A freelance lighting assistant takes their cue from the director about the tone of the scene and then works to create the appropriate themes by rigging artificial lights to fit the vision. The assistant can have varying degrees of autonomy when it comes to the amount of light and which objects or people to highlight, depending on what the director needs. Regardless of how much decision making powers the assistant has, they should have their own theories and standards about their work.
What to look for
Where does their experience lie?
You’re looking a freelance lighting assistant who has a lot of experience in the type of films you’re producing, meaning you won’t necessarily want to go with someone who lit musicals if you’re making a noir film.
Is the candidate versatile?
If the person has demonstrated sufficient versatility across genres and types of machines used, they will likely be able to jump into the position with little or no direction.
Does the candidate understand the themes of the film?
Ensure the candidate understands whether or not you want something dark and dramatic or light and funny. If they’re too extreme on either end of the spectrum, it may be difficult to work with them.
Questions to ask a potential candidate
What's your approach to lighting?
The candidate should be able to answer with their thought process before they even start working with the equipment, so you get an idea of the level of their commitment and ingenuity.
What are your favorite electric lights to work with?
This question gives you an idea of how experienced the candidate is with different types of lights, what they feel comfortable with and which lights they find most useful on set for actors, directors and assistants.
What types of effects have you done before?
Lighting is just one component of the process, with effects being an another vital way to bring drama, anger or action to a given scene. The more the person has done with effects, the more you may be able to get helpful ideas from them on set.
What is the culture of previous sets you've been on?
Lighting assistants often work crazy hours or are on the road for days, and they should be used to the demands by now (or at least understand that’s what they’re in for.) They should also be comfortable being asked to do anything necessary to get the shot perfect — whether that’s by using an aerial lift or by having to lift and load heavy equipment several times a day.
Are you comfortable in unknown settings?
Everyone is going to say they are, just because that’s what’s expected of them. However, if you probe a little further, you should be able to get an idea of the truth behind the answer. The freelance lighting assistant, along with everyone else, may be constantly thrown in new situations and settings, so having a handle on the process is crucial.