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#1 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 07 July 2007 - 12:11 PM

For those of you with an interest in network episodic television production in the U.S. I will begin to post a journal of sorts describing the pre-production and production of a new series on the ABC Network tentatively titled "Samantha Who?" (aka "Samantha Be Good", aka "Sam I Am").
I am starting pre-production for 10 "non-consecutive" days on Monday, going in to the production office to meet with the Production Designer, Gaffer, Key Grip, Production Manager and the Line Producer to look at the "spotting plans" for the sets that will be constructed on two stages at CBS-Radford Studios in Studio City. "Spotting plans" are the blueprints for the layout of the sets on the stage floor. We will be discussing the positioning of the sets relative to one another and looking at how they lay out in terms of backing placement, room for lighting, planning of the overhead pipe grid and potential construction of "green beds" or scaffolding from which to light the sets.
The show is a half-hour "single camera comedy" to be shot with Sony F900/3 cameras (two).
We will be employing a full time Steadicam/A Camera Operator and "B" camera operator, two first assistants, two second assisitants and a Digital Imaging Technician. The pilot episode was shot with the Panavision Genesis Camera by Director of Photography Dave Perkal ("Entourage").
There are budgetary restraints preventing the company from shooting the series with the Genesis. During my interview with the Executive Producer he explained that the difference in cost between the Genesis and the Sony F900 would allow him to hire an additional writer on the show.
More to come.
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#2 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 06:02 PM

Had the meeting this morning with the crew mentioned in the original post.
Went over the drawings, some very preliminary. Dealt with issues such as reflective surfaces, what windows would be gimbaled, backings, painted vs. translights, we all prefer translights, which walls will be wild and other set construction issues.
Input from Gaffer and Key Grip always very helpful.
Next step is for the Key Grip to take the finalized plans and lay out the pipe grid and Green Beds for the Studio's Grip Department and get it priced (labor and materials). After that we put in the electrical/grip equipment order and work out the number of "man-days" it will take to do the rigging.
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#3 Christopher Wedding

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:09 PM

Dealt with issues such as reflective surfaces, what windows would be gimbaled, backings, painted vs. translights, we all prefer translights, which walls will be wild and other set construction issues.



Mr. Paul Maibaum,

Thanks so much for doing a journal that is so enlighting even in it's first few paragraphs. I'm thrilled at your preliminary meetings being taken into account, as it allows myself and probably others to anticipate what is to come in the future should we ever be so lucky as to step into such a position.

Anyhow, I was wondering if you had a moment or two to discuss a little deeper the painted vs translight topic and any other issues you mentioned above. Although I'm sure much of it is relative, any rules of thumb that you wish to share when it comes to the spotting plans...i.e. backing placements, room for lighting, etc?

Cheers,
Chris
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#4 Marc Levy

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 01:35 AM

Paul,

Thanks for sharing. Please keep it coming. I'm really interested in details of the type of input/exchanges you have with your Gaffer. It seems that on much of the projects I work on (not all, but much), the gaffer is only remotely active in the design of the lighting - especially in pre-production.

Thanks
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#5 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 10:01 AM

In response to Chris Weddings query regarding backings??.
There are basically 3 kinds of backings,
1. painted on muslin (very old school), usually one for day and another for night,
2. digital backings (Rosco, Warner Bros) where a photograph is digitally printed onto a vinyl-like material, same backing front lit for day and back-lit for night
3. translights?giant transparency, one for day, one for night.
My preference is for translights which are backlit, simpler to light, they have a more realistic quality since it is actually like a giant slide. Digital backings get messy when they are front lit for day, there is a tendancy to see the sources reflected in the backing from various camera angles. Also, the pixels themselves can be very apparent at times, especially when photographed with a 2/3? chip cameras where focus is deep.
In lighting a translight one usually needs a minimum of 8 feet from the backing to the light source, typically skypans, to keep the light even. In terms of backing placement relative to a set, it all depends on the size of the backing, the size of the windows, how much window dressing, if any, will be obscuring the backing, and ultimately, how much room is available when all the sets are laid out. For this show where there are two permanent sets that will utilize backings, we are asking for 10 to 12 feet from the set wall to the backing.
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#6 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 10:19 AM

