Jonas Elmqvist, BB&S
Most Swedish Filmworkers know Jonas Elmqvist from thirty years back as one of the founders of the lighting rental house Dagsljus Inc in 1989, and some are aware that nowadays Jonas is part of the small but dedicated team that run BB&S Inc. There are also many of us who have worked on shoots where Jonas was the Gaffer and Dagsljus Inc provided the lighting kit, and we all acknowledge and respect his consummate skill at lighting movie sets, but just the same we’re probably literally ”in the dark” when it comes to the question: ”exactly who is Jonas Elmqvist?”
So, during the BSC Expo in February of 2019, I decided it was time to find out, and therefore I scooted over to the BB&S booth where I knew I was sure to find him. BB&S run a pretty substantial booth here at the Expo, together with a select group of other companies with a similar profile, and it is a real crowdpleaser, attracting a lot of visitors. The fact that there’s a bar at the center of the BB&S booth, where free beer is yours for the asking, may have something to do with it, but I’d hate to pass judgment on that before all the facts are in.
Jonas is pretty much constantly beleaguered, it seems everybody wants to talk with him all the time, but finally there’s a lull in the activity, and so Jonas and I have a chance to sit down, grab a couple of beers and get down to business.
”I pretty much grew up in the theater” Jonas explains, ”my mother, Elena Elmqvist, was a set designer and scenic painter and worked in the theater with the ”Hasse & Tage” vaudeville revue stuff, so I started working with live theater at a fairly early age. After a few years of that, for me, taking the step from the theater to film sets wasn’t exactly a revolutionary decision”.
Now, you readers may wonder ”who are Hasse & Tage”? Well, this isn’t easily explained to an international audience, but ”Hasse & Tage” was a comedy team in Sweden that was phenomenally successful and beloved during the 1960s all the way up through the 1980s. They set up many revues like Gula Hund, etc, each one constantly attracting huge crowds, and also made a dozen feature films, some of which are among the most widely screened Swedish films of all time!
”So I started to work in the movie industry in Sweden in 1985”, Jonas remembers, ”but since my background was the theater anyway, after a few years I felt it was time for a change and decided I had to do something completely different, and so I decided to drive a tow truck for a while!”
Of course this was a radical change of pace, but Jonas also found out that driving a tow truck ”was actually a fantastic school for working in the cinema”, as he puts it. ”You have to make the right decision immediately, you arrive at the site of an accident with your tow truck and you are the first calm person that these poor people see since the accident. So you waste zero time on anything but the most essential, lives are at stake and you want everyone around you to feel safe and secure”.
”And I’ve translated a lot of that philosophy to my film work, I work as a Gaffer and I arrive on set and the actress looks like she’s on the verge of tears and I compliment her on how beautiful she looks today. I try to keep a happy set, that’s something I learned both through my background in the theater as well as from driving a tow truck”.
”Also, just when Thomas Jern and I were getting ready to launch our company Dagsljus Inc in 1989, there was this big American production company called The Company that were in Stockholm to shoot a big Roxette music video: Spending My Time, and it was the first motion-control-shoot in Scandinavia. So for this shoot they’d brought in a heavyweight English Gaffer, whom Thomas and I assisted on the project, and he would go ”bring me two C-stands!” and we’d be like ”a C-stand, what’s that?”
But it was a great learning experience and this gaffer pretty much adopted us, so Thomas and I started working in London on commercials a lot, for big time D.P.s like Alex Thompson, BSC. In those days budgets were higher for commercials, you could buy a light and recoup the investment on just one shoot! In the late eighties producing commercials could be, like: ”If we don’t spend the budget on this commercial, we get less money on the next one -so let’s blow up a couple of cars!”
”Having worked with Dagsljus Inc ’forever’ though, almost 30 years, people only knew me as ”Jonas Dagsljus” -nobody even knew my last name! So I felt, once again, I had to do something different. This must have been around 2015, something: my D.P. friends, like Linus Sandgren, ASC FSF, had moved to Los Angeles, so I went to L.A. as well and worked there as a gaffer”.
”In Los Angeles I met an old friend of mine who had started building lightpanels, so I worked with him and together we made lights which we sold through the Internet. I also ran into ”The Freefly Guys”, the first guys starting to use handheld gimbals, so we helped them setting up a worldwide retail dealer network to sell their gimbal, and that was a lot of fun and a good experience.
”It was during that time that I ran into the founder of BB&S, Peter Plesner, and we realized we had almost the same background: his parents were opera singers, so he grew up at the Opera house in Copenhagen. He’s actually a pretty good singer too, which you can hear sometimes after a couple of glasses of wine! Around the time we met, Peter was creating lighting products for Desisti, Martin, and other big companies, and he was also involved in a lighting control system called ”Grandma” which is used a lot now on Rock concerts and the like.
”Peter and I immediately got along famously, he is technically highly skilled and just like myself, he wants to create quality products. To me it’s very important to work with the right people if you’re ’touring with a traveling circus’ the way that we are. It’s got to be people you trust and can have fun with. It’s not all about the money.
So we opened up an office in Los Angeles, and pretty soon we launched a company in Sweden as well.
”I’ve been doing this full-time for about three years now”, Jonas adds, ”and it has it’s ups and downs, because when I was a gaffer on big productions you flew everywhere but there were always people handling a lot of it behind the scenes: booking flights, hotels, getting the gear in and out, etc. Now that we’re a small company we have to handle it all by ourselves and it’s a lot sometimes, just the logistics of it”.
”But I feel we’re releasing really good equipment now, our ’Area 48’ Bi-colour lamp weighs in at 3 kgs and is RGB-equipped so you can come up with any color you like, plus you can dim it down and it will still hold it’s color very nicely.
Also our remote phosphor LED-strips, which we can manufacture up to eight feet in length, they lend themselves very well to creating overhead light or putting them behind cycloramas. But my personal favourite is the Compact Beam Light, which is a 40 watt-unit. I’ve started to build clusters of these and I’d really like to make one built up of 16 of these units, that should produce just under 2 million lux at a distance of one meter”, Jonas smiles.
”I was a buyer for close to 30 years, now I’m at the other end of the table and I’m a salesman instead”, Jonas asserts. ”Having worked on both big and small productions, I feel I know what kind of equipment crews today need when it comes to lighting. Also, we don’t compete with the Chinese stuff, we compete with the Arri-level stuff.
All our own products are assembled in Denmark. Of course, we also sell other brands than our own, and DMX is a big part of it now, you want to be able to control everything from the floor, nobody wants to climb a ladder to adjust a light anymore”.
”It’s a little bit sad, though”, Jonas admits, ”I feel I have a lot of knowledge I could put to good use in practical situations on the set. So I would ideally like to work as a Gaffer maybe one month per year, just for the fun of it. I travel 100 days per year already as it is, so one month would be ideal. I’m actually prepping a big Volvo shoot that’s taking place in Gothenburg soon, so it’s not like I’ve totally given up the ”field work” in any way.
And Linus calls me sometimes, as well as Göran Hallberg, FSF, and Olof Johnson, FSF, but basically you have to keep in close contact with the big D.P.s, otherwise your name just isn’t at the top of their list when they need a Gaffer. Doing a feature could also be nice if it’s for an old friend, because then it’s like family”, Jonas concludes, ”but just in order to keep in touch with the practical side of filmmaking, commercials are enough”.
Lars Pettersson, FSF