LD Matthew Brewer Tours Newsboys with the Follow-Me Remote Follow-Spot System

For the Christian musical act, Newsboys, Lighting Designer Matthew Brewer chose to purchase the Follow-Me system to control a range of moving lights for his follow-spot requirements.

At the end of 2017, the Christian musical act, Newsboys, announced their United tour would kick off in the Spring of 2018, featuring many hits of the band’s three-decade career and would run throughout the coming summer. Eight years with the band as Lighting Designer and Production Manager, Matthew Brewer handles 100 shows a year, rain or shine, for the Newsboys.

“We carry all of our own equipment; we don’t tap into anything anywhere we go,” explains Brewer. “We carry about 90 moving lights, an LED wall, rigging, etc. In fact, we have two options; we have a rigging system and we have a complete ground support system as well. With what we have on the road, as long as you provide us a stage, we have everything else, all in only two trucks.”

Newsboys plays a variety of venues – churches, convention centers, arenas, theaters, and others – and one of the problems that Brewer and his team were running into was getting good quality follow-spots. “Also, some of the positions for the follow-spots in some venues weren’t ideal for good lighting,” says Brewer. “They just weren’t bright enough and getting them, all matched was a challenge. I started looking at the ways different manufacturers were controlling automated lights to use as follow-spots. After much digging, I came across the Follow-Me system and got a demonstration.”

After getting a demonstration on the Follow-Me system, Brewer was convinced and he promptly bought it from BNY Production, who is a rental company supporting the tour. He finds “the support from BNY to be great. We’ve worked with them throughout the years. They’re our LED video supplier and a lot of times I go to them for both video- and lighting-related needs. They’ve definitely been both a great supplier and friend to us.”

Ryan “Fig” Bonfiglio, Project Manager with BNY Production, notes, “Newsboys was the first large-scale touring BNY was involved with and we have continued improving together over the years. We currently have over 250 LED panels traveling with them on tour along with of course the Follow-Me system that they purchased from us.”

Brewer comments, “I have heard that when some people look at this product they think it’s going to be very time consuming. I don’t find that. Like any system, initially getting it set up the way you want it, for how you want to have control, takes a little bit of time. But day-to-day, the great thing about this system is that we can get the spotlights homed-in and looking great in no time, no matter where we have to place the lights. The variety of venue we play changes every day, but in about 20-minutes of measurement and calibration we’re ready to run a show with Follow-Me.” Matt Scott is the touring crew member in charge of the calibration and operation of the Follow-Me system on the Newsboys’ United tour. “I take a few stage and lighting distance measurements, input them into Follow-Me, adjust for the rotation of the spots, and we are ready to go,” Scott says.

For his follow-spots for the tour, Brewer has chosen CHAUVET’s RH1 Hybrids, which he also uses as his key lighting so everything for key lighting completely matches across the entire stage. By going with the Follow-Me system, Brewer could address some of the issues that had been bothering him about traditional follow-spots in various venues. “A real benefit for us was knowing that the colors completely match between the spotlights and were all the same intensity as the key lights; everybody onstage looks even across the board and that’s been one of the big advantages for us.”

Brewer is happy to not have to worry about controlling color temperatures and intensities, “which is one of the biggest things,” he says. “Having to match your color temperature with intensity changes. That’s the other problem you have so many times with a traditional follow-spot. You’re running a show and you’re telling spots to turn down, turn up, trying to keep it looking even with the gels that you’re using and balancing color with the shifting intensities of the units. Now, with the Follow-Me system, it’s just all in your hands. You can also have gobos in your follow-spots if you choose since you are selecting the fixture. You can use whatever fixture you want to use that works for your design, which just makes things even easier.”

Another of the key benefits for Brewer was the consistency that his follow-spot work now had by deploying the Follow-Me system. “One of the things we found was that the show looked better because we had the same operators running the spots; knowing where band members were going at certain key moments,” says the designer. “The system allows you to create presets for certain times — ‘downstage center’, ‘drums’, etc.” Brewer splits control with his follow-spots ops, but handles color, intensity and states from the console. “I give the operators complete pan and tilt on those four lights. We have also given iris control to the software to tighten and widen as band members come down a catwalk we use,” he says. “We can have perfect blackouts and we can now strobe the follow-spots and the key lighting together.”

Brewer believes that the investment in the Follow-Me system was worth it. “The program isn’t cheap; it’s definitely an investment,” he comments. “That’s one of the things that we considered when we originally looked at acquiring the system, but it also pays for itself. Where we really found the savings was when you’re averaging in the cost of a spotlight operator per day. When you get two to four spot ops per day, next thing you know you’ve paid for the system in a single tour. Also, you’re having a better show, you have your crew guys out there running it, so you know it’s just going to be more precise. That was one of the big advantages for us — we knew every day it was going to be very consistent.”

Bonfiglio touches on the benefits of the Follow-Me system as seen by BNY Productions. “We carry the Follow-Me system as both a rental product and a sales product,” he says. “We find it is a great option for shows especially when the client is looking for something cost-efficient. Our clients have all been very happy with the system. The cost benefit, not only on the gear side but the labor side, has definitely led people to use the system. We find that in the touring market, it is important for our clients, like Newsboys, to have a consistent result in lighting every night. It can take time for an untrained spot operator to get in the groove of following a subject, but with Follow-Me it takes the guess work out of keeping up with the artists’ movements and on those calls for quick endings, blackouts, and mood changes.”

Brewer, who started with an early version of Follow-Me software, was recently upgraded when an updated version was released. “The support from Follow-Me has been good and the new software is leaps and bounds ahead of the early version that I had,” he says. “It runs better and is simpler in what you see; the control you have over interface buttons and where things are at has improved; the update has definitely beefed up the product quite a bit.”

Brewer runs his shows off MA Lighting’s MA2onPC and appreciates that Follow-Me is Apple MAC-based. He does see an advantage that the Follow-Me system has over other follow-spotting programs—how much control he can have over his entire rig. “If I wanted to get technical and take the time to get into it, I could control every light in my lighting rig from one MacBook Pro running Follow-Me. I have the ability to run rear follow-spots, and any unique setup of lighting control you can think of. The downfall with some of the other systems that we had looked at is that they require one computer per one light. That was definitely a little bit of a turn off because if I’m going to setup four computers at some point I might as well just carry around four conventional follow-spots and get four operators to run them.”

Brewer concludes saying, “the Follow Me system gives you the power back as lighting designer to control the show in every aspect that you want to. Now you can focus more on the whole show and making sure it’s the best you can make it.”

 Products Used:

  • Follow-Me, Remote Follow Spot Control System