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Critique some screens from shoot.


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#1 Steve McBride

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 08:58 PM

This is the first time that I've posted any work that I've done on these forums and I really hate that it is this project. The project is one that I wrote for a scriptwriting class and put into production twice but had to cancel both times before I was able to shoot it two weeks ago.

From the grabs, you'll obviously see that they are not very good. The project was shot HDV on a Sony HVR-HD1000 with some really cheap lights that a friend of mine had.

I would like to get some feedback about the screen grabs and please be as brutally honest as you can be. I know that it isn't that great of work and I am looking for some feedback on it because I am heavily considering a reshoot for the whole project (which I don't mind since it was one day and I spent $17 which consisted of a trip to Wendy's to feed the cast and crew).

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What I am really looking for is advice on making it look less fake. It looks very staged and not natural (especially in the two shot of the boy and girl). Also if you could recommend hardware to use next time, that'd be greatly appreciated as well.

Again, please be as honest as you can be. I'll try to get some footage up as well.

Thanks in advance!

Edited by Steve McBride, 19 April 2009 - 08:59 PM.

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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 09:12 PM

Don't be afraid of letting 1/2 of the face fall to shadow. And, also I have been noticing in my own work, that a far side key looks better than a close side key (key opposite side of face from the camera). And of course, Location. you can only film what's in front of you, so when you're compromised on what gear you can roll in, try to get the best of location. And try to use lighting to separate elements in the middle and background.
This isn't to say that even I do all of this all of the time. I don't, I'm still working/learning too as many of us are. But start with those and you'll be working towards a good end.
Oh, and as for this.. don't under-estimate what you can do with curves in color correction.
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#3 Steve McBride

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Posted 19 April 2009 - 09:24 PM

Thanks for the advice. I had a feeling I'd get a reply from you fairly quick :P .

I've never done color correction, but now that I have FCS2 I'm going to be using this project for learning the whole workflow of capturing to a rough cut and into the final cut and then into color correction.

And I'll definitely work on the 1/2 face darker. It was something I was going for, but I didn't have control over the current lighting at the locations so I wasn't able to control the fill and the most powerful light I had was a 600w, so it was hard to get enough contrast without completely blowing out highlights.
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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 03:12 AM

The first two frames aren't bad at all. Obviously you were working with a real location but you found an attractive one and you made the best of it in terms of lighting, exposure, and framing. Sometimes it's best when you keep things simple. I like the 2nd composition a lot. Nice choice of focal lengths and lens placement. The skin tones are a little too red for my taste, I would probably grade the image cooler and crush the blacks. For the close up, I would probably cheat the key light so it was brighter and wrapped around the face more, probably a larger, softer source that gave an eye light in each eye. Then I'd use negative fill (like a large flag) to darken the opposite side of his face more - that way you have a nice flattering key and more contrast ratio at the same time. The cooler kicker on his dark-side cheek is nice, I'd keep that.

I think the 2nd location just doesn't look good to begin with (at least from the angles you chose to shoot), so there wasn't a whole lot you could have done without a budget or crew. It also looks like you didn't have any control over the placement of extras in the frame. The composition of the wide shot is unbalanced - the right quarter of the frame is empty and you're cropping an extra on frame left in an awkward way. The red object in the background is distracting, as are the bright yellow shirts. The main actors, where you want the audiences' eyes to be drawn, don't pop. And I find the strong yellow-green tint to the image very unpleasant. I see what you were trying to do - creating a sense of depth by framing a foreground, midground, background and hiding the actors in the back. It's a good idea but poorly executed because of the choice of camera placement.

I think the background behind the girl is the best looking side of the room, so I would have set up the master in that direction. It's hard to control the lighting of a wide shot in a real location - in a space like this, it usually means turning off all the lights that don't do what you want and setting up a lot of small lights to pick out and highlight the the areas you want to emphasize. For example, it looks like you were dealing with overhead fluorescents - I would have started by turning off half of them in an "off-on-off" pattern, row by row. If you can't turn them off, you can always cover the ones you don't like with duvytene taped to the ceiling. This would give you a "dark-light-dark" effect receding away from the camera and creating separation between fore, mid, background. Then I would place the extras in a staggered way so that they fell into the dark areas and the hero couple fell into the lit area.

