Brian Reilly, lighting managing director
Brian set up Production Services Ireland (PSI) in 1996 to meet the growing needs of the industry. Now Northern Ireland’s leading technical production company, they provide lighting for events such as Tennents Vital, Giro D’Italia and Riverdance production in China.
I live in Bangor, Northern Ireland. The business is based in Belfast, but we also have a branch in Dublin.
What job do you do?
How did you get into lighting?
I went to a boys' school but my sister was an Irish dancer. Our whole family got involved as stage crew. That was my first experience of stage lighting.
There’s no clear education path for our industry. There are lighting courses but the best training is on the job.
I went on to study computers at University but also did amateur dramatics. Through that I was introduced to the Arts Council and the Ulster Youth Dance Company.
I helped out as a technician but found it difficult to hire the equipment they needed. Back then it wasn’t easy to find in Northern Ireland.
That’s when I decided to set up Production Services Ireland, to fill that gap. That was in 1996 and things have gone very well since then. We’re not the cheapest, but that’s because we’ll only use the proper kit. We don’t cut corners.
What qualifications do you have?
There’s no clear education path for our industry so that’s difficult to answer. There are lighting courses, but really the best training you can get is on the job.
If you’re creative you can get into lighting design. I’m more of a technician. In our industry, technical people are more like scientists. They may not have the best communications skills, but they love performing arts.
You have to as the hours are very long and anti-social. Even though European Directives have reduced our hours, it’s still typical to do three 19-hour days in a row. That’s the nature of the entertainments business. It can feel like you’ve done a full week of work in two days.
What do you do at work?
I used to be much more hands-on, and it’s important I stay up-to-date with technical developments. But these days I’m the one writing tenders, dealing with clients and managing the logistics of our business.
I have very good relationships with the manufacturers of the equipment we use and that really helps at the diagnostics level. I’m a jack-of-all-trades.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The variety. We could be working on a small school or church production one day and a major international stadium event the next. That keeps it exciting.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
For me, one of my biggest challenges has been building a team that our clients can trust. I have that now but it’s been hard to find staff with the right attitude.
I’m the one writing tenders, dealing with clients, managing the logistics of our business.
That’s made more difficult because there is no obvious pathway into the industry. At school level, teachers don’t know that there’s an opportunity here for the right person.
Time scales are a daily challenge too. You simple cannot be late. If a show is scheduled for eight o’clock, it has to happen at eight o’clock – there are no excuses. That can lead to pretty high stress levels as you’re working with critical time frames all the time.
How can I get into lighting?
First you need to be interested. You need to love it. Approach a lighting company and ask if they’ll show you around.
Find a way to get some work experience. You might have to work for nothing. I learned my trade in amateur dramatics and made sure people needed me.
3 tips for working in lighting
1. Get out there and find the opportunities. They won’t come to you.
2. Look for opportunities to use and experience the tools of the trade. Make yourself invaluable.
3. Embrace your passion for the arts. It’s what will carry you through.