Q&A with “Euphoria’s” Gaffer Danny Durr
How to get the most out of your lighting system when shooting an award-winning TV show?
Chief Lighting Technician Danny Durr discusses his creative and technical challenges while running the lighting department on 2022 Emmys Winning show for Best Cinematography, “Euphoria”. Danny provides helpful tips on how to get the most out of your lighting setup. How to shoot more and how to adjust lighting settings on the fly with networks and wireless systems.
What were some of your goals and challenges on the show?
We were shooting with Ektachrome, the reversal film stock that we had to pump a lot of light into. It only had four stops latitude. We rated it at 150 ASA. Sometimes you need some top-line ambient, and then we can key from other sources. But if you have no ambient, the film stock is too contrasty.
Cinematographer Marcell Rév had a lot of great ideas that made my role interesting and challenging. The show required a lot of flexibility, so the goal for my team was to create a system where we could easily adjust lighting on the fly. Not every show can afford to put dimmers everywhere and have a wireless network like we did. So, as long as you have the resources to be flexible, anything’s possible. Thanks to my programmer, Tim Van Der Linden, some changes took only 10-15 minutes; it allowed us to win a little time to shoot more or try different angles. We could adapt and shift fast as opposed to re-rigging everything.
Sometimes you came up with a plan, and it worked, and other times, there’s something that didn’t feel right, so we would switch some things around. I wanted to be as efficient as possible, to give DP Marcell Rév and Director Sam Levinson as many looks to choose from and finesse it to the point that we were all happy with it. Generally, we wanted to free up time to shoot more because we only had limited days for the entire production.
How did Cinematographer Marcell Rév describe his vision?
Early in prep, he had ideas about looks that came from inspiration from paintings or pictures or other films and techniques that have been done before. Sometimes, we got a verbal description of what is needed from the shop. It’s our job to translate those into technical terms.
I asked myself: is the scene emotion driven? Is it supposed to be scary? Is it supposed to be abrupt, or is it supposed to dim out slowly? Marcell had his looks for every episode, and we went through them as the story and characters developed. At the show’s beginning, we might do one look, but by the end, we might be doing something entirely different to explain those characters and their feelings. We started using some softer, more subtle lights, then evolved to China balls and harder lighting.
How many days does your department get for pre-production?
Surprisingly not as much as you would think on a show like “Euphoria.” We only had three and a half weeks, which is not much. Scouting took one week. Another week for loading and prepping equipment. That left us a week and a half to get everything ready, and we would scout and re-scout non-stop until the wrap. While the production shot one scene, we were constantly preparing for the next one because we had a lot of locations.
Luckily I have a solid team that can put together the pieces. I don’t have to specify much because we are in constant communication. We use this program called Slack, which is phenomenal. You don’t have a bunch of text threads and the latest info available immediately to everyone. It allowed us to exchange updates more effectively and gave me more freedom to work on the set.
We have around 30 people working in the lighting department at any given time. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not. Could we produce the Euphoria quality with fewer people? Probably not.
Assistant Chief Lighting Technician (aka Best Boy): Frankie Martinez
Lighting Programmer: Tim Van Der Linden
Rigging Gaffer: Joel Ruiz
Rigging Programmer: Jason Lord
Lighting Technicians: Jesse Crusing, Daniel L. Magat, Darryl Cowherd, Rodolfo Martinez, Daryl Didier
What protocol do you use to control your lights?
It’s many switch nodes to convert Ethernet to DMX. I love the ability to use wireless, but I try not to rely on it because hardwire is a little more secure for me. Wireless works great when it’s something fast and quick. When lights are hard to reach, we roll with Cintenna 2s. We use Astera Titan tubes and Litegear LiteMats with built-in CRMX wireless. The problem is other departments have wireless gear too: Teradek, sound gear, playback. There’s only so much information that can travel on those bandwidths. Hardwire is more reliable and a better fit for stage rigs with multiple universes that are used for 1-6 months. Putting a whole stage on wireless would be a little crazy. It’s just such a saturated bandwidth.
Walk us through the lighting plot of the Auditorium set.
We used a 16 x 16 softbox above the audience. Sometimes it was angled to face the audience; other times, we pointed it at the stage. Over the circle stage, we had an 8 x 8 softbox. Since season one, we have used a lot of softboxes because this show has a lot of water. We don’t do a lot of traditional coverage. Sometimes the camera can push in 50 feet and then do a 180. You can’t hide lights in many places. If you have some ambiance, that helps you at least put the base level, and then you can pick it up with other sources to see what you want to show.
We strategically placed moving lights throughout the set to allow us to point them anywhere we needed to add a little accent. It gave us more options because there’s not much time between each set’s build to also rig the sets.
We had complete control over all lights via the console.
What gear did you use to power lights and manage data?
There were a lot of Ratpac products: PDB 12s, a lot of 12x200W dimmers for practicals, 12 x 1.2K and 6 x 2.4K dimmers. I’m a fan of the PDB 12 because you can hook all the LED lights up to it and easily transmit data with the off-on and everything else.
Why did you choose Ratpac Controls products?
Reliability. I remember everyone was impressed when the first Ratpac lunchbox showed up. Now there are more products beyond power and dimming. We know that we can rely on it. If there’s an issue, we can contact Ratpac, and they’ll take care of it.
The founder Craig Brink is a 728 IATSE member. So, there’s a lot of loyalty to people in this business that came from our line of work. You want to support these people. You want to help them. They were in it like you are. I think that’s a big part of it. People in this business are constantly figuring out ways to do things better for longevity, ease of use, and reliability.
Photo credit: Danny Durr (@durrman), courtesy of Rodolfo “Rodo” Martinez