I would then use the reflective floor tiles and create a big soft reflection on them, a bright sheen - probably a big soft source up high from 3/4 back, which could be as simple as a few open-faced lights punched into the ceiling and carefully skirted to avoid spill. This would semi-silhouette the darker, unlit extras and furniture in the foreground. Then I would turn off all the lights above the walkway in the far background and add three or four controlled top lights above the frame to again create a "dark-light-dark" effect, but this time horizontally across the frame. You could have extras walk back and forth thru the light. Another thing to do if you had the time and crew would be to add chinese lanterns above each table, perhaps skirted with duvytene, and add white paper tops to the tables so that the light bounced back up into the actors' faces.

I'll repeat, but the first step is that the location has to be built well and dressed well to even have a chance of looking good on film. A well-lit turd is still a turd. This doesn't mean it has to look good from every angle, but only from the angles that you choose to shoot.

Another reason why the two-shot and the two close ups look staged is because of a lack of depth. You've set up in the master that the space is fairly busy and full of people. But the coverage only has the two actors. The two shot, besides having a boring background, needs extras (preferably out of focus or darkly lit) in the foreground and background. If you have control of the extras, stack them in front of the lens. Lastly, the eyeline in the actors' close ups is a too far from the lens axis. Again, this is a camera placement issue. I would also prefer a longer focal length for these types of shot, especially in a small format like 1/3" HD or dv, to keep the background out of focus. Wide and medium wide lenses on CUs have their place, but unless you've got great locations or sets, it's better to keep the background soft.

Oh, and you crossed the 180 degree line in the close ups. That's the least worst thing, though. Well, that's it. Too brutal? :)
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 03:19 AM

*EDIT: Actually, now that I think about it, wouldn't it be more interesting to put the couple in silhouette and keep the extras lit? That would draw our eye to them in a different way, but just as effectively. It's a braver choice than the other, but somehow from the images you've shown us, I think it might suit your story better... Gordon Willis would love that!
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#6 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 20 April 2009 - 03:56 AM

I would also add that you shouldn't be afraid of natural light. The first scene looks like it might have had even more windows outside of the frame that you could have opened up to get a nice natural look. If a blown out window looks nice, embrace it. And use those visible sources as motivation for your subject's key light. Perhaps even incorporating small reflectors if needed to create a subtle kicker for the closeups.

In the second setup, you got a nice sparkle in the girl's eye. I would focus on trying to achieve something like that for most setups. You can usually achieve it with just your key light, but sometimes setting up a small unit close to the lens will bring out those eyes even more, while also sometimes acting as adequate fill for a scene.

Some instructors are so fearful of video that they instruct students to shoot flat, then augment their look in post...but in the business world, that's a good way of losing control over what you've shot. Don't be afraid to boost your contrast, achieving darker shadows and straying from basic 3 point lighting to get something interesting. No one setup is ever the same...unless you shoot interviews for a living :)

Edited by Jonathan Bowerbank, 20 April 2009 - 03:58 AM.

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#7 Steve McBride

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Posted 21 April 2009 - 12:16 AM

Wow... Thank you to everyone, especially Satsuki for all the feedback. I printed out your post Satsuki for reference when I'm planning the lighting for the shoot :P .

The locations that I'm going to be shooting in are lit mainly by overhead fluroescents and/or daylight coming in from windows. There really aren't many tungsten sources that are naturally in the locations. Since this is very low budget (the preliminary quote I got back from the rental house was less than $200 for all my grip and electric), I'm going to be going with tungsten lights due to the cost of KinoFlo and HMI lights.

Should I buy a roll of 1/4 CTB to put on the lights to cut down on the warmth coming from the lights?

