Shining A Light On...

Gaffers 'R' Us / Pat Sweeney


Shining A Light On...

Gaffers 'R' Us / Pat Sweeney

Fact file:

Age: 51
Born: Glasgow
Training: Lee Lighting
Early career: Motor Mechanic
Lives: West London
Hobbies/passions: Family, football, skiing

Selected filmography (as gaffer, unless otherwise stated):

The Voyage Of Doctor Doolittle (2019)
Holmes And Watson (2018)
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Avengers: Infinity War (gaffer, UK) (2018)
Patient Zero (2018)
The Mummy (2017)
The BFG (gaffer, UK) (2016)
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (gaffer, additional photography) (2015)
Woman In Gold (2015)
The Theory Of Everything (2015)
Good People (rigging gaffer) (2014)
The Christmas Candle (2013)
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Game Of Thrones (TV Series) (2012)
The Woman In Black (2012)
Swinging With The Finkels (2011)
The Decoy Bride (2011)
London Boulevard (rigging gaffer) (2010)
Pirate Radio (gaffer, second unit) (2009)
Easy Virtue (2008)
Angus, Thongs And Perfect Snogging (2008)
Made Of Honor (gaffer, second unit – uncredited) 2008
St. Trinians (2007)
Penelope (2006)
Revolver (2005)
Bride & Prejudice (2004)
Bend It Like Beckham (best boy) (2002)
Gregory's Two Girls (generator operator) (1999)

Mechanical start:

I was a late starter. My first career was as a motor mechanic, which proved a useful background in how the mechanics of a film set works and problem solving. It also instilled a good work ethic in me. I started in lighting when I got a job with Lee Lighting in Glasgow in 1997, maintaining the company’s fleet of lighting trucks and generators.

Moving through the ranks:

I started as a generator operator and progressed to electrician on the floor to best boy to gaffer. The move into film lighting was purely by accident.

Steve Kitchen, who is now my rigging gaffer, offered me my first role as best boy after we worked together on Gregory’s Two Girls, a film made in Glasgow with John de Borman BSC as DP. I was the generator op on that film and we hit it off straight away. After the film was finished Steve asked me to come to London and be the best boy on his next project. We have now worked on over 20 feature films together.

Unusual lighting jobs:

War Machine, with DP Dariusz Wolski ASC, has to be up there. We shot on location in Abu Dhabi for six weeks on a real “boys’ toys” shoot. We had the full co-operation of the UAE military, their airbases and they ferried us around in Black Hawk helicopters like they were taxis! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Woman In Black, shot by Time Maurice-Jones, is up there too – my first horror film and Daniel Radcliffe’s first film after Harry Potter. There was a lot of period lighting with gas and candle light. It was all about mood lighting and creating a sense of tension and suspense.


Digital vs. film:

Digital cameras are simply another tool in the filmmaking arsenal. They can be pretty handy because they take away a lot of the “What could I have done differently?”. With film you have to wait for next day’s lab results to check if the highlights were too strong, or if the image looks good or is properly in focus, but with digital images you can check and tweak things in realtime. Results are immediately clear and easily rectifiable.

A lighting challenge:

Every set and location has its own challenges. One that stands out was on The Theory Of Everything (DP Benoît Delhomme AFC ASC) when we were shooting at Lancaster House, which stood in for Buckingham Palace. There's a scene where Stephen Hawking travels in his wheelchair in profile past the windows to meet the Queen to receive his medal. We needed to control the sunlight, which would have streamed in through the windows, and re-create natural daylight. Due to a weight restriction we couldn’t use genie booms to light through the windows, and a huge scaffold rig was out of the question as it was cost prohibitive. So, we built a black-out tent 120ft long and 17ft high around the whole balcony and rigged rows of Kino Flo Image 80 DMX lighting at the back of the tent and a full grid textile pulled taught across the front of the tent. You’d never think looking at that shot that there was a black out tent behind and it wasn’t natural daylight coming in. We managed to control the sun and get the shot.


Rise of the desk op:

Over the last ten years one trend is that the productions filming in the UK have grown steadily bigger. As a result the lighting packages have grown too. This has led to the need for more control of the numerous lighting rigs now being installed, the use of LED lighting, and the need to route everything back through a lighting control desk. The result is that the role of the desk op is pivotal to the smooth operation of the shoot. Andy Mountain is my desk op – he’s fantastic and completely up-to-date with all the lighting technology that’s around.

Demands of the job:

When you have lit a set you are always thinking about the next challenge, talking to your best boy and rigging gaffer about what’s coming up. Weekends can involve a lot of pre-lighting for the following week. It can take over your life so you have to love what you do.

You’re governed by the demands of the script and schedule - it’s not a 9-to-5 job; there are occasions when you have to shoot nights or split days and sometimes I’m away from home and family for long periods. There have been times when I've missed family holiday’s due to the timing of technical recces, but this is the most important time for me, when I get all the key information I need from the director, DP and designer to formulate a plan.


"When we work together, I find that Pat and I are creatively totally in sync. He anticipates all of our lighting needs and is generally a step ahead of me. If I ask for something, I know it is already in the works. "

- Robert D Yeoman ASC

Managing crews:

It’s a bit like a football team – you need to get the right people in the right positions. There are guys who work well being on the floor, others are great at rigging, and, you mustn’t forget, the guys who keep the power flowing, the genny ops. I like to think I support those who want to progress – like Jonny Franklin, who was one of my floor crew and who I gave the opportunity to gaffer the splinter unit on The Mummy (DP Ben Seresin BSC ASC). Now he’s a gaffer in his own right.


My basic advice to young would-be gaffers is to speak to people the way you would like to be spoken to. Remember that manners cost nothing, that a please and thank you go a long way, and that today’s runners are tomorrow’s DPs, producers and directors. They will all remember those who helped them along the way in their careers.


Cinematographer Robert D Yeoman ASC (Mamma Mia 2) says:

It was an honour and pleasure collaborating with Pat and his crew. When we work together I find that Pat and I are creatively totally in sync. He anticipates all of our lighting needs and is generally a step ahead of me. If I asked for something he would point to one of his guys and I knew it was already in the works. Equally important, I appreciate his keen sense of humour and his total commitment to the film. He would do anything to achieve the best lighting for the shot. I will never forget when he climbed a tree in Croatia to hold a 4x4 diffusion frame over our actress as she walked along a wooded path, to soften the harsh beams of sunlight. I appreciate not only his creative talents, but the fact that we had a great time during the filming of Mamma Mia 2.


Cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones (The Woman In Black, Kick Ass 2) says:

Pat does the film lighting side of his job with really good nature and positivity – that’s a given. But he’s also a lot of fun on-set, and I have never heard him say anything negative. For me it’s the extras he brings to the party. Whereas most gaffers go and have a cup of tea when the set has been lit, Pat is like having another set of eyes. He stands by the monitor with me commenting on art direction, performance, composition, costume, hair and make-up – the whole package. He could be a DP in his own right if he wanted. He could step into my shoes, but he wants to be a gaffer – one who is as interested in the film overall being good, as he is in setting the lights. I find having another set of eyes fantastically useful.

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