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The "cigarette lighter flame illuminates a face" gag


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#1 Ed Moore

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 09:13 AM

Hi all,

I need to pull off the aforementioned gag for an upcoming project. The scene will start essentially in complete black, then the idea is that the lighter flame suddenly appears, illuminating the face of a character. The face will probably be within a foot of the flame.

I will be shooting at 320ASA, T/2.0. I could probably get away with pushing a stop for this shot.

There must be a whole bunch of you that have attempted this shot - which seems to be a director's favourite - before, and I was hoping to hit you up for some tips on what worked and what didn't.

The options appear to be:

- Push as required until the lighter flame does the job by itself
- Get some sort of stunt lighter with a larger / brighter flame than usual (this is WW2 period so can't go too crazy)
- Supplement the illumination from the lighter with some sort of point source, and practise until the point source comes on exactly at the same time as the lighting. Unfortunately there's no budget for a flicker unit on this, so anything like that will probably have to be achieved with cunning use of flag waving...

What are your thoughts?

Ed Moore
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07980 524136 | http://www.emoore.co.uk | http://www.thedopdiaries.com
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 11:53 AM

Zippo lighter should work fine.. I know i've used a "gaged" lighter in my shots and I think i was at a 5.6 on 500T @500... But get your hands on a zippo and if it's full of fluid I think you can pull it off @ a T2.0 on it's own...
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#3 K Borowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 01:51 PM

Figures that *YOU* would reply to this thread, Adrian. ;-)

Actually, at least as far as my knowledge of the '40s is concerned, they actually used matches more commonly then
(unless you were a Nazi Party Member or a Big-Time Politician).

Watch "Double Indemnity". While a lot of films were less than historically accurate for their own time period back then, I am told that they actually did have matches that would spontaneously combust by just fingering the tip. Obvioulsy, highly dangerous by today's standards, but the intensity is bright enough to handle 80- or 200 ISO film in the '40s, should be more than a match for 500T stock made today.

Does anyone know if you can still get these? Obviously, it'd be a niche market.

In my own experience, I can get exposure with 500T film shot at T-2.0 or 2.8 at 24fps normally, so this should be doable with a match on a prime lens wide open.
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 02:05 PM

I think many American troops had zippos.... It was, in fact, a recommended piece of gear even in 2001...
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#5 K Borowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 03:11 PM

I think many American troops had zippos.... It was, in fact, a recommended piece of gear even in 2001...


True, but "Double Indemnity" was, I think, in 1944. So, the older generation (i.e. 30+) probably would've resisted the newer butane lighter technology in favor of matches.

And, IDK. I'm not a habitual smoker (only at parties, weddings) but I've cousins that tend to use only matches to light up in the 21st century.

I am a lighter guy myself though. If I could get "Easy-light" matches though, that'd be another story.
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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 03:14 PM

Not butane in a zippo ;)
I dunno, I think that in terms of aesthetics, we would associate a zippo more with 1940s and matched more with 1920s. That could just be me, though, but IIRC Saving Private Ryan had someone with a zippo.
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#7 K Borowski

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 03:20 PM

Lol. Be careful Adrian, you're going to get this thread shut down for a "lighter vs. match" debate.
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#8 Ralph Keyser

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 05:12 PM

Lol. Be careful Adrian, you're going to get this thread shut down for a "lighter vs. match" debate.


Another vicious debate in progress :)

The Zippo lighter was invented in the mid-1930's, and was synomous with American troops in World War II.

From Zippo's website:
World War II had a profound effect on Zippo. Upon America’s entry in the war, Zippo ceased production of lighters for consumer markets and dedicated all manufacturing to the U.S. military. The military initiative led to the production of the steel-case Zippo with black “crackle” finish. The fact that millions of American military personnel carried the lighter into battle was a significant catalyst in establishing Zippo as an icon of America throughout the world.

Karl, the matches you are looking for are called "strike-anywhere matches". They'll strike anywhere you can get a bit of friction, which leads to that tough guy image of striking a match on the beard stubble of his chin. They are pretty rare these days, at least in the US. Most everything now is a "safety" match that needs the chemicals in the strip on the side of the box to strike.

So, Ed, I think you'll be fine with just the lighter on a tight shot with reasonably fast film.
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#9 Mike Lary

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 07:10 PM

So, the older generation (i.e. 30+) probably would've resisted the newer butane lighter technology in favor of matches.

Modern Zippos use butane, but back then it would have been naphtha. Those lighters were hugely popular in the military. They were durable, windproof, and user serviceable (wicks, flints, and cotton could be replaced by the user). They also stay lit until you close the hood (which cuts off air supply to the wick), which makes it a lot easier to light cigarettes in a group environment (fewer burnt thumbs) and also why they're popular in films where a flame needs to be thrown into a combustible liquid. The flame is quite substantial, especially when the lighter has just been filled with fluid (moreso if it was overfilled...).

Back to the original question, though, I would consider using a strategically placed and flagged china ball on a dimmer to supplement the flame. As long as the flame doesn't flicker too much, you should be able to sell the boost without giving it away.
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#10 Joe Giambrone

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Posted 06 March 2009 - 04:59 PM

A gold reflector or mirror just out of frame could help bounce some more flame back toward the face.
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#11 Mike Simpson

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 04:20 AM

is this a shot of his face, or him walking around trying to see his way in a wide? Shouldnt be too hard to supplement the lighter with some sort of fill and just keep it off the bottom and/or front of the hand holding it. If you need to actually see stuff more than a couple feet from the flame it is when it starts to get pretty tricky =p
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