In response to Marc Levy?s interest in crew input??.
I get the gaffer and key grip in very early on my shows. In fact, on this production they actually have two more prep days than I do. We have two stages and 3 permanent sets to rig in just over two weeks and the producer?s expectation is that to a great extent the sets are ?pre-lit? in terms of practicals, the on-stage exterior ambiance, backings and basic ambient interior lighting. In order to do this the gaffer and key grip?s input early on is critical. For instance, one of the permanent sets is a large corporate office with windows, glass partitions, and a very open feeling. We want the lighting to be generally soft with sun streaming in where it is appropriate. Normally we would hang soft boxes of some kind over the large open areas to create ambiance and use kinoflos for the same effect in the hallways to simulate practicals in the ceiling. However, I want to avoid having the lighting be too ?toppy? which can be unflattering on the ladies. We have to come up with a way to accomplish this but still get enough ambience to light the set and be ready for shooting in multiple directions quickly. I have some ideas how to achieve this, but I prefer to give the gaffer information on how I want it to look and what I do not want it to look like and let him come up with the specifics of how to achieve it. This is my 4th show with this gaffer and my 9th show with this key grip so they both know a lot about my style and my preferences by this point.
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#7 Bob Hayes

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 08:08 AM

Paul:

Congrats on another series! I am particularly interested in what decision is made with regards to the backings. I am currently shooting a series and all off our backings are digitally printed on Vinyl and they are a nightmare. They are highly reflective and constantly wrinkled. Even the kick back from the set wall is enough to ruin the shot. No mater how we try to stretch them they sag and wrinkle. Also, some of them are designed to back light for night but the fronts are so reflective it doesn't look like night at all. We now flip the Vinyls around and just light the windows with Source 4's. So at night streets become the reverse of day with street numbers backwards. How have you solved these problems in the past?
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#8 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 12 July 2007 - 09:40 AM

Hi Bob,
Congrats to you as well, I take it you are still on the show that you shared the lighting diagrams with me.
In our last meeting we all signed off on translights as the backings of preference. Fortunately the Production Designer was on board and a heavy proponent of translights as opposed to digital backings. He said that he would even prefer painted to digital.
I have used digital backings in the past and I believe that I mentioned that I had the same issues with them then as you are having on your current project. However, if there is enough room from the set wall to the backing many of those problems can be minimized. This allows enough spacing between the lights that are front lighting the backing for day and the set wall so that the lights can be high enough so reflections are avoided. Also, this allows one to use larger and fewer lights, which I would generally diffuse with paper of some kind, 250 if I remember, to soften them so the lighting spreads over the backing.
The grips would work very hard to stretch the backing to eliminate wrinkles. I also had the backs of the set walls painted black to reduce the kick-back you mention. But in a tight space, digital backings can indeed be problematic. They are less expensive, to be sure, but the company can ?pay for it now? by using the proper tools or ?pay for it later? by incurring overtime or having to fix things like reflections in post. But I am sure that I am ?preaching to the choir? by mentioning this to you. It sounds like you came up with a solution by flipping the backings for night and it also sounds like a major pain in the a**. But that?s what good episodic TV Directors of Photography do, somehow make things work.
I am going in to the studio today for another meeting with the UPM, the Key Grip and myself to discuss rigging for the two stages. Based on the plans we saw, my key grip laid out our wish list for pipe and green beds and we are over budget by more than double if we get everything we want. We need to look at what can be eliminated in terms of the green beds that will bring the cost down but not ?bite us in the a**? later in terms of production speed. When the studio grip department bids on rigging they are factoring in the material for the green beds as well as the rigging and striking.

Edited by Paul Maibaum, 12 July 2007 - 09:44 AM.

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#9 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 20 July 2007 - 09:20 PM

We finally got approval on our plans for green-beds and pipe for the three permanent sets and the swing set areas that encompass Stages 16 and 17 at CBS Studio Center. The Key Grip submitted a total of three different plots before we got the approval. As it turns out production had budgeted an additional member on the camera crew that I do not need, a Video Utility.
On shows with two cameras that shoot HD ?film style? my crew consists of two operators, two 1st assistants, two 2nd assistants and a DIT. The only time I added a Utility to the camera crew was on a recent pilot where the producers insisted on two separate Video Villages, one for the Director, script, etc. and another for Studio and Network types in addition to the 20? HD monitor for the DIT. We were working in practical locations and where we had very limited choices as to where all this ?gak? could go, hiding cables, etc. Consequently I felt the need for additional personnel just to keep that end above water. Otherwise, I feel the crew complement I mention works out just fine. Therefore the UPM took that salary and moved the dollars into the rigging. I didn?t even know this position was budgeted until the UPM asked me who it was going to be.
Studio grips start working 6pm Monday night. My gaffer and key grip ?officially? start on payroll next Thursday. They have already put in a lot of hours so far working all this stuff out and I have been to the studio at least four times over the last two weeks, (I officially start one week from Monday next) spending quite a few hours there without compensation, but this work needs to be done and if we waited until we were all on salary there wouldn?t be enough time to accomplish it all. Welcome to TV Land.
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#10 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:59 AM

