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AMAIntroduction: “What is a Light on a Stick?”

I started out in the production business working as a producer in traditional cel animation and broadcast motion design. Imitating classic Hannah-Barbara and Warner Brothers characters and styles and recontextualizing them in a neo-midcentury-modern design framework was the bread and butter of the studio I worked at from the late 90s to the late 2000s. I love animation, the lore and history and technique of it, from Gertie the Dinosaur to What’s Opera Doc? To Yellow Submarine. And I love and am knowledgeable about old newspaper comics, comic books, modern and post-modern graphic design, and commercial illustration, so I was definitely in my element.

When I started working at Mixed Bag Media I wasn’t that familiar with the kind of digital, documentary-style filmmaking that is our bread and butter. Oh sure, I had hired crews for shoots (or hired producers who hired crews), and had been on many sets over the years, but I had never really gotten my hands dirty. That’s changed now, to say the least. Over the last several years I’ve found myself, while on shoots, in the most interesting and varied places, getting to know and hang out with the most interesting and varied people. It’s been a great adventure and a great education.

Now, to get to the question that is the title of this essay: “What is a Light on a Stick?” One of the most important things I’ve learned about filmmaking is that light is the life-blood of filmmaking. Without light there is nothing. And where that light goes is just as important. Can you see the person’s foot, but not their face? No good! Can’t use it! But – can you see their face but nothing else but darkness? Hey, at least you can see their face – that’s usable!

Enter the light on a stick. If you are “running and gunning” – on the move with a fast and unpredictable subject, with the just a camera and a microphone, then the best option to have some light – some light to keep on their face – is to put a little LED light on a lightweight stand and carry that around while you stay behind the guy with the camera and shine that light with all you might onto the face of the person being filmed. To have, in other words, a light on a stick.

I’ve held the light on a stick on many occasions, and have been witness to the holding of a light on a stick on many others. And I just love the phrase, “light on a stick.” And it occurred to me that being a light on a stick is to always be at the center of the action, but at the same time behind the camera, slightly removed…observing.

The series “Light on a Stick” will be a Mixed Bag Media production diary, a look at what happened BTS (behind the scenes) on the many and varied and unpredictable places that our crew ends up filming.

-Jim Threlkeld