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Biggest/Hardest Lighting Stretch


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#1 Nikita K Carpenter Jr

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 02:44 AM

First Post on Cinematography.com!

In high school, I shot a music video with only one light in two interiors and one exteriors--a 500w Lowel Omni. When we started, I didn't think I could, but by bouncing it around I got some pretty good exposure on my subject all around. I even put it through a cookie and had enough light to bounce back onto my subjects in a small, dark room.

Here's my question: What's the biggest stretch you've had to make to light a scene with a limited amount of equipment that you've had?
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 03:05 AM

I remember once going up into the mountains at night, in the snow, to shoot some exterior driving scenes. Our bigger light broke down and I only had a 1200w HMI PAR to light a mountainside at night as a car drove down the road. Luckily, though it was underexposed, the light hitting all that white snow still read on film. I had a similar experience years later shooting a wide shot of a building by a frozen lake at night in St. Petersburg, Russia and I managed to light it with a 575w HMI, again, thanks to having so much white snow in the frame picking up the underexposed light.

I've lit shots with tinier lights of course -- flashlights, etc.

But in terms of being "stretched" usually that means shooting something almost beyond the ability of the lights available.

For example I had a night exterior on "Jennifer's Body" this spring where I had two 18K's on a condor... but they were so far away down the road that my meter said I had to push the film to 800 ASA just to get an f/1.4 exposure. So that's a case where even some big lights were almost not quite enough.
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#3 Nikita K Carpenter Jr

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 03:27 AM

Geez! I couldn't even think about 36 Kilowatts of lighting just yet.

I just checked "Jennifer's Body" out and it looks intense. Did you have any tricky lighting situations with your interiors?
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#4 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 03:39 AM

A couple of weeks ago I shot a $1K budget TV pilot with a 650W Mole scoop, a 1K Arri fresnel and a 200W and 400W Diva set. The catch is that we shot 58 pages in 3 days with 2 cameras and there were as many as 8 actors in a scene at any given time; the "grip" and "gaffer" had only done their "job" once before (and spent most of their time sleeping on any available couch), so it was basically me and the director / producer running lights, cameras AND sound for the marathonic piece.

Needless to say it was hard as heck, problem compounded by the fact that many locations were found the night before we started shooting, so I couldn't scout any of the locations, except for 2 restaurants where I had been at on my own at an earlier time.

Particularly hard was a time when I had to light - with my meager resources- a scene with 8 actors coming in and out of frame in a stark white room that was backlight by the hot NM afternoon sun. I shudder to think what it looks like on video . . .

I have also shot some night flashlight lit scenes, but this TV pilot was by far one of the hardest and under-equiped, under-budget and under-crewed projects I have been invloved in, particularly when it comes to scope. But the producer is happy as can be with the results, so the actors must have delivered miraculous performances, because technically, the project often doesn't hold water, though some scenes look cool. I took my 16mm camera along and got some cool shots on Fuji Eterna stock of the most memorable scenes when I had a minute.

These overly ambitous producers sure know how to put us through our paces . . .

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 22 December 2008 - 03:43 AM.

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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 12:19 PM

It's like the old rule that you always have more junk than closet space -- the shot always seem to expand in scale and scope to push the limits of the crew and equipment package (and time) you have to accomplish the shot with.

So just because I'm dragging around two 18K HMI's... doesn't mean I won't be faced with a location or set-up where that will suddenly seem inadequate.

I've done features with just a few lights in a van -- that HD movie I did in Russia was like that. I normally just carried four Kinoflos and a couple of tweenies and 1K's plus two 575w HMI's. And with that I had to recreate daylight in many scenes because it was only light from 10AM to 3PM in late November.

I try never to carry only one of any type of unit because if it breaks down after you've lit the set-up, it's hard to put a different type of unit in its place without having to adjust everything to compensate.
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#6 Nikita K Carpenter Jr

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 04:19 PM

That couldn't be more true. What's really convenient is when you have more lights than you need and you're able to cut it down to really help compose a shot.

I'd assume you'll be looking to add some of that new LED Lite Panels technology to your inventory.
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#7 Aaron Moorhead

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 05:20 PM

Power went down because of a lightning storm at night on the last day of shooting. Luckily, the scene was supposed to be during the rain, but without a genny we were really out of luck. We didn't know when it would be coming back on, so we rolled camera with a few compromises from the director -- it was keyed with our still photographer's flash bulbs that doubled as lightning, and now one of the characters came out of their room with a flashlight which we used as much as we could.

