ETC’s fos/4 Panel and Fresnel fixtures a perfect fit for WarnerMedia upfronts

Date Posted: 2/23/2022

Upfronts are the biggest television event you’ve never heard of. Held in spring, they allow networks to promote their upcoming new fall lineups and convince companies to buy advertising. Each event is generally held live, with splashy guest stars and big production elements designed to impress. COVID shutdowns disrupted them last year, but WarnerMedia was determined to make a big comeback in 2021. Lighting Designer Seth Bernstein used ETC’s fos/4 Panels and fos/4 Fresnels to ensure the lighting popped for a technically difficult “oner” shot to start the upfront video. 

“A ‘oner’ is a classic Hollywood shot that consists of one long take,” says Bernstein. “Examples include 1917, Birdman, the restaurant scene from Goodfellas – and many bits on Saturday Night Live, which is what led me to the project.” Bernstein worked for years as the film unit lighting designer for SNL, designing for shots in a tight time frame with very few commitments to any creative decisions from the writers.

“I’ve learned, basically through four years of SNL, that when you’re doing a last-minute piece and a lot of scenery is not nailed to the floor, you need to design with options in mind,” says Bernstein. “Because even if a change comes in at the last minute, the shot still has to be perfect.” ETC’s fos/4 fixtures fit perfectly into this concept. 

The core of Bernstein’s design for a oner is a grid of space lights (“as many large soft boxes as budget, space, and rigging allow”), then a perimeter of moving lights with framing shutters. If there’s space, Bernstein will thread any specials in between those layers. “Don’t ever – even if tempted to do something special – don’t ever sacrifice the general in service to the specific. Because if scenery isn’t nailed down, tomorrow it can be gone – or added – and your special is useless. The goal is flexibility. You never ever ever know what will happen.” 

ETC’s fos/4 Panels and fos/4 Fresnels were perfect for this thanks to their superior color rendering, easy adaptability, large number of accessories, and high quality of light.

“The main reason we looked at fos/4, was because of the addition of deep red emitters,” says Bernstein. This deep red was key to his color needs both on camera and off.  Deep red is in a corner of the visible spectrum that’s difficult to reach but brings warmth and nuance to all skin tones and fabrics. This is true for colored light, but also for a wide range of whites.

It also looked good for corporate branding. “Because CNN is a WarnerMedia brand, the Jolly Rancher-toned red you get out of other panel fixtures was not going to cut it,” says Bernstein. The fact this deep red was available on the fos/4 Fresnel was also key, literally. “Lights seen on camera would do a nice white for key or fill color, then as soon as shot moved, the fixtures would switch to effects colors – red for CNN, or something more jazzy for Adult Swim as eye candy. It had to be fos/4, and they completely delivered.”

Bernstein also appreciated the physical flexibility of the fos/4 Panel with all of its accessories. “The fos/4 Panels were great because they have all the accessories you need to control them, which don’t exist for all soft lights. The system works in harmony,” says Bernstein. “Some of the fos/4 Panels had barn doors, some had crates, and we had to change them frequently. The well-designed accessory holder was great.” 

With all of this, the star of the show turned out to be the fos/4 Fresnel. “The fos/4 Fresnel is first in its class,” enthuses Bernstein. “I love Fresnels. I loved feeling the energy and consistency of a Fresnel again, in a way that changed colors and was reliable. The fos/4 Fresnel ended up being the go-to light on that set. They were functional enough to deliver but also looked good enough to be seen on camera. We were dappling them everywhere.” 

For one talking head shot, plexiglass set elements were reflecting light in ways that made it impossible to use a larger soft light at eye level for a critical cosmetic fill. One of the electricians was able to get a fos/4 Fresnel into position quickly and use it as a “chin light.” Bernstein admits this was a little unconventional, “but it completely worked and the electricians had an easy time getting it up and running thanks to its low power requirements and internal ballast. And when a light gets you out of a jam, you appreciate that light.” 

Bernstein also appreciated the extra effort 4Wall put in to get him the more than 100 fos/4 fixtures for the shoot – “lots of love for them” – as well as his crew from IATSE 728, Soren West, Trevor Burk, and the entire creative team. “It’s so great when producers take the risk and make a piece happen and everyone works together. This production made me very optimistic, watching everyone come together and get back to work.”