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DP’s Boundrys with blocking/actors?


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#1 Ricky Cook

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 03:19 PM

Hey there,
So I did a very short film with a director I know the other day. He was basically doing some tests with the actors, kind of auditions you could say. We were working on limited lighting equiptment, a 1k, and a 300watt Fresnel. The scene was two people in front of a window, so I gelled the 1k and blasted it through the window. While shooting, I quickly realized that the 1k needed to be worked around, as it didn’t fill a large area. So I would keep an eye out and slightly alter the scenes blocking so that the actors would be in the proper light. This happened a few times, and I started to think. What is acceptable for the DP to change within a scene? Moving the actors a few feet so they are illuminated doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it could be to a director who wants total control.
So to anyone who has an opinion, story, or advice to offer. What is a DP’s boundary as far as directing actors, or altering the blocking of a scene if it is meant to help the visuals in the film? Would it be acceptable for me to do this on a larger production? I’d imagine It largely depends on your relationship with the director.
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 03:59 PM

I’d imagine It largely depends on your relationship with the director.


You imagine correctly. The director sets the groundrules, however, most directors want the DP's input, that's why they hired them. But you should try to always go through the director when adjusting the blocking unless the director openly asks you in front of the actors for your feedback during the blocking (which is why it helps when the blocking rehearsal just has the actors, DP, AD, script supervisor, maybe a few others, in attendance -- you don't feel you are undermining the director in front of the whole crew by discussing the set-up and making suggestions). Usually the director and the actors block, the DP watches silently, and after a few passes, the director turns to the DP and asks "what do you think?" That's your opportunity for suggestions.

Now, after a blocking rehearsal, usually the actors step off while lighting is going on, and it's not usual for the DP to move the marks on the floor slightly for composition and lighting purposes. If you feel that the move is quite cheated, you can point it out to the actor when they return to the set.

If there is a lighting problem during the first take, talk to the director about it and see if he wants you to make an adjustment.
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#3 Ricky Cook

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 05:38 PM

You imagine correctly. The director sets the groundrules, however, most directors want the DP's input, that's why they hired them. But you should try to always go through the director when adjusting the blocking unless the director openly asks you in front of the actors for your feedback during the blocking (which is why it helps when the blocking rehearsal just has the actors, DP, AD, script supervisor, maybe a few others, in attendance -- you don't feel you are undermining the director in front of the whole crew by discussing the set-up and making suggestions). Usually the director and the actors block, the DP watches silently, and after a few passes, the director turns to the DP and asks "what do you think?" That's your opportunity for suggestions.

Now, after a blocking rehearsal, usually the actors step off while lighting is going on, and it's not usual for the DP to move the marks on the floor slightly for composition and lighting purposes. If you feel that the move is quite cheated, you can point it out to the actor when they return to the set.

If there is a lighting problem during the first take, talk to the director about it and see if he wants you to make an adjustment.


Thanks!


I guess the missing link on this shoot was a blocking rehearsal! Its a lot easier to take care of these things before hand, so that you as a DP aware of what the blocking will entail.

Do you ever feel like you absolutely have to make an adjustment, because something is totally not going the way you planned? For example, I set the lighting, and shot a take. Through the lens, the Light was flat, and uninteresting. I then decided to take a totally different approach and shot with mostly backlight. I just made this decision, and did it. Is that a rare occasion? Do you usually stick with your original plans, unless the director asks for a change?
It was unusual in my case, because the director was in the scene as well, he was not given the chance to see the take. I’m assuming it would have been different had he been watching.

Thanks for you help! I appreciate it.
Rick
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 05:50 PM

Thanks!


I guess the missing link on this shoot was a blocking rehearsal! Its a lot easier to take care of these things before hand, so that you as a DP aware of what the blocking will entail.

Do you ever feel like you absolutely have to make an adjustment, because something is totally not going the way you planned? For example, I set the lighting, and shot a take. Through the lens, the Light was flat, and uninteresting. I then decided to take a totally different approach and shot with mostly backlight. I just made this decision, and did it. Is that a rare occasion? Do you usually stick with your original plans, unless the director asks for a change?
It was unusual in my case, because the director was in the scene as well, he was not given the chance to see the take. I’m assuming it would have been different had he been watching.

Thanks for you help! I appreciate it.
Rick


I don't recall a radical relight like that after a first take unless the director basically hated everything about the set-up and wanted to rethink it, giving me a second chance to light it. Hopefully you do a second team rehearsal with stand-ins to show the director the look before the actors come back on set, if you are worried.

