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#1 Jaco Jansen

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 04:29 AM

Hi Everyone
Classes are starting again soon at a small film school where I lecture cinematography. I have become increasingly aware that, apart from the technical stuff, the students are just not getting it. They either light exactly by the book, and have little creative ideas, (meaning that they cannot solve practical problems, or visualise what a setup will look like) OR go completly ape with no sense of continuity etc. I find that the exercises that worked for me back when I was in filmschool is not really helping. Can anyone recommend a good practical assignment that you found 'opened your eyes' to cinematography and specifically lighting? The school is small and they have a limited amount of (working) equipment.
Thanx
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 11:07 AM

Maybe have them bring in their favorite example of an interior light (natural or artificial) from a photo, painting, or movie, and then have them discuss why they like it, and then try and recreate it as much as possible.
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#3 Matt Sandstrom

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 03:21 PM

david's advice is great. the reason for both of the problems you have is that they have no idea what they're trying to achieve.

/matt
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#4 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 08:28 PM

I think the first lesson that really opened my eyes was mixing actual daylight with tungsten sources, shooting with tungsten film.

You could give them an assignment where they need to have direct daylight as one source, but then have an actor lighted with a tungsten source, preferably a tungsten balanced practical.

It really showed me how much control I'm able to have over my light sources and gave me room to play with. Not to mention, it was the first time I used smoke in a scene...boy did I learn a lesson, ha ha

There's a good example of it in the "Reflections" book, which is what my instructor used to explain what he was looking for.

Edited by Jonathan Bowerbank, 10 January 2007 - 08:29 PM.

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#5 Paul Bruening

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 11:50 PM

This is a fantastic thread to chew on. I have wrestled with this for all my cinematographic life. Do you light for the shot or for the scene? I can't see much consistency in the works of most great cinematographers that I have studied. I speculate that the rigors of production tend to drive DPs to light for the shot thereby compromising lighting continuity through the scene. When I say this, I don't mean that the scene looks like it was shot by completely different people and equipment from shot to shot. What I mean is that, often, a significant change in light angles and ratios occurs between shots. A great example of this is in The Third Man. Krasker throws the light's motivation continuity away in favor of avoiding dumbside lighting problems during 2 character conversation scenes. I recall the scene between Callaway (or was it Callahan?) played by Trevor Howard and Joseph Cotton in the pub.. the one right before Joe gets punched by the Sargeant. There, the light changes motivation so significantly from angle to angle that I wonder if Krasker did that to force dramatic tension.

Given what I've seen movie after movie, I'd say that industry practice leans in favor of- Light for the shot more than the scene.
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#6 David Sweetman

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 12:41 AM

Maybe just keep them shooting, in and out of the classroom. Some will probably develop a knack for it. Assign projects outside of class, and mandate that they be lit, by whatever means necessary. Like a four minute short or a music video, those are fun and visual. Maybe give out extra credit for each lit short film they make and bring to show for the class. As far as "solving practical problems," I find nothing helps more than experience. And forcing them to get experience out of the classroom doesn't take away from the class time or the curriculum, but is very beneificial to the students.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 03:34 AM

Some will probably develop a knack for it.


Emphasis on "Some". I suppose as an instructor you have to give equal opportunity and attention to all your students, but don't expect them all to pick up on it too quickly. Because honestly, most never will.
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#8 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 11 January 2007 - 07:45 PM

The first few times I ever lit anything I felt like I needed to use every light I had. Because of my mistakes and experience I learned that sometimes you only need one or two lights, or a bounce board to achieve what you're after. So my suggestion would be to give them a very limited amount of gear (maybe two lights and a bounce, or one light and a bounce) and see what they con come up with. Then add more lights later and have them explain why they do or don't need each light or source. Sometimes the hardest thing is figuring out what you don't need.
All I ever learned in college was three point lighting. I was taught that that was the "right" way to light. It would have been nice if I had been forced to improvise with one 250w and a bounce when I was in school. It would have saved me some embarrassment later!
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#9 Jaco Jansen

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Posted 12 January 2007 - 03:27 AM

That's a good idea Brad, thanks.
It's also true Jonathan, that some(read: most) of them will never get to the point where they start bending it. I do all of the usual stuff (including studying paintings of the old masters, and analysing shots and setups in different films & genres), but apart from being very lazy, most of the class thinks it's cool and 'real' to use available/unmotivated light in almost every situation.(and can then come up with a list of reasons why the "style" enhances the narrative, rather than looking plain undramatic and dull.) I suppose you can't 'grow' interest or enthusiasm. I think I was hoping somone had a killer exersise, guaranteed to make you fall in love with the whole 'painting with light' thing...
One of my colleagues said: "Don't worry about it too much man, if these kids don't WANT to succeed, it means more work for you..."
Guess he has a point.
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#10 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 12 January 2007 - 04:48 AM

One of my favorite cinematography class exercises was to "light an emotion." Each group of three or four students was told to shoot 100' of 16mm color neg, and each student would have about 20'-30' for their one shot. The students would each crew and act for each other. The shot had to be taken from a tripod, no handheld, MOS. This forced us to attempt to create a specific mood with light, while at the same time logically motivating our light sources.

I think the key was that each of us had to direct, light, and operate our own shot - I've taken other classes where one student lights, one directs, one operates, etc. While this has its place, I think that having every student be on equal footing as DPs created a very creatively stimulating atmosphere. Plus, in rushes, we were able to see 15 variations on the assignment, and we learned as much from our fellow students' projects as we did shooting our own. It was really amazing to see what people came up with - you could really see who had a natural talent for art direction, operating, directing, and lighting.
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#11 Hal Smith

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Posted 12 January 2007 - 06:43 AM

One of my colleagues said: "Don't worry about it too much man, if these kids don't WANT to succeed, it means more work for you..."

How true - how depressing. I've taught at a top ranked southern university and at a good prep school in my deep dark past. Even at schools where the student's are pretty much the pick of the litter one finds that a fair sized proportion of most classes aren't interested in your subject, they're just there for a grade. To spend too much time obsessing on those students GREATLY cheats the ones who really are interested and motivated in learning what you have to offer.
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