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#1 Benjamin Davis

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 01:56 PM

Hey everyone, yesterday (June 17th, 2011) I began the first day of shooting a very short film I'm working on called Toasted. Due to the film being around only 3 minutes, giving a lot of information regarding the plot could give you guys too big of a spoiler before it's even done, so I want to apologize ahead of time! Being 16 and incredibly new in terms of making movies, I am constantly trying to learn the ins and outs of cinematography and art direction which will allow me to visualize the story I'm trying to tell better. Before I get in depth on the film, I really want to thank all of you at Cinematography.com for just being here. Reading through posts, looking at problems that have various solutions, and even trying to help someone out myself, you guys have given me so much confidence that didn't exist prior to signing up here. Sorry for all the sappiness, now on to the good stuff!

Toasted was an idea my Dad had partially thought up, regarding a man who finds him self in a satirically humorous yet unbelievable situation with a toaster. I took that idea and attempted to stylize it a bit more by placing the story sometime in the 1950s, and attempt to turn a seemingly sturdy story into an almost "Pee-wees Playhouse" experience as the plot progresses. With some minor adjustments here and there, I began to mark out a schedule as to when I could begin shooting. A big problem was that I don't have a job, so I had no money to buy any props. Luckily, our house is a mess and I was more than happy to clean up every single thing imaginable in exchange for money to fund the film.

I bought all of the props majorly necessary first, then began working on the production design. Due to the film surrounding the mysteriousness of a toaster, I wanted the color palette to follow a very brown "toasted" look. I knew most of the color temps of the lights would follow anywhere from 2500k-3500k. This, in turn, also helped solidify the 1950s illusion I was hoping to get. There's something about beige, black, and brown being associated with the past, while white, chrome, and blue being associated with the future. Luckily, one of the rooms in our house did have brown walls, so I moved all of the furniture out of the way and reserved a single corner to begin building this tiny set. I took my sisters old vanity desk and ripped off the mirror and it worked well at looking like some kind of office-type desk. I took the only beige/black lamp we had in the house and decided to fix in a typical clear 65watt bulb to it, putting the lamp on a dimmer. I did notice the lighting was incredibly flat, so to try to "bump up" the dimensionality of my head and torso, I took a 150w flood light, put it in a lamp socket, hung it on a ceiling hook and duct-taped the chord to the ceiling down to an outlet. I know this follows absolutely no safety guidelines, but it was the only way to make sure the socket's cable wasn't visible. Originally, the flood light let out too harsh of a light, and I didn't have an extra dimmer, so I took white baking parchment and duct-taped it around the flood light to act as a diffuser. It was the only thing I knew that would withstand the heat and diffuse properly. After that, part of my face had too harsh of a shadow, and the desk lamp did not illuminate me enough, so I used a very large Chinese paper lantern with a 45w bulb in it to help act as a soft fill light. This set up seemed to work alright!

Next, the illusion of this tiny space being a larger "room" needed to be solidified. I took a tiny bookcase we had in the garage and filled it with books that had bindings that appeared older or used. It ended up mainly being old Reader Digests and different copies of The Odyssey and The Iliad, as well as a few other brown/black bound books in between. I also put some interesting wooden statues my uncle sent to my mother a while back, and a small slightly beaten up sailboat on top of the bookshelf for some small decoration. To help solidify the color palette even more on an almost meticulous level, I bought yellow notebook paper, a black Cortelco desk phone, black pens, gold-painted paper clips, and beige manila folders! I also invested in a funky pair of half-frame glasses to help scream the time period to the audience if set design fails to. I made sure to slick my hair back, rock the skinny tie, and roll up the sleeves! The last touch was ambient haze. This idea was brought upon me while watching The Astronaut Farmer and asking David Mullen about how he lit a particular scene in the kitchen. Everything seemed so warm and beautiful, and when he gave me the run down as to how he lit the scene, I also saw that there was this natural-looking haziness. I knew that that haziness would help A LOT in setting more ambiance in the set, so I used the last bit of money I had and bought a very cheap party fog machine. Turns out, it worked awesome, so I have to thank Mr. Mullen for that bit of inspiration.

The film is being shot on a Canon HV40 that my Dad bought me for a birthday present about two years ago. Many people argue about the cameras abilities, but with constantly using it, working around its limitations and taking into account using the camera correctly, you can get some pretty incredible shots from it. None of the short film is being shot with a DOF adapter, simply because they are expensive and it's not exactly economical to just buy one. I have found many tricks to manipulating the camera to get shallower depth such as moving set pieces and props farther away and closer to the lens to give the illusion that the depth is much shallower while the set is still the same. For the master shot of the office space, I used a wide angle lens and moved the camera in just enough to allow the eyes to assume the room is bigger. I also utilized the wide angle lens on the tilted close-up shot, giving a bit of a "feel like you're in the set" feeling and allowing me to move some props around to manipulate the illusion of a shallow depth. I hope all of it works out, and here are some shots of the film and a couple shots of the set.