A lot of people have heard that and say "man, I'll bet it came out even better when you're forced to use a little ingenuity," but I'd have to say that I really, really wish the power didn't go down. It came out okay, but inconsistent with the soft, slick look of the rest of the film. That, plus, you know how darned hard still flashes are to catch on the RED :)?
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 06:33 PM

I'm sure many of you have heard the story about James Wong Howe shooting "Air Force" for Howard Hawks -- they lit this big night shot of bombers landing at an air field right after an attack, and then the generators went down. Howe had the carbon in the big arcs replaced by military flares, or bundles of them, and had them all lit at the same time just as the planes were landing. There was a lot of smoke and flickering light, but since it was a scene of a bombed-out airfield, it looked appropriate. In fact, Hawks liked it so much he said (joking) that they should send the generators home and shoot the rest of the movie with flares.
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#9 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 08:34 PM

It's like the old rule that you always have more junk than closet space -- the shot always seem to expand in scale and scope to push the limits of the crew and equipment package (and time) you have to accomplish the shot with.

So just because I'm dragging around two 18K HMI's... doesn't mean I won't be faced with a location or set-up where that will suddenly seem inadequate.


Amen to that.

I once worked with a junior ASC member -who shall remain nameless- and during one of the scouts, the director said to him "look at this beautiful mountain, I would love to shoot our night scene here." The DP glanced at it and said "I don't have enough lights to make it work." The director shrugged it off, and I though, "just as easy as that, the DP got out of it".

Had I been the DP, I would have suggested day for night, I dunno, something to please the director or to make it work, but instead we quickly moved on to other matters. Which is kinda strange, because DP's are generally hired to solve problems, not to say "No can do."

I guess the director really didn't want to shoot the scene there otherwise he would have pressed on. Perhaps the military flares Wong Howe used -in all their smoky, strobey glory- would have been a better option than a rotund NO.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 22 December 2008 - 08:38 PM.

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#10 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 08:56 PM

Well, sometimes we (DP's) can get a bit blunt after awhile on location scouts and whatnot, i.e. we cut to the chase: what do we really need to see, what can we do in the time allotted, how much equipment it will take, so we can move on to the next location. So sometimes saying "we don't have the budget to light all of this" is a quick way of getting everyone back to reality.

I sometimes find myself having to constantly remind people (directors, producers, etc.) when we scout exterior locations during the daytime for a night scene what we probably won't be seeing at night -- like that distant mountain. Of course, there are solutions I can bring up, like visual efx, day-for-night, etc. but a lot of time that doesn't excite anyone on the scout, especially if it means adding more to the budget. Of course, actually lighting miles and miles of landscape at night also adds a lot to a budget.

I hate being put in the position of raining on someone's parade, but there are limits to how much I can break the laws of physics and make something exposable at night without enough lighting to do it.
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#11 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:20 PM

I guess being a younger cameraman who is nowhere near as established as you ASC guys, my main concern is to bend over-backwards to make it work for unreasonable-expectations directors and producers (even if it involves bending the laws of physics :P ) while I try to build a name / reputation for myself. I'll save the blunt NOs for later, cause they sure aren't working for me now.
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#12 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:40 PM

I've always been like this, a realist, from the beginning... I guess I figure if they've already hired me, they want my honest opinion, and if they fire me for giving it, I probably don't want to be working for them anyway (though I've never been fired, so I guess they were OK with me expressing my opinion.)

But I have run across DP's who are more power-of-positive-thinking types than me. I probably could use a little of that.
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#13 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 09:51 PM

In terms of being the DP and disagreeing, I feel it's part of my job to disagree when I honestly do, lay out to the director, honestly, why, and then once I've voiced that go with what he wants. Most directors I've been with so far have been appreciative of that-- thank god.
As for my toughest lighting situation... probably turning a bright sunny day into a rainy dark day with no budget, whatsoever, and no ext grip equipment, no crew, and no time. Thank god for a handy lawn umbrella I "borrowed" and the shade of a nearby building!
Another tough one was a night shot walking down the street w/o a genny on my XdCam. I used an inverter and these 300W output CFL bulbs I found at home-depot to light it all up (they pulled 64W each) and used the mini-van we had as a poor man's dolly with a sandbag on an applebox. It worked pretty well, though I still with I had had a back-light for some separation as I had planned to :/
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#14 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 22 December 2008 - 11:49 PM

I guess we all different approaches to dealing with seemingly unreasonable expectations. Being a generally pessimistic person AND having worked enough jobs as a crew member, (read non-DP) I learned early on that my job is to support the wishes of production, if it means going to hell and back, so be it.

