Max Menace Helps Light Divas for DoP Alan Jacobsen

DoP Alan Jacobsen’s mantra is, “There’s a way to do this that will work.” The problem-
solver loves the “tinker-toys aspect of filmmaking”. So when he was brought on to shoot
a segment of VH1 Divas: Unsilent Night, holiday special, starring some of music’s
greatest performers, he welcomed the challenge. The scene featured four musical
legends sitting at a roundtable in an elegant lounge situated in Brooklyn New York’s 90-
year-old, newly renovated Kings Theatre. The room was 16’ wide by 32’ long, the ceiling
14’ tall, the dresses big, and the timing short. His task was to portray Patty LaBelle,
Chaka Khan, and Vanessa Williams giving “baby diva” Teyana Taylor “The Diva
Doctrine”. He would only get the stars for 30 minutes, sight unseen, and at the mercy of
the stage show schedule happening downstairs.

No retakes: It had to be right
With no time for retakes or relights, he had to get it right. That meant lighting the whole
room to account for the unexpected. The practical set included an antique candelabra
overhead that could not be removed or touched. The gowned performers would gather
around a lavishly decorated table amid a sea of rosy-hued flowers and tea candles.

“That shoot was a real challenge.” Says Jacobsen. “Because it was an historic room I
couldn’t build an overhead grid, or otherwise rig from above. The three dollying cameras
would see most of the room so handheld and goal-posting wouldn’t work. I figured I
would have to arm-out something, but with those iconic divas, it had to be safe. I
remembered the Matthews Max Menace. Although I had never used it, it seemed like
just the right tool to do this job and do it safely. It offered a super solid rigging point that
could reach in from behind camera. Given the Max’s impressive weight capacity I figured
I could hang multiple lightweight fixtures along the arm, almost like a linear grid down the
middle of the room. The grips were excited to try it and we were all amazed at how
simple it was to use.”

Self contained—simple to use
Built in the ’30s the building has no elevator to the second floor. My awesome crew
(headed by Jeff Holman, Rome Peterson, and Joe Venezuela) carried the Max Menace
upstairs by hand, grateful that it is self-contained, all in one piece.

Set up, Max’s base stood a good 12’ from the table and the arm extended overhead, out
of the way—ready to rig. Jacobsen’s crew appreciated Max’s handcrank. “We rigged
Max down low and then cranked it up in the air in a very controlled operation. Once up, it
didn’t bob around. We would crank the arm up, note changes, bring it back down, make
adjustments and send it back up.”

The lighting had to be flattering which meant a nice big soft source. Jacobsen nixed the
potential shadows of the practical glass chandelier by turning it off and bringing in a prop
that would hang below a large softbox above the table.

Max Held All the Lighting

“We mounted everything off the one Max Menace Arm! Starting with a 5’ Octaplus 57
High Heat soft box. Inside I put four of my little bare bulb 1K Mole Richardson Molette
fixtures. I had plenty of output to be able to dim them down for a nice warm candlelight
tone, and also subtly control individual levels on each of the ladies as soon as they sat
down. I like using tungsten on faces—it keeps skin tones rich and glowing, and Divas
gotta love that!”

Drop-down Attachment for 17’ Reach
“Since the Max’s boom is square vs. round, we were also able to rig overslung on TOP
of the arm, without worrying about it twisting under a slightly offset load. This allowed us
to add two lightweight 200W NSP Par cans above the softbox (added glow onto the
shelves of candles in the background), as well as a 1K Chimera to extend the soft
keylight towards the door for entrances. Finally, we used Max’s Drop Down Attachment
to reach out to the full 17.5 feet and a third NSP Par can lit the white tablecloth for
flattering bounce fill for our lovely ladies. That’s SIX fixtures, all from one stand, safely
and elegantly!”

Did Jacobsen like the results? “In situations like this it’s all about problem solving, and
being as prepared as possible. Thanks to fast a great crew, resourceful thinking and
great tools like the Max Menace Arm we pulled it off safely, without a snag. And, the
Divas were happy”

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