Back when Star Trek was still being broadcast by NBC, Gene Roddenberry created the first official Star Trek fan club: Star Trek Interstellar. For $3.50 a year, one would get a membership card, bumper stickers, and, importantly, six issues of Inside Star Trek–a fan-made but nevertheless offically sanctioned newsletter published each month. Inside Star Trek was edited by Ms. Ruth Berman; it was published starting with Issue Number 1 in July of 1968 just as the third and final season of Star Trek was getting undeway, up through Issue Number 12 in June of 1969. The newsletter stopped getting generated and the Star Trek Interstellar fan club was closed down when Star Trek was cancelled by NBC (although the club and the newsletter were resumed seven years later in 1976 with Issue Number 13 when pre-production work began on a new Star Trek motion picture–but that’s another story).
Inside Star Trek was generally eight type-written pages per issue–filled with all kinds of behind-the-scenes information and tidbits. They had the virtue of being written contemporaenously with Star Trek‘s actual production, and they were written with the approval of–and often with the cooperation and even input from–the Star Trek cast, crew, and production folks. Once in a while, you can snag some of these old issues on ebay when they come up for auction.
As sort of a “public service,” I’m reproducing the content of one of the Inside Star Trek‘s many interesting articles. Although they are about 45 years old now, they nevertheless often provide a fascinating look at what went into creating a weekly network television series in general–and Star Trek in particular. (A scan of the article is great–but since it’s a .jpg, it’s not really easily serachable.)
The article “Beaming Up” was written by Star Trek‘s gaffer (the series’ lead electrician and lighting technician), Mr. George H. Merhoff. Mr. Merhoff is credited for 77 of the 80 hours’ worth of The Original Series output. (He’s not credited for the two pilot episodes “The Cage” or “Where No Man Has Gone Before”–or, of course, “The Menagerie, Part 2.) Mr. Merhoff’s article originally appeared in Inside Star Trek Issue Number 12–the last issue in the original publication series–back in June of 1969. Much is made about how Star Trek has such a signature style when it comes to lighting; Mr. Merhoff contributed much to the characteristic lighting techniques employed in Star Trek.
As Star Trek’s gaffer, my job is to coordinate the efforts of the production electricians in lighting the sets and cast in accordance with the requirements of the camerman.
Our electrical crew consists of a basic seven men–five operators, my assistant who is traditionally known as the “best boy,” and myself. As the size of the sets increases, from the Bridge through Engineering and onto the surface of a strange planet, the crews increase in size.
The strange planet set occupies an entire stage 150 feet long, 110 feet wide, and 36 feet high. The sky which changes color with the current planet is 30 feet high and 225 feet long. It is the whitest white Matt Jefferies, the art director could find. The color is achieved by illuminating it with lamps equipped with colored filters available in about 90 hues.
Lamps…this term is applied to anything that makes light and may be a small 100 watt Spot or a 225 ampere Brute. Let’s see, 225 amperes is equivalent to 27,000 watts. At this point I can sense the envy of many home photographers who have added just one more light to achieve the necessary level for the Christmas pictures and found themselves in darkness until the faulted fuse of tripped circuit breaker was located. It’s happended to me.
If the 27,000 watt Brute strikes a nerve, with its current demand equal to about 34,000 average eight-cup coffee pots, the current consumed on the “Star Trek” planet set would go a long way to supplyng a small city. To color the sky requires a combination of units totalling a demand of 156,000 watts. The surface of the planet and the actors are then lit with any and all of some 150 “lamps” arranged on catwalks 30 feet above the stage floor or on rolling platforms. When the planet is fully lit, over a million watts of power is [sic] required.
The nomenclature of all studio equipment seems to amuse the visitors. For someone to seriously call for a “cuckolorous” [sic] [recte cucoloris], have it supplied just as seriously and positioned with great care, has provoked many an outsider’s giggle. But just as seriously, what else could you call a translucent, irregularly perforated piece of material, available in various sizes and shapes. It is a piece of grip equipment universally used to convert the bleak light on a wall to a pleasing pattern of light and shadow. Actually, this is a term for a wide variety of such things…that as they are used successfully, earn their own names.
