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Martin Professional Shines a Light on Sports and Culture with HBO’s “Game Theory With Bomani Jones”


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Lighting Designer Mike Baldassari deploys Martin VDO Sceptron and MAC Encore Performance fixtures to create a fresh on-camera look for HBO’s new sports talk series 

To simultaneously ensure professional key lighting while blending seamlessly with the set design, HBO’s Game Theory With Bomani Jones recently utilized Martin VDO Sceptron and MAC Encore Performance lighting fixtures deployed by renowned lighting designer Mike Baldassari.

Produced by HBO, Game Theory with Bomani Jones features the Emmy-winning journalist sharing his satirical takes on the intersection of sports and culture through topical monologues, sketches and deep dives. Season One of Game Theory With Bomani Jones is available to stream on HBO Max.

To ensure a sleek and fresh lighting design for the new series, television producer Kathy Welsh hired award-winning lighting designer Mike Baldassari, who utilized Martin lighting fixtures such as the VDO Sceptron and MAC Encore Performance for their versatility, reliability and user-friendliness. MAC Encore Performance fixtures provided all the key light and additional gobo textures, while Sceptron played a key onscreen role in the production.

“The scenic designer wanted an industrial warehouse vibe, including columns with fluorescent lights,” said Baldassari. “You can’t just put fluorescent tubes on television—controlling them without flickering is next to impossible. I knew about the Martin Sceptron and thought it would be the perfect fixture for the design, especially with the wide variety of optical accessories available. The Martin VDO Sceptron fixtures with the tube diffuser play the role of fluorescent lights on camera, and the way the fabrication team seamlessly integrated them into the column design, you can’t tell that this is a rental product off the shelf. It also gave me an opportunity to change the colors of the ‘fluorescent’ fixtures to those of the show’s title graphic for the intro sequence, which is a subtle touch that goes a long way to establishing a unique look on camera.”

The VDO Sceptron is a linear outdoor-rated LED video fixture for the rental market which offers a wide variety of looks for lighting and video professionals. The VDO Sceptron is designed for use with the Martin P3 System Controller family for easy configuration, mapping and setup of video content, but it’s also compatible with DMX for strictly lighting setups. This DMX compatibility enabled Baldassari and the production team to utilize the VDO Sceptron as an on-camera design element that worked as part of the lighting design without the complications of setting up a video server system.

“I’m doing a lot of comedy specials these days, and I’ve always got my eyes on the lookout for products that I can bring in and use in unique ways on camera,” said Baldassari. “The beauty of the Sceptron is that not only can it be used as a video element, you can also use it as a lighting element. We didn’t have to rent a video server and then integrate them with the lighting system. We just used them like any other DMX fixture. But it’s definitely cool that you can do both with them. The entire Sceptron line offers really nice production design elements that look great on camera and are easy to use on set.”

While the Sceptron fixtures provided by Christie Lites lent the new television show a fresh design on camera, Baldassari also utilized an array of 24 Martin MAC Encore Performance fixtures for key light, as well as gobo textures, specials and backdrops. The MAC Encore Performance fixture offers unparalleled warm tungsten emulation that truly challenges the output quality of a real incandescent light source. The moving head fixture’s versatility also helped Baldassari achieve all the lighting angles required without changing the studio’s lighting rig, despite the fact that Game Theory With Bomani Jones shoots its set 90-degrees off of the normal studio plot.

“We were sharing a studio with three other productions, including Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” said Baldassari. “That was the challenge—the studio wasn’t 100% ours. We had to integrate our lighting design into three other light plots. What really saved us was having all these MAC Encore Performance fixtures there already. That helped us tremendously. I had previously put an entire tour out with Martin Encore Performance fixtures so I was well aware of their features and smooth field. They’re great lights. In my opinion, it’s the first LED fixture on the market that could compete with an arc source. On a tour or in a studio situation like this, they save a ton of money that would normally be spent replacing lamps.”

Baldassari noted the importance of rental shops like Christie Lites carrying Martin fixtures, pointing out the benefits of being able to audition the effect that different fixtures can have on a television production in the early phases of a pilot season without shelling out the money upfront for an entire rig that may or may not work optimally with the camera setup.

“It’s a brand new show—you never really know how it’s going to work until you get in there with the set, the cameras and the fixtures together,” said Baldassari, “Having these fixtures on the rental shop shelves is great, because then you can audition ideas without having the producers spend tens of thousands of dollars. I would definitely recommend the VDO Sceptron again if the producers want to buy all of the fixtures instead of renting for Season Two. Martin already won the audition. We’re not going to hunt for something else. Everybody involved loved this product—it’s an extraordinary fixture and it’s the right unit for the job.”

Learn more about Mike Baldassari’s lighting work at his website.

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