon I was at the rehearsal studio meeting with James the DP and Patrick the Lighting Director. At that moment The Stones were pounding it out in the studio. After some discussion of what was needed, we went to see the space.
The security around The Stones is ever present. You don’t recognize it directly… it is not apparent. Rather, it is very well polished. The rehearsal space is also a place that a lot of people don’t see especially when The Stones are in it. That’s not just because of security, but because it is also a creative space in which the members of the band need to be able to step away from the business of what they do so they can be the creatives that they truly are. That means we had to wait until the band was done with their song before being allowed to enter the room to look at the space that needed to be lit.
I can tell you, I have been looking at the faces of the members of The Stones in photographs, and on TV and album covers since I was 12 years old. Plus, I had met them all individually during their interviews in 2015. However, nothing prepared me to have all four of these legendary men looking directly at me, wondering who the hell I was and what I was doing in their private rehearsal space.
Explanations came quickly, reintroductions were made and everyone got back to their regularly scheduled programs.
One of the interesting things, considering who these people are, had to do with costs. They had been very concerned about how much it was going to cost of getting the room lit correctly. Plus, they didn’t want me to move anything (cameras or furnishings) when setting up my lights.
One of the challenges was in giving them the look they wanted. They didn’t want it to look lit. In the end, it would be a straightforward setup and the band would look great.
It wasn’t going to be easy to sleep that night…
The next morning I arrived early and set up the studio using two Kino Flo Vista Beam 600s for Key/Fill set about 50 feet apart, both on full banks facing the band.
For my back edges, I used two Image 85s stationed at the back corners (as close to the corners as I could… because I wasn’t allowed to move anything). I used 29 Kelvin tubes in all fixtures, which the LD liked a lot.
Then I did some testing on light levels with the DP. Pretty soon we were done and I left the room. All we needed now were the members of the band. They arrived and started their practice runs. My crew and I were right outside the studio all day listening to them, which meant I got to listen to about six hours of really cool music and the banter of the band members.
The day done, my team wrapped up and made the ride back to the OC through L.A. traffic. (That part is just something that comes with the territory.)
One of the coolest things is that the next day as I was clearing the truck I kept humming Stones’ songs. The music wasn’t the cool part; it’s when I realized that they were in my head because I listened to them live all day prior.
Then it hit me… the gig I just did was PRICELESS!
In fact, that’s the type of gig I’d do for free, which is how I know I’m in the right business… a business I could never think of leaving behind.