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Lighting an interview inside a cinema


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#1 Oskar Arnarson

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 11:37 AM

Hi, lighting is not my strongest aspect.
What I'm about to shoot is basically one person sitting in a red or blue cinema seat. Background is simply the other seats.

I want it to be rather soft, but not too soft, with a visible hairlight. It should be somewhat corporate but not too much. This is for a film school. I want the customers to read it as "If I apply to this school, my film will be screened in an actual theater" (which is the case. That's why the interviews take place inside a cinema.

I have access to multiple lights, red heads, kinos.. etc.

I was wondering, since I am about to shoot interviews that take place inside a cinema, does anybody have an ideal lighting setup in mind?

Would I use the ceiling lights on the location? I prefer not to. My initial idea was to get a kino as a keylight, a red head light bounced off a reflector as the fill. And then one other red head as the hairlight. Maybe one extra red head to be a backlight?

Any ideas?
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#2 Justin Hayward

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 11:56 AM

Would I use the ceiling lights on the location? I prefer not to. My initial idea was to get a kino as a keylight, a red head light bounced off a reflector as the fill. And then one other red head as the hairlight. Maybe one extra red head to be a backlight?


That sounds like a good start. Set it up and if you don’t like something, move things around until you do. ;)

I saw a documentary where many of the interviews took place in a theater. The filmmakers did a pretty cool thing where they framed the guy being interviewed in a medium shot, but on a wide angle lens. So, they were able to get all the seats in the theater in the background. It was a neat look. They used some of the theater’s “house lights to fill in the background a bit.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 01:06 PM

I might be inclined to loose the fill and just use the Kino as a key and let the shadow side go into darkness. it's just a look I prefer. I would also use something to light the seats behind them to see how bit the theater is as well a maybe one or two of the doors, but I would keep this under-key so as not to be too distracting, and no, i would 't use the ceiling lights.
If you wanted to get really creative, you could add in a soft overall blue-gray flicker to "mimic' as though there is something projecting on the screen. This would be your ambient base for the theater and could also be used as the rim-light for the talent. Then you key him with the Kino. For something like that you'd probably want something rather strong bouncing into foamcore in the front so it backlights the chairs and the talent while providing some ambient, and very soft, fill.
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#4 Rob Vogt

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 01:20 PM

I don't know how fancy you want to go with this but I'd consider skirting off the ceiling from the stage for the interview with the houselights on a dimmer down 2 stops from the talent. I'd bounce a redhead blued off a reflector for fill, then have a pepper or a 300 on a dimmer with an opal and some CTB as the hairlight. then I'd through some duve on the side away from where he's looking for some negative fill. If you didn't want to use the houselights for the background you could throw up the redhead as u suggested and cookie it just to spice things up.
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 02 June 2010 - 10:49 PM

I've done MANY of these types of interview setups.

Here's what I've learned and is "best":

Start by putting a tall director's chair in the aisle between the screen and the front row of seats. Your camera goes in one corner or the other pointing back toward the seats so your "lead room" will either be left or right so that you see lots of seats over the subject's shoulder (right or left).

Then, key from the "lead" side (as is normal). I like to use an ARRI 1K openfaced with a small Chimera. If it's a male, the key is placed at about a 45 degree angle to create some shadow on the face that is facing the lens. If it's a female, pull the key light so it sits behind the interviewer who is sitting right next to the lens.

The backlight/rimlight is hung off of an extended C-stand on the side opposite of the key (behind the subject, of course). You do it from there because if you put it on the "key side" of the camera, the stand would likely be in your shot. Place the C-stand base just off frame and then extend the arm out (and up) so that your backlight is sitting just outside the top of the frame and behind the subject's head (more or less in line, pointing back at the lens). I like to use an ARRI 300w attached to the end of the C-stand extended arm, no diffusion, but with a dimmer. To keep the light out of the lens (and if I have a subject who is lacking hair), I put up a second C-stand and extend it out the same way, but with a small solid flag to cut the light off the lens (and off the top of the head, if the subject is bald to get rid of that glare-spot you'd otherwise have).

For the seats, your key light will help fill the first few rows so I don't worry about flagging the spill at all. Depending upon the size of the room and the number of rows, you may have to use another light (I like to use an ARRI 650w Fresnel) flooded and diffused to just give a light fill in the upper rows.

To really "sell" the theater seat feeling, you want to hit the BACK of the seats with a hard light. So, just off frame on the lead-side of camera, you want another light (another 650w) pointing back toward camera so that it creates a nice rimlight on the backs of the theater seats. Depending upon the color of the seats, I like to put some party gel on to really give them a nicer kick. Red works really well though sometimes I'll go with blue. Rarely is "white" (no gel) a good choice.

That is the basic setup that works every time. If you have any additional influence over your surroundings, try to get the projectionist to get the projector to "flicker" something. You'd need some dust/smoke to really see the effect, but it can be pretty cool, though slightly distracting.

Problems that sometimes come up with this plan.... if you're shooting in a small screening room (like at a movie studio), sometimes the space between the screen and the front row of seats is really tight so getting a camera and chair in can be difficult. Ideally, in almost any interview setup, the camera to subject distance is roughly six feet. I sometimes INCREASE that distance if I'm going for a specific effect (like to decrease my depth-of-field), but rarely do I want to DECREASE the camera to subject distance. If the space available in between the screen and seats is too small, you can go more diagonally but you end up with more theater wall. In that case, I use another small unit to splash some kind of colored light just so there isn't a big black hole where you wish there were seats.

Another common problem in a theater is power. Finding outlets can be really difficult. I've had to run long lengths of stingers out doors, into the projection booth, behind the screen, into the halls... so bring plenty of AC cords and cubetaps.


From time to time, a Producer will ask if we can put the subject IN a theater seat. I advise against it because while it might seem like it is putting them "in the environment," what you end up with is a bad frame and you wind up not really being able to tell where they are even though they are sitting in the seats. You get a much better sense of place by pulling the subject AWAY from the background elements (in this case, the seats) so that you see MORE of the seats. Putting the subject IN a theater seat, you wind up seeing LESS of the theater.
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#6 Oskar Arnarson

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Posted 10 June 2010 - 06:19 PM

Thank you all for your replies :) Really helpful!

Learned a lot from this. All the best!
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