Corky is a seven-time Emmy Award winner with over 30 years in the television industry doing camera and lighting work. Corky runs True Grip & Lighting, a Tennessee-based equipment and lighting company for entertainment, television, film, and live sporting events. Corky and his team have people and/or equipment in over 500 televised sporting events annually, from NASCAR races to NFL games and the Super Bowl. From his early days as a cameraman to his second career as a lighting director/business owner, Corky has proven that hard work pays off.
I started working in television right out of high school—got a job at a local television station and just ran the studio camera. I [then] started shooting news and it developed from there. After a few years, I left that station and went freelance and started working sports, for ESPN mostly—football games and basketball games, then NASCAR races, which is what I did for a long part of my camera career.
So you got your start as a cameraman?
Yes, I did, but I always had an interest in lighting and I was always the lighting guy on the crew. As I started doing more and more lighting, I eventually started my own company and ESPN would rent the lights from me—that’s really how I got into lighting. And it just grew from there to where I eventually, in 2000, quit doing camera and mainly focused on lighting.
Your company is called True Grip & Lighting, which means you also do grip work?
Yes, we do. At the start, we were mostly doing television and film [lighting]. We still do quite a bit of that, and we’ve expanded into entertainment [event] lighting. We still do the grip and lighting side for television, [which] has always kind of been my passion.
ESPN is a big client of ours and we do a lot of their studio shows when they go out on the road. Last year, we did all of their Super Bowl coverage shows from New Orleans. This year, we’re only doing one show for the Super Bowl, it’s called First Take. We’re also involved heavily in NASCAR—I just returned from Daytona for NASCAR testing, we did FOX Shows down there, and I was the lighting director on those shows. And then for the Daytona 500 and the rest of the racing season, we’ll do [mostly equipment rental]. I’ve [also] expanded into golf carts—we own 150 golf carts. So for the television networks, like for NASCAR, we’ll send 3 or 4 tractor-trailers full of golf carts to each NASCAR race all over the country.
You’re really a full-service business.
Yes, when I started off, I was more focused in the beginning on just doing the things like camera and then lighting. [Then] I saw these needs for things like golf carts and other things that we can do—about 10 years ago, I bought another company that [rented] sideline camera carts, which they use in football games. (A sideline camera cart is used in football games for the cameraman to get a view of the game; the cameraman rides on the cart, which drives up and down the sideline and has a hydraulic lift for that top-shot of the field.) The first year I had that [sideline camera cart] company, we did about 60 football games all across the country, from college to NFL. 10 years later, we’re doing 360 football games with our sideline camera carts. We’re in 22 cities and work with every major television network doing football games, both college and NFL.
In your long career, you’ve done studio shows and have now expanded into sports. Is lighting for studio shows different from lighting for sporting events because of the unpredictable nature of sports?
It is. A lot of sports are usually outside—for most events that we do, at least—and we’ll do what’s called the “desk show,” which is your “Sports Center”-type show, and though they’re usually outside, it’s typically the same as studio lighting. But the difference is that in a studio, you’re in a controlled environment, [whereas] in a sports lighting situation, you’re normally outside, so you’re dealing with the sun and other elements. So every time the sun changes, you’re making changes on your lighting to adapt to that. And it’s live television, so there’s no second takes [or] tape delay.
It’s very precise and much more difficult than a studio lighting show in a lot of ways. If you make a decision to make a change, you have to be spot on and if you’re not, it’s going to show up, because it’s live television, so you’re making changes during commercial breaks; if you make a change and it’s wrong, you’re wrong for a whole segment until the next commercial break. If you’re in this business and you’re going to do it live, you have to be spot on.
What is the difference between a gaffer and a grip?
A gaffer on a job is the electrician—they’ll work with lights and running power, and that type of thing. A grip is the workforce of the shoot—a grip is setting stands, setting flags, hauling equipment, and all of that. Normally you would start off as a grip and work your way up from that position. [But I wouldn’t say a grip is an entry-level position, because a great grip is wonderful to have on the shoot and usually a very talented individual in rigging. A very good grip is worth their weight in gold and can be creative—that’s the go-to person for rigging anything on set.] And on some jobs, especially in sports, there’s someone called a utility person, who does most of the grunt work.