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Lighting Staccato - Or the technical side of shooting a short - film


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#1 Miguel Angel

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Posted 12 April 2014 - 05:15 AM

Hello all, 

 

I just finished shooting a period drama set in the XIX century (it's my second short - film ever!) and I wanted to share some frames as well as the technical side of them.

 

To be frank I don't know if the "lighting" forum is the place to do so, if it's not, please, would a moderator move it where it belongs please? :)

 

I've to say that I don't like any of the frames that I got as I'm very very critical with my work and I know I have a lot to learn.. and looking at them right now makes me think: "Oh my God! Why did I do that, I should have done something else".. I suppose that that is something every single cinematographer has to cope with tho. 

 

Staccato's script is dark and very oppresive and it tells the story of two people, one of them is the son of a rich woman, owner of a manor estate, the other one, a less rich character, in fact, poor. 

 

As there were two stories my first thought was shooting them in three different aspect ratios:

 

- Rich people: Anamorphic 2.40:1

- Poor people: Spherical 1.85:1

- When they are together: Anamorphic 1.85:1

 

At the end of the day the budget of the short - film was not that big, in fact it was very very little so I could not get anamorphic lenses.

Anyhow, I decided to go ahead with my initial thoughts and shoot the piece as follow:

 

- Rich people: Spherical 2.40:1

- Poor people: Spherical 1.85:1

- When they are together: Spherical 1.85:1

 

In terms of photography each story has its own kind of treatment but at the end when both stories collide and so does the photography.

 

The story of the rich people is more glamorous, delicate, bright, almost high - key and showing the beautiful scenarios that we got. 

Camera work is also more concise and when the camera moves it does with little dolly movements.

 

The story of the poor people is less subtle, more direct and even rougher. 

I wanted to differentiate this part with camera work too so the director and myself decide to go hand - held, reacting to the different feelings and actions that the actors might have. 

 

To get the most out of the lenses that I wanted to use (a very old Panavision Primo Prime set from Panavision Ireland) all the short - film was shot at T4 / T5.6 but two sequences

 

One of them, shot at T1.9 is just explained below and I used that stop because I couldn’t get the background out of focus in any other way with the tools and the location (there was very little space between the terms) I had.

 

And as I needed to get the background more out of focus I thought, well, let’s shoot at T1.9. 

 

The other one was shot at T16 and it was a night.

 

For your information, all the frames are without grading, just the normal LUT applied on DaVinci after getting them from the Alexa. 

 

Let’s go!

 

First frame

 

Staccato006.jpeg

 

This sequence was shot in a very discreet and easy way (the normal way of shooting it I think ha)

 

First of all we had to find a room with dark walls to use it at “night time”.

Once we found the room (in Ardgillan Castle in Dublin) we had two issues:

 

1) Our first thoughts were to use “moonlight” from the outside, I mean placing a light out of the window. 

We could not do so as the room was in a very high place and we did not have either cherry pickers or scaffoldings to place the light outside

 

2) There is another part of the sequence where we see the girl opening a door.

When the actress was opening the door we were seeing the castle’s hall and we had to create a 4x4 dark room in the hall (we were shooting at daytime), put some furniture there and create a little bit of ambience.

 

As we knew that those were going to be our problems when shooting, we decided to go with an easier approach, and here is how we lit the sequence.

 

Staccato001-1.jpg

 

Second frame

 

Staccato002.jpg

 

We don’t have a lot of sun in Ireland, but when it is there, it is beautiful so we tried to get the most out of it in the only day (out of 7) that we could get it.

 

Above is what we got. 

 

Third frame

 

Staccato001.jpeg

 

This sequence is a very interesting part of the short - film where two of the characters fight verbally. 

 

I love cinema because of a lot of reasons, one of them is that it is something very organic and a super creative process made by a team.

 

This part of the story was shot under a very cloudy sky in the last part of the day.

 

To be honest I wasn’t very sure if I had to shoot or not as I was seeing the actors in front of me while rehearsing and I couldn’t make anything out it.

 

The location was pretty but the light was absolutely dull and boring. 

 

After two minutes trying to decide what to do I said: Eh, let’s place a 6 meters by 6 meters frame with a black silk on top of the actors so I can add more contrast and a bit of mood. 

 

The place was so narrow and tight that there were no space for the tripods so we had to place the frame on top of the bushes :D 

 

Fourth frame

 

Staccato004.jpeg

 

There is one thing that I do every single time that I shoot something, I spend one day in each location taking photos and writing notes so I can see how light interacts in the place. 

 

Probably because I’m a newbie and I need to see and prepare everything in advance. 

 

Hence, after visiting this location and seeing the pics I took, I saw one which was the kind of light I wanted for the sequence, a liitle bit claustrophobic with a sense of concern / worry (is this the right word?)

 

And I said: Let’s recreate it with artificial light!

 

I love finding the right spot to place a light at the very beginning of the sequence, that means that I don’t have to move it ever and I can shoot 360ª if needed.

 

I know that some jobs might need different lighting set - ups for the same sequence or even more lights to shoot properly but at this stage of my life I like lighting places rather than actors or actresses, is it right or wrong, I don’t know, as I said, I’m still learning a lot and my approach might vary in a near future if I keep shooting things, who knows! 

