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In Motion Pictures and Television, Technology Advancements Drive Training Demands

Electrical safety in the motion picture and television industry has come a long way since movie sets switched from dc power to ac power. Alan Rowe, Safety and Training Director for the Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians IATSE Local 728, coordinates the organization’s training geared specifically to the craft of lighting for motion pictures and television.

As a founding member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Crafts Advancement Program, Rowe is helping develop a safety and training program for the entire international organization. He is also a subject matter expert for the Entertainment Technician Certification Program’s (ETCP) Entertainment Electrician Certification exam.

Rowe’s expertise developed over many years in the entertainment lighting industry. He started in 1982 as a theatrical lighting designer. After earning a Master of Fine Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in 1994, he went to work in the movie industry as a lighting designer, gaffer, programmer, rigging gaffer, and production manager before being appointed as Safety and Training Director for Local 728.

How The Grinch changed lighting technology

One of his stints as console programmer found him working on Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which was a turning point for lighting technology in the industry. “Before The Grinch we had used dimming technology and lighting consoles to control conventional lighting, but they had always been basically glorified light switches,” says Rowe.

On The Grinch, for the first time, there were two advanced consoles: One for automated lighting and one that controlled more than 1,000 individual channels of dimming. That breakthrough paved the way for more complex lighting and distribution systems for later motion pictures. “On Lemony Snicket’s [A Series of Unfortunate Events] we had more than 6,500 dimmers controlled by a Wholehog 3 lighting console. In a very real sense, the work that our members do on a daily basis has changed the way movies are made. Without this technology and the expertise of our rigging crews (the crews that put the systems together), the director’s vision for Lemony Snicket’s and many other movies would not be possible,” says Rowe.

The goals: safety and technology expertise

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Alan Rowe and Roger Lattin help one of the union’s members, Jonathan Epstein, during a lighting training class at the IATSE local building. They have many Fluke products to choose from, but the Fluke 233 Digital Multimeter is a staple in their training classes.


The training provided by Local 728 focuses on safety and building technology expertise among its members. The two goals are intertwined as new technologies create new electrical challenges that must be safely navigated. Last year Local 728 hosted over 60 training events for their members with almost 25 percent of the membership attending these nonmandatory classes.

The training opportunities run the gamut, from Electricity 101 to Underwater Lighting. Since most of the trainers are working professionals they tend to use the same Fluke tools in their classes that they use on the production set.

“We use the Fluke 434 Power Quality Analyzer a lot for training,” Rowe says. “I use it in my Electricity 101 class to illustrate concepts in both ac and dc power. In our Electrical Power Lab, we use it to see the effects that our electronic loads have on power quality. I also use it as a scope in our ‘Dimmer’ classes to demonstrate how electronic dimmers chop up the power in order to dim a light in both forward phase and reverse phase control dimmers.”

Rowe uses a Fluke 87V Digital Multimeter, Fluke 233 Remote Display Multimeter, and a Fluke 381 Remote Display True RMS AC/DC Clamp Meter with iFlex™ for both troubleshooting in the field and class demonstrations. “The ability to remove the display and pass it around the class is fantastic.”

“I feel very comfortable with Fluke because it has a reputation as a very good quality meter and they provide excellent resources through their Education Partnership Program,” says Rowe. “When people ask me what kind of meter they should get, I always stress that, beyond looking for the certification mark and making sure that it is right for their application, they really need to make sure it’s got a good reputation. That’s why I’ve always gravitated toward Fluke.”

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