WEEK TWO of Principal Photography
This was the week I was most worried about ? nearly half the movie takes place in our leads home and we had to get it all done in 7 days. Beyond the high volume of work was the concern about things becoming stagnant; I was worried we'd fall into routines of how we lit and blocked scene after scene after scene in such a confined space. The house was essentially one long room; there was the front door leading into the living room which was open into the dining room as well (the production designer was very helpful in creating a sense of two spaces between these rooms), then a doorway into the kitchen and our leads bedroom.
Days 7 and 8 found us exclusively in our leads bedroom, about 11 feet by 13 feet and 13 pages to shoot. Peter and I were most concerned about this space because after some sparse dressing, there was literally no room to move around and we were anxious about maintaining our long lens feel in this space. In the end I think that concern was what helped us because we were relentless in crawling all over the room to find ways to block and shoot our scenes. Our first scene up was one of the scenes we'd be dreading from day one of prep ? our lead had a 3 ½ page dialogue scene with a clock radio (he's called into a talk show host). It starts with him unable to sleep, so he gets up, calls in, turns on the lights in his room, and moves around a bit as he talks. During prep I had spoken with Emily (my CLT) about wanting a very warm, yellowish color for our streetlights since they'd be a main motivating source through-out the movie (about ½ the film is night interior); she suggested Lee Yellow 101 combined with a ½ CTS ? I saw the combo and loved it; it's a very heavy look, but felt very appropriate to both reality and maintaining a real sense of warmth. Through the bedroom window we put a mighty up high with the gel pack to simulate a streetlight and next to that we put a 12x12 ultra bounce with a maxi-brute with the same gel pack to simulate ambient light from the streetlight. I found myself placing units and then panning them off of where I wanted them to hit, so this scene was a key example of most of the lighting being indirect or "off". We also rigged two practicals to be tied into small tweenies we mounted on the ceiling into 2x2 cards. Once we were done we did a final blocking and part way through Peter and I realized it actually felt much better if our lead never turned the light on, so we ended up playing it quite dark with just the ambient light filtering into the room and being naturally cut by the window and blinds. I shot at a T2.5 and the shadows fell down at around 3-4 stops under. In the dailies a few days later this scene was transferred too bright, but a quick pass on my laptop showed me that it was right on target.
Most of day 7 was a breeze actually because once we had the room rigged we were only waiting on moving the camera around; a bounce card here or there was brought in but otherwise we flew through it. Our "coverage" was, as usual, unconventional, but we were able to find a lot of interesting ways to block and shoot all of our scenes; we even managed to squeeze a dolly into the space and did an entire scene as a moving master; my grips have been fast and fantastic about always finding a way to do whatever gets tossed at them. Day 8 was our lovemaking scene, which I played entirely in silhouette against the one window in the room. Our lead actress is African American and the streetlight color played beautifully on her skin; it plays a little heavy on our male lead (relatively pale skin tone), but it worked over all. I was a little nervous about having no fill since our lenses just kept getting longer and longer, and at one point we were about 7 feet away with a 135mm shooting essentially inserts of eyes and lips, but as they kiss they completely block the background and there's NOTHING in frame except black. The director wasn't as nervous, but I had about 800' of this scene printed to be sure; I saw the print the next afternoon and was surprised by how well the 5279 held up even at 800 asa; it's DARK, but it helped sell the slightly dreamy romantic nature of the scene. 135mm wide open at 7 feet is so shallow that I'm still amazed my focus puller doesn't hate me (much of the scene was shot between 36fps and 48fps, so the stops got wider as the lenses got longer).
Days 9-12 were a bit of a blur ? we had so much to shoot (and since Peter loves to be able to shoot in any direction, or to be able to add a dolly or a big pan at the last moment) that the lighting was basically a generic night look and a generic day look. At night we had a few practicals in the main dining room and the crew rigged a small assortment of tweenies and babies into various cards in the ceiling; we could quickly re-position them as needed to boost ambience or push light from a certain direction while never seeing any of the equipment. I had a modified china-ball with a 2 feet skirt above the dining room table (because of a small snafu, we didn't have a picture-friendly practical for this room, so it was the only non-motivated source in the film) and in the kitchen we used the 2 existing ceiling practicals with small diffusion skirts over them to take away their harshness. Through each window I had either a 10K or a 5K with our streetlight gel-pack plus maxi-brutes with the same gel-pack into frames of ultra-bounce for ambience. Depending on the scene, I could dial in more or less ambience by turning maxi globes on or off and we were able to quickly roll around the 10K's and 5K's to create some depth in each room. Our few day scenes (which were all shot at night since we were in overnights this whole week) mostly involved removing the gel-packs and adding additional 10K's or mighty's into the ultrabounce frames to boost the overall ambient light coming into the rooms. The real trouble here came in needing to pan across windows from time to time during our day scenes ? to get an even spread that was hot enough to sell as a blown-out day exterior was challenging and a little time-consuming; I stayed at a T2.8 for nearly all of these days, finding the night scenes played best at about 1 ½ stops under (to start) and the blown windows only sold if they were at least a T22 or hotter. I'd love to post stills (either frame grabs or from my own camera) but the Producer won't allow it I'm afraid.
Day 12 also had us moving to a house next door to shoot a few interior scenes in the lead's mothers room ? another tough set-up because the room was about 11' by 11' with two windows and we had both day and night scenes to do; our last scene caught me off-gaurd because it was a night scene and the sun began to come up (I lost track of the time since I was inside the entire night); the grips scrambled to tent the windows as best they could, but we had our ultrabounce frames set back from the windows and the best I could do was to turn on additional maxi-brute globes to overpower the blue that was seeping in and go with longer lenses to hide the windows a bit. One thing I was very happy with this week was returning all of the HMI's and being strictly Tungsten - I prefer their quality of light and reliability.
This entire week was very tiring because we were doing all overnights. I've read for years now how DP's complain about DVD dailies and now I know why; they're the worst possible way to judge your work. Everything looks a little soft, it all looks lower in contrast, color is way off??..it got to the point where I stopped looking at the DVD's altogether because it was depressing and horribly misleading. To check myself, after we wrapped in the morning (or a few hours before call) I was trying to go to the post house to view the HD masters on a 24" monitor or sneaking into the lab to watch short snippets of printed dailies. On top of that, we had the most bizarre camera problem I've ever encountered. We had about 4 soft shots that were grossly soft, but had no explanation as to why. They were on different lenses, stationary cameras, decent stops, and in the middle of rolls (ie, one entire set-up would be soft, but it would be all 4 takes of that set-up and in the middle of a 1000' roll where everything else was sharp). The focus would seem to drift a little (it would always be behind the actor and you could see their shoulder was sharp, but their face was mush). My focus puller would have to be drunk and I'd have to be asleep to not catch it ? I spoke with the camera house, the lab, Kodak, the telecine house???after exploring every option, nobody could figure out what it is. To be safe, we took our A camera back and carried a 535B for a few days while they checked the Moviecam (and for the record, I'm a 535 convert now ? so quiet and such a bright viewfinder ? a little rough for handheld, but now my camera of choice); they checked everything and could still find nothing, so back to the rental house I went again to swap bodies yet again.
I didn't get much sleep this week and the focus issue is still TBD, but it was a very satisfying week of hard work that I believe paid off.
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