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Ethics: When a Shoot goes Bad


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#1 Brian Rose

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 04:44 PM

All:

Several weeks ago, I was the DP on a shoot for a fellow student, who was making a five minute film for her prod. 2 class. Hers was my fourth film I'd shot since that summer. Those first three all turned out great, but with this latest one, the director says a number of shots were underexposed, roughly two to three stops in her estimation. I will view the footage in a couple hours, but I'm still freaking about it. I used my own equipment, which I trust, and have never had a problem with before. I had two light meters, and she brought a third. Two were spot meters, so we were constantly checking each other's work and our math was matching up wonderfully. I even adjusted the shutter on my Eclair so it would match that of her Bolex, which we had to use for some multiple exposure shots.

Hopefully I'll figure out what went wrong. I'm praying that the director is overestimating the degree of exposure, that any variance might be within the realm of correction. It is a one light work print, so it's surely not a good as a scene to scene?

Okay, after all that, here's my question:

As the DP, who was in charge of lighting the scene, and exposing the scene, what level of responsibility should I assume? My service was voluntary and free of charge, and I provided a lot of my own equipment. There was no contract, since we're all students. So technically, I COULD say, "It's not my problem." But that doesn't seem right, does it? She trusted me, and I would feel just AWFUL if the footage is indeed underexposed in some spots. On a more selfish level, I'd like to think I've got a reputation at my school as someone who knows what he's doing, and I don't want anyone to come away dissatisfied. It just takes one, and no one else will want me to shoot their projects!

So what do you think would be the right, fair, and ethical thing for me to do? I would definitely volunteer to help on any reshoot, but should I go further, perhaps even offer to help chip in for the cost of film stock needed for the reshoot?

And on a technical point, how much underexposure, in your estimation, can be compensated in post? I guess I can be glad it's under exposed rather than over-exposed, but I realize only so much can be fixed.

I'd really appreciate any feedback!
Best,
Brian Rose
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#2 Richard Boddington

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 05:17 PM

Need more info..where these under exposed shots indoors under low light? If so it's possible they where under exposed, but you should be able to bring it up a lot in post.

Or where these shots outside on a sunny day? I could see how you could over expose a shot like that, but not under expose.

What did Forrest Gump's mom say? "Shooting film is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get."

We've all been there. I made a mistake on one shot once :D

R,
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 05:25 PM

If things go wrong, it's usually best to admit to it and attempt to find the problem and sort it out. You shouldn't pay for any reshoots, but volunteer your services willingly. These things happen, even with experenced camera people, so best you both learn from what has happened. If you both agreed on the exposure, both of you have a share in accepting it as correct,

It's more usual to use incident meters on film shoots rather than spot meters. However, if you've been adjustiing shutters, it's possible that one has been left incorrectly set for whatever reason.

It you've been shooting negative it's better to be over exposed rather than underexposed. It's surprising how much over exposure can be corrected.
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#4 Brian Rose

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 06:38 PM

Hey gang,

I just got back from viewing the footage for myself, and I came away pretty relieved. I think a lot of the director's reaction was based upon how she had it envisioned in her mind. I've been there, and I'm sure just about everyone else here has as well. You see one thing through the viewfinder, and are surprised when it comes out different from what you expected on film. I tred to eliminate as much of the guess work for her, using color filters for balance, spot meters to get a range, consistent f-stops, but in the end, film just does not match what we see with our own eyes. A lot of the footage looked as I had shot it, which makes me glad that I didn't screw it up. I think it was mainly that her mind's eye couldn't resolve what was actually on screen.

That said, there were some legitimate exposure issues, but they were because of what I can only call a miscommunication. The shots in question (to answer another poster's query) took place outside, in a field of wheat. It was extremely bright, so much so I had to use an ND to compensate. The shots came out underexposed, because I was instructed to capture the detail of the actress's costume. It was designed by the director, and had a lot of beautiful bead work and lace, and I can understand why she wanted it to show up on film. It was also very reflective and pure white, made worse by the bright day. If I recall, some spots were, even with an ND, shooting up to f32 and f45. I had warned that to capture much detail of the costume, the face would be underexposed. She figured it wasn't a problem, since the actress was very fair skinned, and the light was even and bright. In the end, it was her project and her money, and I followed her wishes. I still blame myself though. I should have been a better adviser, and have been more adamant on my exposure reading. It had been a tough shoot, and tensions were up a bit. I think we all wanted to get those last scenes in the can.

Another few shots were done inside. We couldn't get access to the sound stage for them, and had to use another spot, with only a couple lowell kits, instead of the fresnels and spots that I had used for the bulk of the shoot (to great success). I was sure I had enough light, and I can't figure out what happened. The shoot involved an actress standing inside a booth made of Plexiglas (reminiscent of a doll case). Best I can figure, my meter was thrown off by reflection of the light. But I took a lot of readings...I just don't know what I did, and doubt I ever will. I'm sure it was my fault, but I just don't know what. Really annoying. I like to know when I've screwed up, so I can make changes, and accept responsibility. I hate not knowing, and worse still, not knowing what to say. Fortunately, it could have been a lot worse, and the retakes ought to be quick, and relatively simple to set up and shoot.