I have gone in and tweaked the lighting between the first and second take, mainly in terms of fill light, sometimes the angle of the key, once I see how the actors are actually looking under the lighting while they act. Sometimes you just see a problem that has to be fixed, whether or not it was your fault, like the actor moving into some unlit part and needing another key or a bit more fill, etc. But often the tweak is more subtle, like slighting increasing or decreasing the fill, or sliding the key over two feet. Sometimes you have to add a flag to fix something, like a flare or reflection in a piece of glass, or some spill light you didn't catch.

The idea is to make any tweaks between the first and second takes very fast though, which is why it's better to fix them after a second team rehearsal or a camera rehearsal with the cast. Sometimes, if the director is worried about burning the actors out performance-wise, you can ask for a camera rehearsal "just for marks and lighting, no performance" -- i.e. just have the actors move through all of their marks once, no acting.

Now when lighting the set with stand-ins, I have put up every light I thought I needed and then found myself turning some off, or way, way down... which is one reason why the order of the lights going up matters to me. If some big backlight is going to bounce around the room and interact with things, perhaps negating the need for some other lights or fill, I want that light put up first and turned on because it may allow me to cancel some of the other lights I called for. That can be hard when your main light is on a condor, for example, it can be frustrating waiting for that light to come on if it determines the look of the whole shot.

I was just watching the long version of Storaro's "Caravaggio" last night and there was this night exterior, lit with orange firelight effects, where the close-up of Caravaggio was strongly backlit, but some cuts to him had a hard 3/4 key light on him and others just had an ambient bounce back onto his face, either from a white card or the white dress of the woman he was facing. Now I can't decide why the hard key light comes and goes in some cuts, sometimes the woman shadows his face a bit, and maybe Storaro decided that the bounceback into his face from the backlight was better than the hard key light she was shadowing anyway so he turned it off, or maybe one close-up is a pick-up shot intercut with an older close-up, I don't know. But with all of the interactive firelight flicker, you can almost get away with the mismatch of the key that keeps disappearing.

Another possibility was that the hard key on his face was for the 50-50 profile 2-shot (cross-key lighting) and a B-camera was grabbing his close-up at the same time, but when they started doing just the close-ups, Storaro was able to get rid of the hard key light. The movie was made quickly on a TV schedule I take it, so I'm not surprised by some of those issues.
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#5 J. Lamar King

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 06:28 PM

The way for the younger, lower budget DP to avoid some of these problems is to argue hard for some stand-ins. It's so important to have them. You need stand ins that match in skin-tone and relative height. They need to watch the blocking, so they can go through the movements while you light them. Yes you can do it without them but they will make your life so much easier and the set run faster.

Personally, I try to be challenged by the blocking the director wants. If you are setting up a master, the common problem I find is that the actors and thus camera and lighting may have to cover way to much of the set. Say they make dinner at a stove in the kitchen then retreat to a back ground table to eat. You have to ask yourself how are you going to get that all in a way that fits the story? You might quietly suggest to the director that you would rather slice the scene up into two parts, the kitchen, then the table. First, give serious thought to how you might do it the way it was blocked. Sometimes this can create some pretty cool shots.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 06:58 PM

To illustrate further what I noticed in "Caravaggio":

Here is the wide master 2-shot (I like the fake moon in the sky, which seems done live, not in post), which dollies into a tighter 2-shot, classic cross-key lighting:
Posted Image

This is his close-up, with a hardish key but flickering a bit, and with some shadowing from her sometimes:
Posted Image

This is her close-up, also hard-lit like the wide shot. I noticed that Storaro often used a net on the lens for her close-ups, which is something he doesn't do often:
Posted Image

But sometimes Caravaggio's close-ups look like this, his face more or less lit by the bounce off her dress (though her dress is black in the wide shot, so maybe Storaro clipped some muslin to it):
Posted Image

Now at some point they cut back to the 2-shot and it starts with her briefly (like two frames) shadowing him:
Posted Image

Then he or she moves and his face gets unshadowed:
Posted Image

So I'm curious as to the changes in Caravaggio's coverage, did the actors move so close together that Storaro decided to start keying his face with a bounce instead of the harder key in the wide shots? Or did he just lean out of his key and Storaro increased the exposure to compensate so that he became more lit by the bounceback from the backlight?

But this is a good example of what cinematographers have to face all the time.