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My makeshift hair light/back light

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A shot of the set so you can see its size somewhat
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#2 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 03:03 AM

Nice. You are way ahead of a lot of students out there by showing your understanding of the critical importance of production design above anything else when establishing a look.
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#3 Austin Serr

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 01:26 PM

Very nice production design. You definitely succeeded in getting a mood across. The low-key lighting reminds me of a Fincher film.

A few words of advice: the idea of including a back light to increase dimensionality is a good one, but I found it to be a little distracting. You can see the cone of light from the high up bulb hitting the wall behind the subject. In creating a lighting set-up, you should try to make every lighting choice motivated from some source of light in the set (lamps, windows, props like a flashlight, etc.). It seems to me like the only source of light you're trying to sell with this set-up is the single lamp on the desk, which makes that back light seem out of place. You said that you wanted to add the other lights to your set-up because there wasn't enough dimensionality with just the one weak bulb in the lamp. What you can do when you get into a situation like that again is have a light set up out of frame to mimic the light coming from the prop lamp that you see in the frame. This will make it so that you can keep the actual prop lamp at a reasonable exposure (meaning you won't have to overexpose the lamp in order to get the desired amount of illuminance on your subject's face) while still lighting your subject with enough light to get your idealized exposure.

Overall great stuff! Looking forward to seeing the final product.
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 06:10 PM

I didn't mind the backlight, it sort of keeps with that retro vibe, but I would have used some blackwrap as a bottomer on it to reduce the direct spill downwards more, but it wasn't bad. Overall, it looks very nice! It's amazing how much painting the walls can add production value -- imagine how dull and cheap the shot would have looked with white walls.
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#5 Benjamin Davis

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 10:03 PM

I want to thank you all for your replies. They are very helpful and will definitely be taken into account when I'm shooting! I shot the next part of the film yesterday (June 18th, 2011) and I have to say I was stumped when it came to lighting the kitchen. In all honesty it was partly my lack of experience and partly a tough time making a decision. The story didn't specify if this part of the movie would be taking place at day or night, which gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted, but I knew I didn't have the proper tools to light through the window outside (my brightest bulb is a 250w bulb with a 3500k color temp. and I only have one of them). The other choice was to play it off and use natural light coming from the windows, but it was a grey overcast day, ending up looking too flat and "blah" on camera. I wasn't entirely sure how to fix this problem, so I tried shooting at night. This was a bit easier because I had far more control over the lights, plus it worked continuity-wise with the office scene.

I didn't want to have every single light on and make everything flat again, so I took a lamp, stuck a 60w clear bulb in it and put it on the same dimmer I used for the desk lamp in the previous scene. That was definitely not enough light and "How stupid of me!" I thought thinking it would be, so I grabbed another clear 60w bulb and put it in the stove top. I had enough illumination to see my face partly, and it worked beautifully until I moved forward 3 steps. I ended up putting a very faint light in front of me, which didn't do much in terms of illuminating me, but added an ambient light to the scene. I figured I'd let this fly and try it out. I shot maybe 30 different takes of that single walk in shot at MANY different angles, and only one appeared nice to me in the end; a moving track shot with a tripod attached to this "dolly" type object. This is the time where I begin to think "If only I could round up every single person on Cinematography.com, have a room full of pizza and drinks, and have them give me a thumbs up when I've lit something right, and throw pizza slices at me when I've done something wrong." If only it was that objective.

The main point of interest that my character is walking towards is a toaster. Not just any toaster, though. A toaster that has been stabbed to death in the back with a knife, screw driver, hammer, and kitchen fork to provide enough of a space to insert a light socket in. I still feel I've over-done the intensity of the light, but I wanted it to feel somewhat surreal. The bulb was a clear 40w bulb. I had a little hazy fog going on, too, but as I'm sure all of you know it's difficult to contain the haziness without a sealed set. It was trial and error for an hour, but I eventually got the shots I wanted.

I may have sounded a little crankier in this update, but I'm really just trying to make sure things are going to look alright. I try not to stress over it too much, and its very reassuring when I get back online and learn something new, or accidentally turn a light off, look in the view finder and see that it looks ten times better. Here are some screenshots of the film.

I also have to thank my mother for being so helpful. She's let me clear big spaces of the house at very inconvenient times, hogging a lot of a space in the kitchen, living room, turning lights on and off and being up till 4 AM shooting or editing.

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Just in case you're concerned about the lighting continuity, the shot above and the shot below are not sequential to each other. When the toaster's door is closed it lets out much less light. I put a very sketchy diffusion on it made out of some BBQ sauce and skin cream (Bleh!)
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 11:12 PM

Considering your limited lighting package you are doing great.
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#7 Chris Keth

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Posted 21 June 2011 - 08:47 AM

Considering your limited lighting package you are doing great.


I'll say! My first lighting attempts were basically of the "unpack teenie-weenie kit, point at actors" type. Keep it up. Creative solutions and a bit more time can often overcome small budgets and lack of "proper" equipment.
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