Valerie Osier | Features Editor
May 29, 2014
Rigging the lighting for movies like “Titanic,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Forrest Gump” and working with Oscar-winning director James Cameron was normal for Jack McLean, who is now an instructor at Riverside City College.
McLean started teaching at RCC seven years ago when his production company hired interns from RCC and shot film on campus.
Bud Tedesco, director of the Film, Television and Video department, devised a class for lighting at RCC because he knew of all the experience McLean had in the movie industry.
According to McLean, RCC is the first community college to have a film lighting class.
“I love teaching,” McLean said. “To see these people that I can help push forward even a foot toward what they want to do, I’m stoked.”
McLean got into the movie lighting industry completely by accident. At an Easter dinner at his first wife’s house, he happened to be sitting across from the second-in-charge of set lighting at Paramount Pictures and attorneys for Paramount and MGM Studios.
“The guy on my left said, ‘we’re going to be hiring in July if you guys are interested,’” McLean said. “So I went down and signed up for a part-time job in lighting.”
That part-time job that lead McLean to his lifelong career happened to be for set lighting on the movie “Grease.”
At the time, McLean was going to school at UC Irvine doing pre-veterinarian medicine and was waiting to see if he got into UC Davis.
“At the very beginning, I just took a part-time job, I didn’t care what it was,” McLean said. “My third day in the business was 25 and a half hours long. They broke for meals every six hours. We were working in the gymnasium scene for ‘Grease.’ ”
McLean moved up in the movie business through dedication, loyalty, hard work and “learning his bosses job.” He has worked under Tom Stern, who is currently the Director of Photography for Clint Eastwood.
“I learned from some of the best in the business,” McLean said. “I am not one of the best in the business, but my education came from some of the greatest lighting and camera people. They’re icons today.”
Learning from the best translated well into McLean’s teaching at RCC.
“I taught everyday of my life in the business,” he said. “I was a leader, I was one of the bosses always, and I had more brand new people under my wings because people got to know that I could take new people and help them learn what they needed to learn, so I think I was a teacher from the beginning. So, once Bud gave me this challenge, I was hooked.”
One of the more popular movies McLean worked on was “Pretty in Pink.” According to McLean, it was one of the calmer movie sets he worked on, making it a fun experience.
“It was really a lot of fun, I got to meet some of those young kids when they were still young and still didn’t know that they were magnificent stars yet,” McLean said.
While working on Titanic, McLean said that director James Cameron pulled out all the stops for the production, no matter the costs or budget. McLean even refers to himself and the production crew jokingly as “spoiled brats.”
On Titanic, he was “rigging best boy,” which is the person who sets up the lights for the set.
“Everyday was something new,” McLean said. “We built more stuff, did more innovation. We did lightning under water. Now lightning is high voltage and very expensive stuff, and we have to make it go under water. It’s not meant to do that. Those were the kind of things we got to do, it was very innovative. Invent something and it got put into the movie.”
“When you see the list at the end, the credits that go on for, like, 45 minutes. I’m someplace in the middle,” McLean joked. McLean teaches the “Introduction to Lighting Design” class at RCC and keeps it laid back and interesting, with a genuine concern for his students’ education. One of the ways he does this is showing his students movies to teach them how to duplicate different lighting techniques.
“One thing that I want to teach you is: understand that you’re no different than the guys behind the screen,” McLean said during his class. “You’re just at the beginning of the arc.”