While it’s easy enough to get all the information you need about ARRI lighting products from your smartphone, the details concerning which product is best for a given project are beyond the scope of any single app. Lighting challenges are pervasive and limit the creativity of filmmakers of all types, meaning that filmmakers need to understand what sort of opportunities a given lighting solution represents. That’s why the insights around how the filmmakers at Life.Church utilized the ARRI Orbiter LED Light are so instructive.
Life.Church’s mission is the driving force behind everything they do. This mission has seen them cultivate a team of 12 full-time filmmakers to create promotional and educational content for a broad spectrum of audiences in all ages and walks of life. They have everything from a “Dora the Explorer” meets “Blue’s Clues” style show for 1-5 year olds to a 3-camera sitcom show for 1-3rd graders to a “Good Mythical Morning” YouTube-style show for 4-6th graders. They also produce a series of variety-vlogs for 6-12th graders
Recent production challenges compelled an assessment of the Life.Church production needs, with a specific focus on how their lighting solutions were impacting their budget and creativity. That assessment resulted in their purchase of ARRI Orbiter LED Lights from Filmtools. The Orbiters have opened up countless opportunities for the entire team, but what has doing so actually meant for their team of filmmakers?
In addition to the promotional and educational content that Life.Church produces on a regular basis, the team also creates several podcasts with experts and leadership celebrities that they record on video. Their monthly “high-gloss” promotional pieces along with local and international celebrity profiles and interviews for online and YouVersion Bible App distribution allow them to connect with audiences in a totally different manner. Their interview and documentary-style pieces along with their internal industrial videos for culture and vision alignment similarly connect with audiences in a manner that is both specific and formidable.
All of these videos are shot on location and/or in one of their 2 in-house studio spaces in Oklahoma City. Decisions around what production gear to purchase for these studios had to be considered in terms of how this equipment could best support the creation of all this content, which compelled an especially lively discussion when it came to lighting.
“We’ve struggled with the cost-to-benefit debate with lighting,” said Jesse Doland, one of the filmmakers at Life.Church. “The cheap stuff is prone to breaking at really inconvenient times, which leads to unsafe and embarrassing patch-work solutions to make the shoot happen. Then there’s also the fact that no matter how we strategize, we always end up having multiple big shoots with overlapping demands happening at the same time. We needed a premium quality product that could solve most, if not all, of our possible needs for lighting.”
Those needs included having both hard and soft features along with high possible output with low power consumption. Their lights had to be non-flicker with white balance adjustment, high color saturation and flexibility. The team also needed to know the light would be large and robust enough to not fail at critical moments but would also be small enough to fit in a sedan if necessary.
The ARRI Orbiter proved to be the high-quality, nearly universal solution to their lighting needs. The broad variety of swappable focus and diffusion options provided the kind of flexible lighting solution that they were specifically looking to acquire in order to meet the needs of the entire filmmaking team.
As an illustration of how these needs are now being met, a recent production saw the lights used during the interview with Darius Bazley, an NBA player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He participated in a shoot for Switch, which is the youth ministry at Life.Church. The Orbiter allowed the filmmakers to do whatever they wanted with lighting for this interview-type shoot. Every color could be projected while the accessories helped them soften the light. The difference the Orbiters can make on shoots like these is just part of how the team can now consider their lighting needs.
Costs and budget are top of mind for any production, and in many cases they’re the primary factor. The cost of the Orbiter is often the first thing that filmmakers focus on, as the lights are by no means cheap. However, such costs need to be considered in the long run for any filmmaker or production.
“One of our highest priorities organization-wide is that we use our resources wisely, so cost benefit analysis is always a big part of every decision we make. In fact, when Filmtools recommended ARRI’s new light to us, we assumed it was going to be too expensive,” said Brett Rostykus from Life.Church. “However, when we looked closely at the numbers, we found that the savings and security of buying ARRI Orbiters far outweighed the alternatives. They are everything we could possibly need in a lighting solution.”
After the purchase of the Orbiters, the Life.Church team found that previous work they had to put into rescheduling shoots or adjusting creative expectations based on what lighting was available almost completely dissipated. The Orbiters have also changed how their producers are able to mitigate logistical challenges related to weather or COVID-19 restrictions. Their budgets are no longer at the mercy of gear rental fees and return dates.
The filmmaking team also found that the availability of the Orbiter meant that they were no longer fighting over lighting. They can now use smaller lights for more nimble shoots, specialty lights for specific scenarios, but can grab an Orbiter for everything else. That “everything else” is approximately 90% of their projects.
Is the ARRI Orbiter a fit for your production?
The Life.Church team is still working through the various opportunities that the Orbiter has opened up. One they’re particularly excited to test out on a day when the weather permits is the limits of the automatic-color-balance feature. Given their location in Oklahoma City, the weather will provide them with a range of options, going from their gorgeous kaleidoscope sunsets to a totally green sky, which happens right before a tornado.
The opportunities that the Orbiter has created are as powerful as they are numerous, but any filmmaker exploring how it could be a fit for their production should consider numerous factors that Life.Church filmmakers worked through. First and foremost is the sheer size and sturdiness of the Orbiter, as the combo stands that the Life.Church team had on hand to support the Orbiters when they first arrived were not sufficient. How the lights are going to be lifted or hanging should also be top of mind, as each filmmaker had to work through what those decisions would mean for their shoot.
Beyond these logistics, the cost of one lighting solution over another is always going to be a major consideration, but filmmakers can’t forget that an expense in today’s budget can create options for tomorrow’s project. Critically, that impact goes beyond the bottom line.
“Anytime we’re evaluating whether a new piece of equipment is worth our investment, we’re not just looking at the hard costs. We also look at the value of our time in pre-pro and the potential for time lost on set,” Doland said. “If we don’t take into consideration the manhours we may spend adjusting something that doesn’t quite fit our needs or the possibility that our equipment may fail at a critical moment, we’re thinking too short-term.”