Also for the cafe location, it's hard to tell how I'm going to light the wide shot. I'm thinking about getting a 2k and bouncing it off of the ceiling and then using Satsuki's idea of the "dark-light-dark" idea with the overhead fluroescents and then using the smaller fixtures to create the sillhouetes within the crowd of people. Does this sound like it will work?

Jonathan, I have definitely seen where blowing out windows looks good, I'm just worried that if I do blow them out then I would get too much light into the scene and creating unwanted sillhouetes, especially in wide shots. How could I go about avoiding this?

Thanks again for all of the help, I really appreciate it. Everyone will be getting a special thanks credit for the short :) .
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#8 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 02:02 AM

Jonathan, I have definitely seen where blowing out windows looks good, I'm just worried that if I do blow them out then I would get too much light into the scene and creating unwanted sillhouetes, especially in wide shots. How could I go about avoiding this?


Since you're working with smaller tungsten units, for the wide shot you can throw a CTB on a light without diffusion and set it as a sidey key to get rid of the complete silhouette. Then when you go in for closeups, try and frame your subjects interestingly enough so perhaps one side of their face is dark & silhouetted by a window while the other has a darker wall behind it and your tungsten unit is brought in closer with CTB and diffusion as your key light.
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#9 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 04:25 PM

Should I buy a roll of 1/4 CTB to put on the lights to cut down on the warmth coming from the lights?

1/4 CTB is very light, it won't change the color temp of your lights very much. 1/2 or full CTB would be better. If you have a small package of lights, you won't need a roll, only a few sheets - much cheaper. Even better would be white balancing the camera to tungsten, then either gelling the windows with CTO or blacking out the windows and using only tungsten. Of course, that will make it look like night, so sometimes there's no replacement for HMIs and Kinos...

Also for the cafe location, it's hard to tell how I'm going to light the wide shot. I'm thinking about getting a 2k and bouncing it off of the ceiling and then using Satsuki's idea of the "dark-light-dark" idea with the overhead fluroescents and then using the smaller fixtures to create the sillhouetes within the crowd of people. Does this sound like it will work?

Sure, that might work. Just remember, you can use reflective surfaces to your advantage since all you need to do is create a sheen on it to create shape and texture. Remember to juxtapose light on dark, dark on light. That's the basis of good lighting.

See if you can get into the location the night before and prelight as much as possible. Get a few friends to help you. I find what helps me when I walk into a practical location is to first turn off all the lights in the space and see what you get. Then turn the lights on one by one. You build the lighting one fixture at a time. Start with the background, then work your way to the foreground. Sometimes it's surprising how little you need to add if you take away lights that are in the wrong place first.
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#10 Steve McBride

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 07:44 PM

Thanks again for even more great tips!

Prelighting is probably going to be a problem as both locations are at a school and we will be shooting at least the "library" area during active school hours and then waiting to shoot the cafe until they are closed (which is at 4pm I believe).

I'm getting pretty much all tungsten lights (might get a KinoFlo Diva) for the shoot, so I think I will just white balance for tungsten and then CTO the windows if they let me do that. But if I do that, the fluorescent overheads will still be there and uncorrected. I guess I could just go and see how much they light they give during the day and just have turn them off. Sorry, I'm kinda thinking out loud (while typing rather)...

For setting the depth with lights in the cafe, what I'm thinking is using my extra lights from the Arri kit (kit has 2x 650w and 2x 300w) and semi-silhouetting extras to add that depth like you said.

Thanks again!
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#11 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 22 April 2009 - 11:21 PM

But if I do that, the fluorescent overheads will still be there and uncorrected. I guess I could just go and see how much they light they give during the day and just have turn them off. Sorry, I'm kinda thinking out loud (while typing rather)...


Yeah, definitely turn them off if they're not helping you any. That's almost always the first thing I check for when shooting at a location, whether or not I can turn off the overheads. And if not, whether I'll have enough lighting to overpower any effect they might have.
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