I just had the opportunity to work for Robert Elswit ASC for a couple of weeks. There was a shot where he called for a 1000 lb Chapman Lenny arm. But we were on a second floor and there was no way the crane was going to make it up the stairs or on the elevator. I was completely sure we wouldn't be able to do this.

Best Boy grip Hank Morris (bless his heart) took the thing apart and, with a condor, took it piece by piece to a ledge where we pushed it in to the room where we were shooting. Once in there we put it together. Several near misses, crushed fingers and sore backs later, we were done. Needless to say, they used it for 15 minutes, probably said "OK, hum, let's move on" and left it in the corner of the room for the rest of the day, as it wouldn't make it through the door.

Later on, we had to disassemble it and take it out, piece by piece to the ledge where it was taken down using the condor. Later on, Hank and I commented on it, and the consensus was "Did they really use it? We don't know, but we do as we are told." Hank's grandson, incidentally has now officially become the 4th generation grip in the family.

All in all I am grateful for the opportunity to see Mr. Elswit light, and my lesson was that, we crew members can do the job at hand with enough ingenuity and hard work.

As I start getting more and more modest gigs as a DP I find that it helps me tremendously to have a positive attitude (even if it means forcing it on) and just do the best I can. I just try to do what I can to solve the problems at hand and keep people happy, because my livelihood truly depends on it. Getting the shot against all odds is really what it is all about in my neck of the woods.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 22 December 2008 - 11:53 PM.

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#15 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 12:01 AM

Obviously, I am sure everyone here does the best job to ensure that production is taken care at the end of the day. I am just illustrating my personal travails to get to where I think I need to be. Purely personal anecdotes, no pontificating is intended.
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#16 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 12:06 AM

Getting the shot against all odds is really what it is all about in my neck of the woods.


It's like that here to. I enjoy doing that as well, though when I have my reservations about it I think it's a DP's duty to voice them. My thinking being, I am here for some reason other than just putting up lights-- be that my own "style," or my rapport with the director, I like to be thought of as a collaborator within reason. Yes I'm in service of him (but also of the crew, I feel sometimes you really must protect the crew in the low-budget world!), but at the same time I am also employed by the film-itself-- its story and its life as the dir and I have hashed out. When I think a shot doesn't fit with that, or i see something which might-, well what's the hurt in just voicing what I think? At least, once heard, whether agreed with or not, we can move on.
It's important though, not to let this impede production. one must always pick one's moments to speak up-- which of course means in the most cordial way possible just telling the director what you think in a moment of pause ;).
Though of late I can't think of any moments I've really dissented for any reason, though I did recently "borrow" the camera right before we ran out on a mag to grab a shot that wasn't in the script, but so far has made the cut.. just some blood drops on the floor and an army boot, but I'm proud of it ;)

edit :I read no pontification in there Saul, I think we all realize we are all different personalities. (thank god else this would be a boring forum!)
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#17 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 12:32 AM

Though of late I can't think of any moments I've really dissented for any reason, though I did recently "borrow" the camera right before we ran out on a mag to grab a shot that wasn't in the script, but so far has made the cut.. just some blood drops on the floor and an army boot, but I'm proud of it ;)


I hear you. I just shot 2 shorts this weekend and I kept on taking digital stills of coverage to show the director -who only wanted to shoot masters and an insert here and there- how cool would this and that coverage shot would look. He ended up thanking me for "gently pushing him" to get the coverage I knew he needed. I can't wait to get the film back from the lab.
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#18 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 12:37 AM

Ironically here I am doing the opposite, taking a director away from coverage to shooting just a master with "important punch ins," in order to preserve the small amount of film they could afford ;). Maybe this is just our own east v west-- PA and New Mexico :ph34r:
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#19 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 01:00 AM

Well, I guess is about balancing it out. It sounds that your director wanted a lot of coverage, and mine none at all. I just got him a 4 or 5 shots (punch ins) that will really be helpful later. But we shot less than 300' for the 30 sec short and about 650' for the 4 minute one. So, as far as film footage count goes, it was fairly economical at the end of the day.

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 23 December 2008 - 01:01 AM.

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#20 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 23 December 2008 - 01:04 AM

Quite true. All about the balance.
For the 20pg-er we have 4200ft overall, which should hold us, one hopes.
And on the lighting side of this one, to keep partially on topic, biggest problem is lighting a hallway when all the lights go out... which has no windows.
Still working on exactly how to tackle that one! I'm thinking just really under-expose, and keep 1 prick or light in actors eyes, just barely to see where he is-- almost like how our eyes adjust to the dark. . dunno though :/
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