The reason for the names, strange as though they may be, is clarity of communication and saving time. You will agreee that it is more reasonable and understandable to call for a “Brute” rather than a “Type 450, 225 ampere Molarc”–or a “Junior” instead of a “Type 412 Solar Spot.” During our working day, we will make from 25 to 35 lighting set-ups. It is a noisy procedure and expedited by the short, amusing equipment names. No one knows where all the names originated. Some of them are associated with an actor or actress, as the now-outmoded Lupe was originally used as a low fill and eyelight for Lupe Velez. A unit in current use is universally known as an O.B. [sic] [recte Obie]. It was originally developed to be used with [actess] Merle Oberon.
Babies, Juniors, Seniors, Soft-eyed 10K’s, 150’s Brutes–all are somewhat descriptive of the size and light output of the unit. They are arrenged in the order of increasing light output. From above you can probably guess correctly that a Midgey [sic] [recte Midget] is smaller than a Baby, but larger than a Dinky Inky [sic] [recte Dinky-Inkie]. Sometimes a name applied to a particular lamp assures the owner of the name a permanent memorial in the Industry.
Generally, lamps or lighting units can be classed as optical–spot lights, or specular–purely reflective. Among the latter class is a once widely-used “fill” unit containing two 1000-watt pear-shaped lamps. It is wider than it is high–and is called a “Broad” for obvious reasons. There was a litle confusion associated with the Broads until a neat little unit containing one 1000-watt lamp was introduced to the Industry. Now, calling for a Big Broad or a Little Broad is much too wasteful of words and too unimaginative to be tolerated. An electrician at Warner Brothers solved the problem very quickly and with the clear logic of Spock. Working on the same show was a small, attractive hairdresser named Betty Lou. Betty Lou was small, the slang term for a woman, broad–and the confusion was resolved. If you call for a Broad, be prepared for a 2000-watt Broad–but if you want its smaller 1000-watt counterpart, call for a Betty Lou.
There was at one time a lamp designated as a “Mae West;” however it is no longer used, so there is no reason to explain how it acquired its name. Snoots, Barndoors, Trapezes, Bazookas, Babies, Juniors, Seniors, 10KW–these are the tools with which I work–and with gimmicks.
How can anyone explain a gimmick–it can be almost anything that is not standard production lighting equipment. It must be made to do a special job for which there is no available unit. So when confronted with the problem of getting a green light of at least 400 foot-candles on Doc McCoy’s face during open heart surgery on Spock’s father, the light to come from the surgical enclosure housing the patient and allowed no more than two and one-half inches of depth–we “gimmicked” two small housings of aluminum, each containing a 500-watt quartz lamp–and McCoy turned properly green.
Then there was the problem of the antimatter chanber in the Engineering section. No one was quite certain really what should happen–but it was agreed that energy and heat were certainly associated–that it should be illuminated with warm light. Colored gelatin is invaluable in providing light of a desired hue, but it is perishable with sustained burning. The matter-antimatter compartment is not easily gotten to with standard units. So we gimmicked it with just under 100 red and amber dichroic spot lamps–and had only to vary the ratios of red to amber to get just the effect of matter-antimatter fusion.
Over twenty-five years’ experience observing and participating in the solutions of production lighting problems ease the day-to-day strain of lighting for “Star Trek,” but it is no base for complacency. Just when the comfortable feeling of “there are no more surprises” begins, some Star Treker will come up with a situation for which there must be a different answer–possibly another gimmick.
As always, questions, comments, feedback, and, of course, “shares,” “likes,” or “+1s” are always appreciated. So, are you getting any educational or entertainment value from this post? Send us a couple of bucks! (See the links below to donate.)