The Law & Order of Lighting with MPI's Jeremy Schroeder
This week the CEO and Founder of Motion Picture Institute , Doug Schulze, had a chance to sit down and interview Jeremy Schroeder. Jeremy has worked at MPI for 9 years as the Equipment Manager and an Instructor. Previously he had worked on the hit TV show, 'Law & Order' from 1997-2006, (10 seasons), as the Key Grip Operator.
Check out Jeremy's interview below:
Q: Hey Jeremy Schroeder, can you tell us a bit about the class you are teaching here at MPI this semester?
A: A common entry-level job on a film set is working for the Grip and Electric departments. This part of the crew handles the lighting, rigging, and camera support needs of the shoot. This week’s workshop introduces an array of equipment that would be typically encountered working for these departments.
Q: You have an extensive professional background with a big name show we all recognize. Tell us a bit about that.
A: I do! I spent ten years of my career working in the grip department of the TV show “Law & Order” in New York. For the majority of that time I held the position of “Best Boy Grip” and in that capacity I was responsible for managing department logistics, crew and equipment needs, and other organizational requirements. On a more personal note it was one of the most satisfying times of my career because I was involved in making a show that was loved by millions of fans. It felt nice working on something that you knew was entertaining tons of people!
Q: Discuss the importance of lighting for film and television. More specifically, why is lighting so important to the medium?
A: Everything you see on a movie or TV screen is a recording of reflected light off the sets and actors in the picture. How you use that light has a direct affect on the beauty, mood, depth, character, and etc. etc. etc. of each scene in the show. We try to create lighting that is appropriate to whatever the feel of the film needs to be. If we do our job right the lighting becomes part of the fabric of the film and blends into the world we are trying to create.
Q: With cameras being able to record images in low-level lighting situations, do you think filmmakers are becoming lazy when it comes to lighting their films today?
A: That’s a good question. Regardless of how well a camera works in low light you still need to create images that have depth and show the shapes, lines, and actions that tell the story. I think the difference is that now we can do much more with much less equipment - but we still have to use that “less” equipment in a creative way. So I don’t think it’s lazy to use less equipment. I would say it’s lazy if you're not using it well.
Q: What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers?
A: 1) Write, shoot, edit as much as possible. 2) Watch films of course, but more importantly study everything else – art, literature, culture, mathematics, history, etc. Remember we don’t make films about films – we make films about everything else. 3) Never underestimate how other skills you’ve learned in your life can and will contribute to a career in the film industry. A film crew requires a group of people with a wide-range of talents from artists to engineers to heavy machine operators to accountants to underwater basket weavers. You’ll be surprised at what your life skills will bring to the table!
Q: How has the art & craft of lighting changed since your days on the set of Law & Order?
A: The art of lighting I don’t think has changed much at all. We still try to create different qualities of light such as soft light, use colors to achieve the same kind of moods, etc. What’s changed are the technical ways we can create those lighting effects. LED lighting has become a huge part of our tool bag these days. LED fixtures are much easier to work with, (no more burned fingers!), and more energy efficient. They tend to be more adaptable, “all in one”, instruments with capabilities and functions that we could only dream of 20 years ago.
Q: Tell us about Grip Truck Week at MPI.
A: Everybody works! We do many fun set ups such as car rigs and dolly shots, but they are labor intensive. I want everyone to leave with an appreciation for how much work goes into making shots for motion pictures.
Q: How does your class help prepare your students for the real world?
A: Obviously I’m always trying to demonstrate more ideas of how to create and control lighting for film – these are universal concepts of cinematography regardless of what equipment you are using. However, another goal is that everyone walks away with an idea of what to expect later on when they get hired on a crew.
Q: There's a growing wave of DIY, (Do It Yourself), Filmmakers out there. What advice do you have for those who are "self training" ?
A: Well, naturally there is a ton to be learned by doing it yourself with the “trial and error” method. And occasionally you may get lucky and produce something great. However, to make a living as a filmmaker you need to be able to reliably produce everyday, no matter what job on the crew you do, and you can’t rely on luck. To be able to produce like that you need a wide base of knowledge and experience that’s difficult to acquire working on your own.
Q: Why would you recommend MPI to someone interested in filmmaking?
A: MPI offers a wide variety of experiences that will help you bring your interests into focus and help build the baseline of knowledge required to work in our industry.