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Much respect!!! Need advice for short film.


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#1 Bobby Hewitt

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 07:40 PM

First off I just have to say how much respect I have for all the true working and talented DP’s, cinematographer, directors of photography out there. 

 

This is my first post so here it goes!

I’m shooting a short film at the end of the month and could use some lighting advice. I have ideas but wanted to here what you guys thought. 

 

Most of the film is shot in a studio apt. with back and forth dialog between two girls. One girl walks in and sites on the couch while the other girl is at the sink washing dishes. Girl on couch has a window behind her, girl at sink also has a window behind her.

 

Questions: what can I use to bring up my exposure reading in the studio so I’m not blowing out the windows? Should I net the windows? Should I try to stay at a 2.8?

 

There is another scene where cops come to the door so I’ll be shooting from the inside to the outside.

Questions: how would I light the cops at the door? 

 

Here is what lighting I have but can also rent what I need:

1- 2k (tungsten)

2- Arri 1ks (tungsten)

1- 500w Lowel Rifa softbox

2- 800w daylight bulbs w/china balls

2- 400w daylight bulbs w/china balls

2- 250w daylight bulbs

 

I hope I have givin enough info.

Thanx so much in advance!

Bobby

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#2 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 08:33 PM

I'm gonna jump in and mention a few set dressing issues.  As a DP, these are things I deal with a lot in practical locations like the one above.  You may have someone doing your set design and they might have already thought of all of the things I'm about to mention but in case not, here goes. 

 

The couch by the window could be moved more into the room.  Couches in films are rarely ever against a wall.  They are almost always closer to the center of the room.  It makes it way easier to light and it also looks a whole lot better.  Go ahead and watch a few films and look for any scene where there's a couch against a wall.  You'll have a hard time finding one.  Unless the location is meant to look low rent and tiny.  I know it's a studio apartment but you can cheat it out by a few feet and it'll likely look a lot better.  Also add some side tables and lamps to it.  Even if you don't plan to turn the lamps on.  Put them in the frame so the apartment looks furnished.

 

This is one of a long list of many set dressing issues that plague low and microbudget films.  Such as beds in practical locations never having headboards even though in movies they always have a headboard and night stands with lamps.  These are elements that you add so that people don't notice it.  When they are absent, your audience will notice it.  Even if it's a basic apartment.  I'm not saying making it look super fancy but just put in those tiny details that are in most movie apartments.  Like basic furniture, lamps, plants etc..

 

Window dressing is another good example of things that are absent in low budget film because they use real locations that rarely have movie style decorating done.  Windows in movies almost always have drapes and curtains.  Even if they're open partially to see out it's very rare that they look like the photos above with nothing at all.

 

I know you were looking for lighting help but trust me, if you address these issues, the lighting will be a whole lot easier.  Don't be afraid to let the windows go a bit brighter than the interior.  Unless you really need to see out of if for some narrative purpose.  Then you may want to have a 4x roll of ND.6 handy.  Just don't go too far and make the outside too dark as it will look awkward like there's a storm brewing.


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#3 Bobby Hewitt

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Posted 02 April 2014 - 08:56 PM

Michael-

Thanks so much for that info. It does help quit a bit and makes me think more about the set dressing. Maybe adding mini blinds will help me cut some of that light. The apt is meant to look crappy and a little sparse. 

 

Thanx again!


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#4 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 11:01 AM

Ha, that's the same response I hear a lot from people.  "but the apartment is not supposed to look rich".  The truth is, it won't look fancy just because there are curtains on the window or end tables w lamps. It'll look like a normal film location and not like you're behind the scenes in the actors actual living room.  

 

Unfortunately most people don't have living spaces that you can just walk into and start filming a movie in.  Most people don't have that kind of decorative skill or budget and many typical residential spaces these days more closely resemble an office waiting room.  Sad but true.

 

If you really want it to look white trash, leave the window frame untouched or worse, hang a sheet on it.  The recommendations I make are so that the apartment does not become an indicator as to the budget of your film.  You can make creative choices as to the kinds of clutter you add into the space, like dirty dishes, newspapers, laundry etc. if your character is a bit scattered or messy.  Those will make a much better statement than leaving the apartment undressed.

