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Solstice - Week Three


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 01:25 AM

This has been a tough week physically for me; I caught the flu on Easter and this week we switched into an all-nighter schedule, which is exhausting normally but doubly so when you're sick. And to top it off, we spent the last night of this week working in chest-high water; I wore hipwaders but the water got over the top and soaked me, so I spent the evening in wet clothes...

We're starting to shoot our darker night stuff, so a couple of interior scenes were lit mostly by light falling through a window or open door, either as moonlight or a porchlight effect, with the interior action being fairly dark and silhouetted. It's not hard to light that way but it can be hard to block the actors so that they fall into some light at the right moments. Generally I've been lighting these night scene, exterior and interior, to an f/2.8. For moonlight, what looks dark enough is play the backlight at one stop under and the soft light on the face in the shadows at three stops under, but sometimes I've given more exposure, with the backlight exposed at key and the face being two stops under, with the notion to print down more in post. "Moonlight" has been a half blue color (1/2 CTO on HMI's and daylight Kinos mainly).

Some tungsten-lit (practicals on) interior scenes, and some day exteriors, have been warmed up in dailies by shooting the gray scale with a pale blue filter (82A) on the camera and then pulling it for the scene. When I want a heavier warmth, I shoot the gray scale with an 82B filter on the camera and then pull it (the filter is the blue equivalent of the 81EF.)

We set up a long dolly move in the woods near our main house location, about 60', after clearing a path parallel to the path that the actors would run / walk on. We used this set-up both for a day scene and then a night scene. I picked a spot in the woods with an open field deep in the background that you couldn't see because of the brush but allowed me to place a condor with an 18K HMI as a backlight and move it around as needed. Since some of these shots involved rain, I need to try and always keep a backlight on it. For fill, I tried floating a helium balloon light above the path but I could not get it high enough because of the tree canopy, which created too much fill, so I eventually turned it off and played most of the scenes in backlight only. This looked very dramatic, but fortunately the rain and the smoke in the air helped bring out some detail and add more ambient exposure. After awhile, I cheated in some weak fill light in some spots with a few Kinoflos, about three stops underexposed.

The next night we had a long dinner table scene with six people around the table in a circle, in a small area, so the simplest lighting solution was to hang a softbox over the table with a skirt to keep the walls darker. For the close-ups, I added a lower-than-the-softbox Chinese Lantern to keep the soft overhead effect from being too toppy.

The last night of the week was the most challenging: six people standing in a circle in nearly chest-high water in the lagoon in a swamp, at night. I sweated this over many times in my mind as to how I was going to light for 360 degrees at night. The area had to be netted off from the swamp to keep the alligators away, and then a platform had to be sunk into the mud to give the actors a level platform to stand on. I had the art department use string lights (a string of 40w clear bulbs) on a nearby fishing dock to provide a tungsten-source from one angle, which I augmented with two 2K blonds on a high post, pointing towards camera as if they were worklights of the dock. I had to rate the Eterna 500T at 640 ASA and push it a stop, which is how I shot the carnival scene in "Astronaut Farmer", which had similar strings of bulbs. They seem to look the best at T/2.8 at 640 ASA in that they actually lit something. With the warm backlight from the tungsten on the swamp, with some smoke creaping across the water, it sort of looked like that shot in "Apocalypse Now" when Willard rises out of the water. So from the angle looking at the dock, the actors were tungsten backlit, plus sidelit by an 18K on a condor across the small lake, about two stops underexposed, playing for moonlight. So as I worked my way around the circle in coverage, two people were backlit by tungsten / sidelit by moonlight; two were sidelit by tungsten and backlit by moonlight, and the last two were frontlit by the tungsten mainly, which was a little boring but logical since they were facing the only strong source. Plus by the time I got to that angle, it was nearly sunrise and I did not have time to create a whole new lighting set-up.

