BrikLok lights on “The Magic Flute”

Gaffer Uwe Greiner turns to ARRI Rental’s exclusive modular BrikLok LED panels for versatile and cost-effective lighting on director Florian Sigl’s musical fantasy film.

Mar. 30, 2023

In “The Magic Flute,” 17-year-old Londoner Tim Walker takes up a place at the Mozart boarding school in Austria, a world-renowned center of musical excellence. Struggling to adapt to school life, he stumbles upon a supernatural portal to the fantastical world of Mozart’s famous opera, “The Magic Flute.” Directed by Florian Sigl and shot by cinematographer Peter Matjasko, the film was produced in Germany and supplied with lighting equipment by ARRI Rental. Gaffer Uwe Greiner was tasked with creating beautiful, cinematic lighting on a tight budget and schedule. He speaks here about how ARRI Rental’s BrikLok LED fixtures, which can be used individually or combined in almost limitless ways, helped him in that task.  

What was your journey to becoming a gaffer?

I’ve been a gaffer since 2006, but my career started 30 years ago at a film distribution company, where I quickly realized that the appeal of working on a film set was what I loved about this industry. My first experience on a feature film set was “After Five in the Forest Primeval” and the team spirit was very special. Actually, I ended up in the lighting department more by accident and after a few trips to other departments, I was always happy to come back.

How closely did you work with DP Peter Matjasko on the lighting for “The Magic Flute”?

I hadn't worked with Peter before, but since he had created mood boards for every scene, it was pretty easy to get a feel for his ideas on the look. My role was to find practical ways to implement those ideas. I had a lot of freedom in the planning stages with regard to the technical and financial possibilities.

However, this was a relatively low-budget production, so we were extremely limited with our time in prep. I had a total of six days for planning, one-and-a-half days rigging the large stage, one test day, and one pre-light day. The crew consisted of me, a best boy, a board operator, two electricians, and an assistant. That wasn’t much for a studio of 2,500 square meters, but it was made feasible by preliminary planning and good cooperation with Peter. I created lighting plans for the sound stages to give him an idea of the resources at his disposal, so he could express himself as creatively as possible within the limited framework.

What studio were you at?

All the work on sound stages was done at Bavaria Film Studios. Our large stage was Studio 9, which is the second largest studio on site and where we shot the most. Then we used Studio 2 for the quarters of a character in the film called Monostatos, where we had a lot of fun creating various lighting effects and quick mood changes. We also had Studio 8 for smaller interior sets.

The first step in Studio 9, even before set construction began, was to rig a 40 by 35-metre ceiling sail and 120 LED panels. Rigging gaffer and technical director Andreas Steffenhagen from Bavaria Studios needed only three days to install this because we made effective use of the excellent stage infrastructure. We could only afford the LED panels by being very careful with electricity usage during the pre-construction phase. And instead of using classical film fabrics for the sail, we bought a spinnaker sail off the internet on Black Friday!

What specific sets and scenes was Studio 9 used for?

It was used for the marketplace set, and I do find big day exterior setups on stage really fascinating. They’re always particularly challenging when you are very limited in materials and manpower. Outdoor scenes in the studio are just so exciting.

The marketplace set was then recycled for the Queen of the Night's castle. The biggest challenge for that one was making the fire appear blue. This fire color could not be produced with special effects and so we made all the lights this color. It was a gel battle, even if we were able to keep it within limits with our full-spectrum lights. Interestingly, our Astera AX10 compared to gelled 2 kWs hit the output. Full spectrum rocks!

You’re a fan of LED lighting?

I've been an LED man from the very beginning and have been LED fixtures for at least 11 years. But I have always mixed them with other light sources. Luckily, it has become easier and easier to match those over the years. On “The Magic Flute” we primarily used a 100 kW SoftSun with masses of LEDs in the large sets, but also classic lights like the ARRIMAX 18/12 and ARRI M90. The ARRI Rental BrikLoks have a brilliant white, so using them in the mix was a real no-brainer.

In general, I prefer to use LED lights with the highest possible range in the CCT. I have to admit that I mix many manufacturers because different lamp concepts have different advantages. I worked a lot with BrikLoks on “The Magic Flute” because their versatility enabled me to respond to a wide variety of requirements.

You were involved in the development of the BrikLoks. How did this come about?

I have a longstanding relationship with ARRI Rental, and we spoke about the requirements for large studio setups. Kai Dargusch (Head of Lighting Rental EU) showed me the BrikLok prototype early on and I was enthusiastic about its versatility and output. The idea of using BrikLoks to replace large traditional fixtures was exciting, and I used the prototypes for a big night exterior scene on a movie called “Confessions of Felix Krull.” We had to gel the prototypes to get to 8000 Kelvin, so I campaigned for an expansion of the CCT range. I was very happy that this was implemented, and that I was able to use the first series BrikLoks on “The Magic Flute.”

Can you describe how you used the BrikLoks on this film?

I guess we must have been the first production in the world to use these series BrikLoks. We had around 90 in action at peak times, always trying to maximize versatility in order to keep our lighting package as slim as possible. The BrikLoks ended up being our go-to weapon and it was fascinating to see how quickly my electricians got used to constantly reconfiguring them. We used them in a variety of modes: as a 4 kW replacement in an S360 Yoke; as a strip light made up of 30 units; directly or through a sail; as a small row of four units for window beams, or of eight for backlight; and even individually as an up light. From my point of view, setups using eight or more of the modular units are the best area of application, and we tended to use the Advanced CCT+ mode.

Of course, we were aware that we were taking a certain risk with this brand-new fixture, but I had confidence that with ARRI Rental as my partner I would have the maximum support should anything go wrong. And we never needed it!

Did you shoot on location, as well as on stages? Which do you prefer?

It's tough to say which I prefer, as each has its appeal and its difficulties. Working on a stage appeals to me because you lose as little energy as possible dealing with the conditions on site. On the other hand, you get more of those legendary happy accidents at a real location than you do on a stage. They often make it very lively.

We did also shoot on location for this film, and that can bring its own challenges. For example, the scene where a giant serpent appears was shot at a location that was around 5 km away from the lighting truck.

What other challenges did you face?

The biggest challenge was to reconcile high international movie standards with tight financial resources. It was a real tightrope act, because I admired the courage of the producers and wanted to support them to the best of my ability, but of course also wanted to do justice to the requirements of the image. Tight planning and close collaboration with the DP were crucial.

What advice would you give to young electricians starting out in the business?

The only advice I can give my young colleagues is not to listen too much to us old hands, since our job profile has changed so much! Joking aside, it is immensely important today to remain technologically up to date and to do a lot more homework about fixtures, light control, and networks than we had to in the past. But one thing hasn't changed and remains important: listening to what creative people want and supporting them in realizing their vision.