What are supposed to be the final spotting plans for Stages 16 and 17.
Stage 16 consists of an office set, an apartment set, and an apartment lobby set that utilizes the actual stage exterior.
stage_16_plan.jpg
Stage 17 consists of a house set with room for swing sets.
stage_17_plan.jpg
When the lighting plots are available I will try to post those as well.
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#11 Bob Hayes

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 08:37 PM

Paul:

What is your average grip/electric/sound crew?
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#12 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 23 July 2007 - 10:23 PM

Hey Bob,
Grip Crew:(7) Key, BB, 2 Dolly Grips, 3 Hammers
Electrics:(6) Gaffer, BB, Dimmer Op, 3 Juicers
Sound:(3) Mixer, Boom, Utility
That's the average, there are always extra man-days depending daily needs.
On this particular show we are carrying a full-time Rigging Key Grip and Rigging Gaffer. I believe when they're not rigging they will be working on set in their respective departments as regular grip and electrician.
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#13 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 27 July 2007 - 09:40 AM

First day of official prep today. Production moved up my start date since we are re-shooting a few (no one knows for sure how many) scenes from the pilot. Performance/make-up-hair issues are apparently responsible for the re-shoots. At any rate, re-shoot day is an additional day of production, not one less day of prep, thus starting on payroll today instead of Monday.
Turned in electrical equipment list for the two stages which includes all lamps and accessories, stands, rigging gak, cable, dimmer boards, truck package (HMI) for location work with cable, a few odds and ends and we are slightly over-budget. While productiojn looks for the additional money my gaffer and I will be looking for some stuff to cut and hopefully we will meet in the middle somewhere.
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#14 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 30 July 2007 - 10:18 PM

Two weeks out from principle photography.
Today picked backings with Production Designer. Translights, day and night. One backing will be a day painted backing for one scene in a building lobby. Production Designer has to take the existing office set and turn it into the ground floor lobby of the building that the office set is supposed to be in. Short scene, about ¾ of a page which is why we are doing it on stage instead of going to a practical location. It will be a lot of work for the set decorators because we start in this space, having built a hospital room set trying to use as many elements as possible from the office set. That will shoot on a Friday. Then the following Monday it will be shot as the revamped ground floor space, then the following Wednesday it needs to look like the office set it originally started out to be. Confused? Our motto, ?Don?t worry, we?ll make it work?.
Recieved the ?network? copy of the first script. Read it twice then walked the sets (still under construction) to try to get a feel for the scenes in the actual shooting space. I will continue to do this throughout prep, trying to previsualize what the scene might be like. No director on board yet, she starts Friday.
Went through sets with Production Designer, Key Grip and Gaffer. We raised any concerns we had about space, what walls were wild and how they are constructed to facilitate pulling them. If there are issues or potential problems I want them addressed by my crew sooner than later.
Budgets for electric and grip equipment seem to have been approved.
Stay tuned.
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#15 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 03 August 2007 - 04:28 PM

Finishing up 1st full prep week.
Interesting thing about shooting at CBS Radford is that all the stages are wired to allow a video and sound feed of all productions to be sent to any TV on the lot. The writers and producers can be in their offices and watch and listen to all proceedings on stage. (Must make note to self to make sure the mixer turns the mics off while we are lighting, sometimes comments are made by crew that one might not want the ?higher-ups? to hear)
We will have two days to hook up all the monitors, one on each stage for the dimmer board op, two sets of two stacked monitors (A & B cameras) on each stage for interested parties to keep the director?s monitors clear of lookie-loos, a monitor in the wardrobe gold room, a monitor in the make-up and hair trailer, and then there is the 20? HD crt monitor that the DIT will be working from. The pre-laid video cable will allow all the ancillary monitors to be patched in to a box on the wall of each stage where the picture (down-converted) and sound will be fed from the DIT rack (engineering station). We have recently added a dedicated crew member whose main responsibilty will be monitors and cable.
Pre-lighting and grip rigging is progressing according to schedule.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will soon post examples of the lighting plots.
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#16 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 19 August 2007 - 09:09 AM