 

This place was full of challenges:

 

1) It is a basement and the windows that you can see in the frame had a very very very narrow aisle (1 meter) between the windows and the wall. 

I couldn’t put any light there. 

 

2) Not only the aisle was very tight but also it was covered by bars on top of it, and I couldn’t hang anything inside the room as we didn’t have the permission to do so. 

 

So my light had to be placed outside and at least 1 meter above the windows 

(Yeah!)

 

And it was lit as you can see below. 

 

Staccato002-1.jpg

 

Just some corrections to the diagram:

- I placed 2 x 2.5KW HMI as I knew the M18s weren’t going to give me the T - stop I needed. 

In fact, I couldn’t use the 2.5KW as 4KW because we didn’t have any generator.

- I couldn’t put any silk in the windows (it made sense just for the shoot number 3 but I didn’t have time to do it)

- There is no 2.5KW on the left side because I only  had 2.. I wanted to use a 575KW HMI but it was broken at that stage of the shooting and I ended up using a Kinoflo (I didn’t like the look of it but..) 

 

 

 

And that’s all! :) I might put two or three more some day soon! :)

 

Hope you enjoyed the explanations! :)


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#2 Patrick Paes

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Posted 27 April 2014 - 10:30 PM

Very Nice, Miguel!

I don't know... I am very critical with my work too, but even through the issues you tell us, for me, it looks veeery nice to me.
Generally speaking, short films looks poor most of the times, and your screens look rich to me. They are well worked, and I think you did well! (Even that you're going to think "Meh... I can tell a lot of wrong things going on in that scenes", I stick with my opinion :P)

And keep it up! Bring these contents for the community, it is a very rich content that help us thinking about set ups, about what would we do different and all.

 

I'd totally like to see the final product, and more of this!

Regards!

 

PS: This is my very first post, since months I've visiting this forum and I just logged in to comment your post.


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#3 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 27 April 2014 - 10:48 PM

I agree with Patrick. It is good to always strive for better, personal growth, and all of that. But sometimes you just have to accept that maybe you did a good job. From what I see, it looks pretty solid. Don't forget that after you learn the technicals, much of this is just taste and stylistic interpretation.

 

Like some wise dude said "Learn the rules then you can break them."


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#4 Miguel Angel

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Posted 14 May 2014 - 08:58 AM

Oh!

Thank you very much for the responses and the feedback!

 

I agree with you both on everything and the taste and stylistic interpretation is something that I would like to discuss further in topics like this.

A very useful way to grow in that "artistic" way is by listening comments from everybody, even if they disagree with what you did, it is always a personal perception that you might interiorise or not and come back to it in a later project :) 

 

I updated the article with one more frame :) 


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#5 Miguel Angel

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Posted 14 May 2014 - 09:07 AM

Fifth frame

 

Staccato005.jpeg

 

The sequence where we got the frame above was a very difficult sequence. 

 

1) It had to be shot at night and we could only shoot on Ardgillan Castle from 8.45 am to 6pm so it was going to be impossible to get it shot at the right time.

 

2) The room where it takes place is a very big room, 20 by 30 feet and it has 3 super massive windows and a door with huge window panes. 

As we couldn't shoot at night we decided that we had to cover all the windows with black boxes, a very tough work as the electrical department had 1 gaffer and 2 sparks who did an amazing job through all the short - film. 

 

3) There were some difficult camera movements.

 

4) As we could not do any kind of pre light, we were 3 people and we were not able to hang anything on the walls I had to spend 3 hours 1/2 to light it all and be able to shoot in any direction. 

 

5) To shoot all this sequence I could have placed 3 jemballs or chinese lanterns, however, I reckon a cinematographer has to experience with light as much as he / she can and short - films are a very interesting way to try new things and open your mind in a lot of ways.

 

If I had chosen to use chinese lanterns, all the room had been lit with a base light and it would have lost all the mood and darkness I wanted to get, under my point of view of course.

 

6) I discovered a very useful gel called "cyan", myself and my gaffer were absolutely amazed by the quality of it and how nights were much more interesting while using it rather than using the Green Steel that we used in all the different movies we have shot together. 

 

7) The Alexa was rated at 400ASA also. 

 

And the diagram below is how we filmed the sequence. 

 

RecitalPNG.jpeg


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#6 Daniel Reed

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Posted 27 May 2014 - 02:12 AM

Looks good. I like your overheads diagrams, did you use HCW Shot Designer?

http://www.hollywood...s/sd_index.html  

 

Thanks


Edited by Daniel Reed, 27 May 2014 - 02:15 AM.

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#7 Miguel Angel

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Posted 30 May 2014 - 06:06 AM

Thank you very much Daniel. 

 

I used Shot Designer to draw the diagrams, that's right. 

I have both, the OSX and the iPad Version, however I use the iPad version more often as I have an iPad with me almost all the times when I'm in pre - production, when shooting I put it in the video cart just in case.

 

It's absolutely awesome! :) 

 

Kindest regards.


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