All told, most of what did come out underexposed is fairly slight, and can be adjusted in post. Only a handful of shots, the doll case shots, were too far gone, and will have to be reshot. I have volunteered to help in any way I can, and I did my best to reassure her she has great footage. I believe this is her first shoot, and she had a great vision. I think she was just having trouble when what came out on film wasn't what she had imagined. I think it looks great, and that's not because I shot it. All that I shot was based upon what she told me she wanted, and that says a lot about her eye. It was a tight shoot with a limited budget, and her costumes were magnificent. I think it was miraculous that only a few shots need to be redone. I've certainly heard of worse. So I'm a bit relieved. I still wish I had been more willing to stand by my readings, and I regret that it couldn't all have come out well for her. It's certainly been a learning experience for me! I hope she will realize she's done good work. What a day, what a day!
Brian R.
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#5 Brian Rose

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 06:44 PM

"It's more usual to use incident meters on film shoots rather than spot meters. However, if you've been adjusting shutters, it's possible that one has been left incorrectly set for whatever reason."

That's interesting you mention that. I had used an incident for a long time, a Spectra Pro, and I was somewhat dissatisfied. It was wonderfully accurate, but the resulting footage was average exposure. I switched to a spot because I figured it would give me more control over metering light and shadow and overall, eliminating more of the guess work.

That said, do you think I should in the future rely more upon incident readings? I do have a flat disc in addition to the lumisphere, so it gives me some leeway to meter individual light sources.

You make a good point about the shutters, but I'm pretty confident I had it right. I wanted to be consistant, and not have to worry about metering 1/48 and 1/60, whether it was the eclair or bolex, so I closed the shutter on the eclair so it would match as closely as possible the 133 degree angle of the other camera. It was a pretty simple tweak, and the difference was negligible, at least I think based upon my calculations.

Best,
BR

Edited by Brian Rose, 11 November 2007 - 06:48 PM.

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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 07:11 PM

IN terms of exposure, I have brought back a 2 stop underexposed shot of an African American, at night, in a dim limo, to the realm of "usable" in an SD telecine off of 7217, so you should be able to get something at the expense of graniness. 3 stops is probably pushing it too far.
As for what happened; if it's your fault, accept it. Everyone F**Ks up sooner or later. we are only human, Accept it, apologize for it, and do your best to figure out what went wrong so it doesn't go wrong again.
Hell. I just had a shoot where I got a scratch on the neg on some of the most crucial scenes. But I accepted it was my fault, apologized for it, and worked out ways around it and in the end, got a call back to work on another shoot for them.

best of luck
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#7 Tim O'Connor

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 07:16 PM

Brian,

I think that you made a good faith effort and it sounds like overall you did a pretty good job. It's great
that your inclination was to be responsible and not weasle. There are two important lessons here
that I know that I have learned as well.

1. Reserve comment until you've seen the footage. You shared with us which is good but you were right to
see the footage first before falling on your sword. It seems that some people attempt to respond to
comments about footage before they see the footage which is being criticized. It's amazing how other
people can sometimes describe things that sound far more horrible than is the case.


2. It's a balancing act to respect and defer to a director who has signed off on something, especially when
the director later complains and you realize that he/she didn't really understand in the first place. It
makes a D.P. use almost legalese at points, i.e. "if I do this, you understand that..."


I like to use my incident meter primarily but I once worked on a fast moving t.v. movie on which the D.P.
used a spot meter exclusively, metered for faces with it from wherever he was standing and then anything
else if he had time.
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#8 Brian Rose

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 07:27 PM

Thanks for the feedback Tim. I will wait next time, if this comes up. I guess when I first got the call, my inclination was, "Oh man, how did I screw this one up!" That's why I went ahead and posted. But once I saw the footage, I realized that it wasn't nearly so bad, that it was quite beautiful. It was just that the director had differing expectations. These things seldom turn out on film as we have it pictured in our heads. I just hope I can convince her that she should be proud of her work. She played a large part in the look of the film, and I think she was just reacting from the first viewing, and feeling insecure about it.
Best,
BR
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#9 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 11 November 2007 - 07:29 PM

The flat disc is for measuring foot candles from the lights when you're lighting rather than using it for straight exposure. With the incident meter you have to use your eyes and if you've tested your film stock you'll know how well it'll handle highlights and the shadows.

Most DPs use incident meters because, they give accurate exposures. You really want a thick neg that you can carry into post and then you can grade it as you want. With neg, the saying goes that you expose for the shadows and let the highlights look after themselves, the opposite to shooting reversal.

Spot meters are great for checking a detail and if it's gone outside the range of your stock.

You have to work out which is more important to the film's story, the dress, the character or the landscape. However, chances are that the incident meter would've given you a good exposure for everything and the neg would have held the detail in the dress.

I'd glad no one fell out and it's been taken as part of a learning process.

Edited by Brian Drysdale, 11 November 2007 - 07:33 PM.

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