 

As for the character coming to the door.  My advice is to break that shot up and don't try to shoot a wide of the officer at the door from deep inside the apartment.  Either bring the officer into the space right away and shoot him inside or do a shot of him outside the door and keep it a clean medium closeup that doesn't contain the inside of the house in the foreground.  It'll look a lot better.

 

The other trick to that from a lens point of view is to use something really long and put the camera back if it's possible.  Go on an 85mm and keep the camera back by the couch.  A long lens will make your background of the neighborhood much smaller and you'll be able to minimize the potential overexposed areas of hot pavements, glaring cars. etc.  You can try to cheat a background that's maybe darker trees or a darkly painted house across the street.  All of this will make it easier to balance the light onto the cops faces and keep the background from being too hot.


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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 11:38 AM

Michael-

Thanks so much for that info. It does help quit a bit and makes me think more about the set dressing. Maybe adding mini blinds will help me cut some of that light. The apt is meant to look crappy and a little sparse. 

 

Thanx again!

 

When I first saw this, I was trying to work out if it was supposed to be for a 70's period drama or something.

Looks rammed with furniture more than sparse tho.

 

Looks kind of crappy but obviously it's also a huge space so it feels like there is a disconnect there.

 

Freya


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#6 Bobby Hewitt

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 06:52 PM

Thanx again Michael, I have a meeting with the set dresser next week so we will address all these issues.


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#7 Bobby Hewitt

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 06:59 PM

Although I totally appreciate the set dressing advice and comments I was really hoping for some lighting advice.


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#8 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 11:03 AM

Day interior general rules of thumb if you're using available light,  Shoot all footage facing windows or doors first early on while you have light.  Then black out the windows and do your coverage where you are not facing windows or doors.  

 

The reason you black out the windows is because a partly cloudy day will drive you nuts if you're using only available light with no HMI's.  Light levels will change a lot in the middle of a take.  So it's best to get the shots with windows first and then recreate that light on your own to match. 

 

If it's cloudy and even outside, you can just use the window light for your coverage without blacking them out.  It all depends on the weather and your shots.  I don't know all that so that's the best I can do.

 

Your situation is tough if you don't have HMI's and Kino's.  The content and tone of your script is also a factor.  Comedys are typically overlit, Horror is underlit and Drama and Action films are the closest to "real life" looking scenarios.  So watch some films with similar tone and scenes and try to recreate what you think fits best.


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#9 Guy Holt

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 10:39 PM

Here is what lighting I have but can also rent what I need:

 

1- 2k (tungsten)

2- Arri 1ks (tungsten)

1- 500w Lowel Rifa softbox

2- 800w daylight bulbs w/china balls

2- 400w daylight bulbs w/china balls

2- 250w daylight bulbs

 

If you can gel the windows, I would suggest you cover them with a combination of 85/ND9 gel. The gel both converts the exterior daylight from 5500K to 3200K and knocks down the level outside by three stops, so that you can use your 3200K lights inside. But, where a roll of 85/ND9 gel will set you back $140.00, it will be expensive and time consuming to gel the windows if there are a lot of them.

 

Without gelling the windows to 3200K, using 3200K balanced lights doesn’t make a lot of sense. Balancing tungsten to 5500K is not very efficient because full color temperature blue correction gel (Full CTB) cuts the output of the light by 70% in converting it to 5500K.  A 1000W 3200K light becomes a 300W  5500K light when you put Full CTB on it. The output you get after correction is not enough to fill talent in a shot with the windows uncorrected.

 

If it is a long scene, you will need to control the daylight coming in from outside rather than limit yourself to a window of opportunity. It is better to diffuse and take the direction out of the natural daylight by flying a silk or solid out the window, and then bring in your own consistent lighting.  A good example of this approach is an American Experience program titled “The Most Dangerous Women in America” about Typhoid Mary that I lit for PBS. For part of her life Typhoid Mary was quarantined on an island in New York's East River.

 

tmfilmstrip1lg.jpeg

Typhoid Mary in quarantine on an island in New York's East River. Note the view out the window of the East River shoreline at the turn of the century.