BTW, the long version of "Caravaggio" is much better than the short version released briefly in the states. Unfortunately the DVD is 4x3 letterboxed, not anamorphic widescreen, but is in the correct 2:1 aspect ratio, unlike most of the DVD release's of the Univisium movies that Storaro actually framed for 2:1.
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#7 J. Lamar King

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 07:26 PM

BTW, the long version of "Caravaggio" is much better than the short version released briefly in the states. Unfortunately the DVD is 4x3 letterboxed, not anamorphic widescreen, but is in the correct 2:1 aspect ratio, unlike most of the DVD release's of the Univisium movies that Storaro actually framed for 2:1.


I saw this at the Aero in Santa Monica with Storaro present. Is this version longer than what was shown there? I would like to see it again.
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#8 Ricky Cook

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 07:29 PM

I have gone in and tweaked the lighting between the first and second take, mainly in terms of fill light, sometimes the angle of the key, once I see how the actors are actually looking under the lighting while they act.


I think the main battle is that I am still learning what setups work well. I sometimes set a scene then feel like something needs to be changed, yet I can’t quite pin point what it is. I shot a music video this past summer, with a female lead. I was constantly struggling with making the lead appear “beautiful” (it didn’t help that she wasn’t really stunning). The director would want to start shooting before the lights were even unloaded. The combination of the two made a setup stressful, as I knew I couldn’t adjust. I felt like I was setting lights without knowing where the light will hit, or what it will hit.
I believe these are things I will come in time, and experience.

I have never watched "Caravaggio". So I’m not familiar with the scene other then what is in the photos. You mentioned it is possible he leaned out of the key. Would'nt that explain why the backlight is so much more intense in the shot? On the wider shots, her chest is definitly well illuminated, and the CU in question looks like the soft source is coming from about that angle. Hmmm... Would this be considered a "breast Bounce"?

I also love the Moon! Just curious, How could they have done that live? It seems to me like it would be a lot of work.

The way for the younger, lower budget DP to avoid some of these problems is to argue hard for some stand-ins.

That definitely would help! I will keep that in mind for anything I shoot from now on. It would eliminate a lot of the anxiety of bothering the Director/Actors.

Thanks, both of you!
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 08:37 PM

I have never watched "Caravaggio". So I’m not familiar with the scene other then what is in the photos. You mentioned it is possible he leaned out of the key. Would'nt that explain why the backlight is so much more intense in the shot? On the wider shots, her chest is definitly well illuminated, and the CU in question looks like the soft source is coming from about that angle. Hmmm... Would this be considered a "breast Bounce"?

I also love the Moon! Just curious, How could they have done that live? It seems to me like it would be a lot of work.

That definitely would help! I will keep that in mind for anything I shoot from now on. It would eliminate a lot of the anxiety of bothering the Director/Actors.

Thanks, both of you!


It's the same backlight but clearly when his face was shadowed, the lens was opened up because the backlight is hotter and the depth of field is more shallow.

I don't know how the moon was done, perhaps it was done in post but it moves when the dolly pushes in as if it were maybe 50 yards away. Perhaps a telephone pole with a cutout moon at the top hit with a spotlight, I don't know. Maybe a balloon light painted to look like the moon.

The DVD version is in two 90 minute parts, so it's a 3-hour movie. The version shown at the Aero was bookended by the shots of Caravaggio sick and dying on that boat at sea in the daytime, but the long version doesn't employ that flashback structure. The long version just makes more sense in terms of the details of his career and the politics behind his exile, and all his relationships. The creation of a few more of his most famous paintings are also highlighted.
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#10 Freya Black

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 08:44 PM

I was guessing the moons a balloon myself, there is something about the shape of it that makes me think of a paticular kind of studio light tho.

I do love the cleverly positioned smoke in that shot too. Excellent!

One thing I'm wondering from the pictures is if this is an exterior shot or if it is actually shot on a stage. It's hard to tell from that shot!

love

Freya

Edited by Freya Black, 28 February 2011 - 08:46 PM.

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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 February 2011 - 09:11 PM

I was guessing the moons a balloon myself, there is something about the shape of it that makes me think of a paticular kind of studio light tho.

I do love the cleverly positioned smoke in that shot too. Excellent!

One thing I'm wondering from the pictures is if this is an exterior shot or if it is actually shot on a stage. It's hard to tell from that shot!

love

Freya


It's a historical location in Rome I think, which may explain the difficulty in moving the key light around for the close-ups since they are on a balcony overlooking a garden with limited places to move parallels... or whatever they were using.
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