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Lighting the Paramount Tree

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Depending on who you talk to, the lighting of the Christmas tree on the Paramount lot has been a tradition for either 15 or 21 years. No matter which number you believe, everyone agrees that this year’s tree lighting was the studio’s biggest ever.For a start, it’s been moved. Previously, the tree was positioned near the commissary; this year, a 40-foot tree presides over the eastern end of the Paseo, the lot’s main east/west drag, and every palm and hedge and fern and fence along the walkway is festooned with holiday lights—over 100,000 of them—including, for the first time, glowing ornaments on the seven trees in Producer’s Park, a charming little square adjacent to the Paseo that could be right out of London, old New York or a modern Ivy League quad (and has probably impersonated all three). And colored lights have joined the white lights that were the only ones used in previous years.Another first this year was the use of wireless DMX to set off the lights on the tree and the fireworks that rose from the Cecil B. DeMille Building. Joshua Thather, who manned the console, says the technology makes the job easier. Instead of running cables to the different circuits (18 on the tree alone, wired to give the impression that the lights are swirling to the top of the tree, culminating in the star at the top), DMX uses radio repeaters, similar to the ones used for cellphones, to trigger the show.As might be expected, a job of this size takes time; a team of some 30 electricians, riggers and pyrotechnicians from the studio’s set lighting department worked ’round the clock from Halloween to minutes before the ceremony making sure that everything would go off as planned. “It’s light work, but it’s backbreaking,” says gaffer Karen Weilacher. The biggest problem was contorting her body so every branch on every tree is hung with lights and the result is pleasing to the eye. Michael DeGrasse, another gaffer, used an eight-foot pole to do a similar job on the palms that line the street.The thousand or so Paramount employees—including new honchos Brad Grey and Gail Berman—and their friends and families that attended the tree-lighting party (including a visit from Santa, plus catered food and eggnog) certainly enjoyed the show. The team, led by Paramount VP Paul Birmingham, walked around the party, pleased with their work. “It’s just like any other show, says gaffer Marc Naples, adding, “you just don’t get to do retakes.” But they know that they’ll be back, trying to top themselves for next year’s 16th or 22nd tree lighting.

Written by Steven Mirkin

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