On the closer shots where the two actors were tungsten backlit, I flagged off the 18K and used a 4-bank Kino for a softer moonlight -- which sounds simple in theory but a nightmare to rig in four feet of water on the edge of a too-small wooden platform. This was the point where I got soaked. The Kinoflo in the water had a ground fault circuit interrupter. Just to get it to be two-stops underexposed when shooting at T/2.8 at 640 ASA, I ended up with two layers of 216 (plus the 1/2 CTO correction for the daylight tubes) and only one tube was switched on.

As you can imagine, everything went slower once I started putting the camera and a light plus flags into the water. It was a nightmare; I can understand why water movies go over-schedule. For the wide shots, we shot from the shore. I managed to get the production to rent a 60' Technocrane, which we used to good effect to get high and low angles. I couldn't do much side-to-side motion because it was armed out between a gap in the trees, so I had B-camera on dolly tracking sideways during the master as well. For the tighter shots, B-camera had to place their sticks in the water and shoot standing in chest-high water, whereas A-camera could arm out on the crane to get the other angles.

I wish I had some photos of the set-up but I lost my digital stills camera on set a week ago, with all my set photos to date. Today I bought a replacement.
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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 02:24 AM

And to top it off, we spent the last night of this week working in chest-high water; I wore hipwaders but the water got over the top and soaked me, so I spent the evening in wet clothes...

I'm in the same situation at the moment, directing 2nd Unit in a flooded sewer. At least I managed to keep my feet dry. On friday we shot with a stunt woman who had to run around wearing high heeled shoes and a skirt. I felt bad for her, because the water was very cold too.
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#3 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 07:50 PM

Are you getting use to working in super 35 yet and how has it affected you? Have you had to make many changes to the way you would normally frame your shots and light?

Edited by Capt.Video, 23 April 2006 - 07:52 PM.

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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 23 April 2006 - 08:27 PM

No, it actually hasn't been that different than the anamorphic shoots other than I'm working about a stop more wide-open than I normally do in anamorphic, and I don't have to worry about needing enough light for the zoom since the Primo zoom is T/2.8 instead of T/4.5 like the anamorphic Primo zoom. But I've hardly used the zoom.

The lenses are lighter than the anamorphic ones, which no doubt makes the Steadicam operator happier.

I find for some reason that I don't like going wider than a 27mm, partially because my 24mm is a Zeiss Super-Speed, not a Primo, and the 21mm Primo seems too wide-angle for me. So it's like favoring a 50mm anamorphic lens for the masters. But when I shoot anamorphic, I don't mind the 40mm, even with the barrel distortion. Most of my close-ups are shot on the 75mm, which would be like using a 135mm anamorphic (the equivalent anamorphic lens is almost double the focal length, except that the Super-35 format sees a little more of the lens image than a sound aperture, so I subtract a little after I multiply by two. I suppose I could look it up on a chart.)

Since we are shooting 3-perf with a common top 2.35, it really doesn't feel like I'm cropping much for 2.35 compared to framing in anamorphic. I have the monitors taped off to 2.35 as well.
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#5 Mike Williamson

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 03:06 AM

Sounds like an interesting shoot, David, looking forwards to hearing more about it. Thanks for taking the time to post, it's wonderful to read about. Hope you're feeling better, good luck with the night shoots!
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#6 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 10:18 AM

Dave, excellent journals as always.

may i ask, who is doing A/Steadi on this show? IMDB is not forthcoming...

thx in advance.
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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 12:07 PM

may i ask, who is doing A/Steadi on this show? IMDB is not forthcoming...


A-cam Op / Steadicam: Chris Squires
A-cam 1st AC: Marcus Lopez
A-cam 2nd AC: Darby Newman
B-cam Op: Theo Pingarelli
B-cam 1st: Phoebe Sudrow
B-cam 2nd AC: Christa Vicknair
Loader: Louis Zlotowicz
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#8 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 02:21 PM

thx dave.it was a trivial question but i like to keep up with the OPs on shows... i appreciate you taking the time to answer... (you recall i asked you this same question in the akellah the bee journals... )
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#9 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 24 April 2006 - 05:00 PM

David,
I'm surprised you were able to bring so many people with you from LA. Is it the same with your other departments other than camera?
Are you at liberty to divulge the budget?
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#10 Max Jacoby

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 05:29 AM

I find for some reason that I don't like going wider than a 27mm, partially because my 24mm is a Zeiss Super-Speed, not a Primo, and the 21mm Primo seems too wide-angle for me.

