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Sustainable lighting company caters to Hollywood set

By Sonali Kohli
Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at 12:27PM
SONALI KOHLI / KPCC

Jon Miller, one of the founder of Hive Lighting, explains how plasma bulbs function as a sustainable option in film and television lighting



One company in Downtown is combining two quintessentially LA industries – environmentally friendly technology and Hollywood.

Jon Miller and Robert Rutherford, two of the three partners of Hive Lighting, make sustainable lighting for film and television sets, using plasma bulbs.

Their entrepreneurship was born from necessity: In 2009, Miller was a cinematographer. He needed a high quality, low energy-consuming light for filming because he was constantly on the move between shoots.

Rutherford, Miller’s friend from undergraduate days at Brown University, had recently left the film industry to help his parents open a lighting retrofitting business. Rutherford introduced Miller to plasma lighting -- a smaller, easily chargeable alternative to typical set lighting.

“The light turned on, both figuratively and literally,” Miller said.

While other light sources need a huge source of fuel, such as a diesel generator, these can run off of a battery or plug into an ordinary house socket. But plasma bulbs weren’t very compatible with film and television lighting technology, so few people had ever tried to use them on sets, Miller explained.

“We were surprised at first that nobody had done it,” Rutherford said.

It turned out that creating the technology wasn’t easy – but they, along with a team of experts and engineers, have since invented the parts to work with plasma bulbs.

“If we had known how much work it [was going to be], we probably wouldn’t have done it,” Miller added with a laugh.

They describe their approach as triangular, wanting to maintain the highest quality and light output, while using less power.

Each line of lights is named after a different type of bee (though as they describe it, anything in the “Apoida” superfamily is acceptable) with names like Hornet, Wasp, Killer and Drone.

“All studios want to be able to say they’re green, producers want to save money, and for cinematographers and gaffers, quality is the first priority,” Rutherford said.

He added that a single bulb can last a minimum of 10,000 hours, compared to 150-500 hours for other traditional light sources on film and television sets.

A 2006 study out of UCLA found that the film and television industry accounts for the most emissions of certain pollutants in the Los Angeles metro area, and comes in second for greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to requiring less energy, the lights don't create heat, so sets don't have to be as heavily air conditioned, said cinematographer Jay Hunter, who recently used Hive Lights.

“The priority seems to be to make cinematographers happy and give us a tool we don’t really have,” Hunter said. “That’s’ something I really appreciate.”

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