End of week one/episode 1: One quirky thing about this show is that the directors are hired to do two back to back episodes so I have been shooting the first episode and attempting to prep the next two at the same time. It can get confusing when I am approached about equipment needs or location issues and I have to quite often ask which of the next two episodes the A.D. is referring to.
The pilot was ?digitally acquired? with the Panavision Genesis and the producers are really hot for the 35mm look (based on 35mm optics) of that camera. We are presently using Sony f900/3 cameras and the producers are noticing the lack of fall-off in the background or the increased depth of field. Consequently they are lobbying the studio to allow us to switch over to the Genesis.
Some still stores from dailies
0074.jpg
0075.jpg
0150.jpg
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#17 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 26 August 2007 - 02:22 PM

End of week two/episode 2: Kudos to the entire crew of ?Samantha Who??. Everyone is busting their asses to keep production moving. Key Grip and Gaffer are invaluable. A Camera/Steadicam operator doing a superlative job. We often shoot rehersals and he rarely misses a shot. Same goes for the focus pullers. B Camera Operator always at the ready looking for opportujnities to enhance the coverage.
One day last week we started a sequence on the lot, Day-Ext, and lost the light after shooting the master. Thankfully we carry a 50K Softsun from Lightning Strikes. We mount it on a 60? articulating condor. We used it to simulate back-light shooting in one direction, then softened it with light grid and used it to simulate direct sun when we turned around. The tape to tape colorist will have his work cut out for him to help match the real day to the night for day, but the dailies colorist felt that we were very close and the final grading would not be problematic.
The Genesis issue is progressing. We will definitely be switching to a 35mm aperture HD camera. We may be testing the ARRI D20. I have used the Genesis in the past and am very comfortable with the work flow and I feel the effective ASA and dynamic range of the camera will suit our needs. I was extremely pleased with the results I obtained with the Genesis on a pilot I shot earlier this year. I have never worked with the ARRI D20 and I understand that the over-exposure range may not be as great as that of the Genesis. I also understand that the effective film speed of the D20 may not be as high as that of the Genesis. The optical finder of the D20 would definitely be a plus since I often find myself waiting for the camera to be powered up before I can start lining up the shot. (This occurs when the camera is re-located and fiber cable are re-routed to accommodate a new set-up.) The decision on this will be made this coming week.
Some still stores from dailies:
0112.jpg
0153.jpg
0146.jpg
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#18 Matt Hingstman

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Posted 26 August 2007 - 09:42 PM

Thanks for taking the time to post, Mr. Maibaum. This is great stuff!
Good luck with the rest of the season.
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#19 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 26 August 2007 - 09:48 PM

Interested to hear what you did with that last exterior shot.

I have offended people in the past by asking how to make things look normal - which they tend to take to mean "bland", but by which I mean exactly the opposite - not overprocessed or over stylish, but certainly not uninteresting, without jumping out and grabbing you with the degree of applied stylisation which is often too much.

So how d'you get your exteriors to look like that? I know a lot of it is that the light in that part of the world just looks like that anyway, which is why you're there, but I'd be interested to hear more about it.

Phil
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#20 Paul Maibaum ASC

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Posted 27 August 2007 - 05:10 AM

This scene began shooting during the last hour of daylight with the sun going down behind the actors and filtered through some large trees. I used a 20x20 light grid in a frame mounted on the end of an 80' condor to diffuse the light even more. As the sun completely disappeared it was essentially "replaced" by a 50K softsun mounted on another condor and a 12x12 ultra bounce with an HMI of some kind (I was too busy trying to finish shooting before complete darkness to notice exactly what kind of light my gaffer utilized) as the souce into the bounce as the fill light. Alas, the sun did completely set before we finished the scene so the rest of the coverage including the still of the actor in front of the garage was shot at night.
Whenever possible I suggest ways to stage scenes with the masters shot in backlight or shade. I can create a large working shady area with the 20x20 frame mounted on a condor. I oftimes use bleached muslin on the frame to create the "open shade" that I find most desirable when shooting digitally.
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