Panavision are finally manufacturing a 24mm Primo. For years you had that big gap between 21mm and 27mm. In the AC article on 'The Game' Fincher tlaks about not using the 24mm for that same reason.
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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 05:53 AM

Well, the production came to Louisiana for the tax breaks from hiring local people, but with four productions in the area, the biggest being "Deja Vu", and many crew people having moved away because of Hurricane Katrina, we could hardly find anyone qualified willing to work on the film. I had a local Key Grip, Gaffer, and B-camera 1st AC all agree to do the job and then quit a day later when they got better offers. Most of my camera, grip, and electric people had to be brought in at the last minute when we couldn't find locals to take the jobs. It's something of a mess and of course it drove up our budget. And with all the refuges from Katrina, there is a lack of hotel space for the extra people we brought in, causing much searching around.

It goes for equipment too. I'm using this lousy 80' Condor for my night work that is too flimsy to take both the lights and a crew member, so I have to send it up unmanned, check the lighting, lower it to re-aim, spot or flood, or add scrims, send it up again, lower it again if I guess wrong, etc. I lose a lot of time doing this. But the line producer says it's the only 80' Condor in the state.

I lost one electrician when he was arrested by the police for an outstanding warrent, and we got a call from a local grip who said that he'd like to be hired when he gets released from prison at the end of the month.

Anyway, the Key Grip, Best Boy Grip, and another grip are from Los Angeles, then I have a local dolly grip and two more grips occasionally. Then in the electrical department, again, the Gaffer, Best Boy Electric, and an electrician are from Los Angeles, and two more are local. Among the camera crew, only my loader and B-camera 2nd AC are local. It's the same for most departments. I even found out that one of the people working in the office for the UPM is from Georgia, not Louisiana, because they couldn't find many people willing to do office work on a production. And every store in town has a "Now Hiring" sign. You have to understand that 50% of the local population is currently gone.
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#12 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 07:05 AM

you guys could have shot up here in Atlanta or georgia at least. i received a lot of work on some stuff that came thru because of katrina. trhere are a lot of hungry, warrant free folks up here. we only have i think 2 features being shot right now up here but can always use more!

David, if you feel comfortable telling me, is your feature Union?
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#13 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 01:29 PM

Yes, it's an IA show.
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#14 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 02:46 PM

thx.

regards....
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#15 Max Jacoby

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 02:46 PM

I lost one electrician when he was arrested by the police for an outstanding warrent, and we got a call from a local grip who said that he'd like to be hired when he gets released from prison at the end of the month.


So he used his one phone call to call you!
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#16 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 25 April 2006 - 03:03 PM

Thanks for the reply David. That's quite a situation. The reason I asked is because a lot of features shot down there do so because of the tax breaks, and those relate to local crew, so I was a bit confused. I understand now. Hopefully you don't get so desperate that you have to actually consider hiring the ex-cons....
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#17 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 02:40 AM

Hey David, I did want to ask you how ya feelin', you get over the bug you had or is it still with you?
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#18 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 05:57 AM

Hey David, I did want to ask you how ya feelin', you get over the bug you had or is it still with you?

They sent a doctor to the set on Friday and he gave me some drugs which have helped, so I'm feeling better now. But I don't think I'll completely shake it until this shoot wraps.
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#19 K Borowski

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 09:09 PM

Dave, just curious: where are you getting your footage processed? I don't know of many labs in the area of Louisiana.

Regards.

~Karl Borowski
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#20 Marc_Abernathy

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Posted 27 April 2006 - 09:13 PM

karl i think he stated Los Angeles in earlier posts....?
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