 

Because New York’s East River today looks nothing like it did when she was in quarantine, we used a 30' blowup of a picture of the East River at the turn of the century rigged outside the windows of a house in Arlington MA. We wanted to overexpose the exterior by one stop so that it would look realistic and hide the fact that the exterior was a blow-up. As you can see in the production still of the exterior of the actual location used for the quarantine island, we rigged a solid over the porch windows and the blow-up to keep the sun off both. That way we could light the blow-up and interior so that it remained consistent even though the sun moved on and off the porch in the course of the day. To take the edge off the blow-up, we used a single scrim outside the window to help throw it out of focus.

 

tmfilmstrip2lg.jpeg

The actual exterior of Mary’s cottage was the backyard of a house in Arlington Ma with a 30’ blow up of a picture of New York’s East River shoreline at the turn of the century.

 

To maintain continuity between shots, we brought a 4kw HMI Par in a window on one side of the room as a sun source and a 1200 par through a window on the other side as a northern light source. We powered both heads off a dryer plug in the laundry room of the house using a 60A transformer/distro.  The two 2.5k Par lights used outside to light the blow-up were powered by a modified Honda EU6500is through a second 60A transformer/distro.  Since the Honda EU6500is could be placed right on the lawn, we were saved from running hundreds of feet of feeder back to a tow generator. Use this link for more production stills of PBS and History Channel historical documentaries  where I took a similar approach.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston


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#10 Bobby Hewitt

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 02:32 PM

Day interior general rules of thumb if you're using available light,  Shoot all footage facing windows or doors first early on while you have light.  Then black out the windows and do your coverage where you are not facing windows or doors.  

 

The reason you black out the windows is because a partly cloudy day will drive you nuts if you're using only available light with no HMI's.  Light levels will change a lot in the middle of a take.  So it's best to get the shots with windows first and then recreate that light on your own to match. 

 

If it's cloudy and even outside, you can just use the window light for your coverage without blacking them out.  It all depends on the weather and your shots.  I don't know all that so that's the best I can do.

 

Your situation is tough if you don't have HMI's and Kino's.  The content and tone of your script is also a factor.  Comedys are typically overlit, Horror is underlit and Drama and Action films are the closest to "real life" looking scenarios.  So watch some films with similar tone and scenes and try to recreate what you think fits best.

Hey Michael,

Thanx again for staying on this thread and helping me out. I think I'm going to rent a couple of HMI's and Kino's. The film is a comedy so keeping it light and bright should be pretty easy. What HMI's would you recommend? Would the Kino's be daylight?


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#11 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 03:46 PM

I don't know what's outside that window and whether you need or want to see out there or if you'd rather it stay overexposed.  If you're trying to see a view or anything important this gets trickier.  If there's really nothing to see, I'd put up some drapes and not worry about it.

 

Only use HMI lighting if you have actual grips on your crew who are used to handling them and the ballasts. If you don't have a real G&E crew, don't use HMI's (Your DP or gaffer should be able to answer all these questions btw).

 

Assuming you have a crew, normally you place HMI's outside and point them  through the windows. If you don't have access to any generators and don't have any talented swing crew to tie in then you're stuck with "house power" the best you can do is a 1200 watt HMi Par.  Or an 1800watt par if you can get it.

 

If you can't put lights outside, you're stuck with using most of your lights indoors.

 

This affects the size of the units and the type of ballast.  You don't want very large lights and heavy stands inside your set.  

 

You also don't want heavy or loud magnetic ballasts inside your set.  I'd recommend Kino's with daylight bulbs.  Some 4x4's 2x4's and or some DIva's depending on your budget and crew size.  These lights will help you "recreate" the window, after you've already shot in the direction facing it and have turned around for any coverage you may need.

 

So you can go with Arri 575 hmi pars and 200wt hmi pocket pars or "jokers"  The name of a light made by a company called K5600.  The common wattages there are 200 and 400 and 800.  THese are good for slashes, pools etc.  The larger the light, indoors, you typically end up bouncing it and or putting it through diffusion.  Booklights etc.  Again, your DP would know all this.  If you booked a DP and they don't know lighting, they're not a DP, they're a camera operator.  ;)


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