I'm shooting a short noir film fairly soon in which the whole short takes place in a living room between a spy and a femme fatale. I have an idea of how I'm going to light but was just curious how others would approach the lighting. I'll probably be working mostly with fresnels but getting other equipment shouldn't be a problem. We'll also be shooting at night, so that'll be a plus. Would love to hear from y'all!
If you look closely at classic noir lighting you will notice it is high contrast with deep shadows and hard light patterns thrown on the set. The quality (color temperature and hard/softness) and placement of a light is motivated by a source (practical or window) in the scene that is upstage of the talent. Which means, the talent is generally lit with reverse keys motivated by these practical sources. In this approach, the camera shoots into the shadowed side of the talent creating contrast and a low-key effect.
Noir lighting is hard to do on practical locations, especially on ones with white walls. Because the motivated sources of light in noir are generally upstage of the talent, it requires a lot of rigging of lights. On top of that, the lights have to be cut off the walls and large areas of the set to create the high contrast typical of noir which means even more upstage rigging. Classic noir was done on stage sets for these reason and scenics would at times actually paint the shadows onto the walls. Fortunately, the open framing and tensions cables of your locations ceiling will enable you to do a lot of the necessary rigging with just 2x4s, and inexpensive deck framing hardware. For example, while not a night interior per say, we created a low key dramatic lighting effect for a Bose spot, transforming a flatly illuminated wood shop into a scene with warmth and contrast, with nothing more than 2x4s and deck framing hardware.
Dramatic motivated reverse key lighting for a Bose spot.
A grid constructed of 2x4 lumber will enable you rig a light in the optimum position for motivated reverse key lighting
A baby spud on a 2x4 joist bracket will enable you to inexpensively rig a light to lumber.
2x4 joist brackets will enable you to quickly construct a lumber grid capable of rigging a light anywhere overhead.
In this approach to lighting, practicals must be treated to make them look realistic. I find that practical lamps never look convincing unless one treats the lampshade as well as boost the bulb wattage. That is because if you stop down to keep the shade from burning out, the output of the practical, on the table it sits on or the wall its on, looks rather anemic. I find you get a more realistic look if you boost the wattage of the bulb and line the inside of the shade with ND gel. It is a delicate balance to obtain.
You can obtain this delicate balance without a monitor, by using the old school method with incident and spot meters and a selection of practical bulbs including PH 211, 212, and 213 bulbs. Years ago Walter Lassaley, BSC, instructed me to balance practical’s such that an incident reading of the direct output one foot away from the bulb is one stop over exposure. I have found that rule of thumb gives a realistic output to the practical - the light emitted downward onto the table top and upward onto the wall or ceiling is realistic. After establishing the practical’s output using an incident meter, you then use a spot meter to determine how dense an ND gel is needed to line the inside of the shade so that the shade does not become too hot.
The scene above from “Millers Crossing” lit by Barry Sonnenfeld is a good example. The table practical appears to be the only source of light in the scene, but clearly it takes more than just the table practical to light the room realistically. For a good explanation see David Mullen’s analysis at http://www.cinematog...showtopic=55891
With the right equipment, time, and a little ingenuity there is nowhere that a good grip can’t put a light, or an electrician power it – so don’t let your mind’s eye be fettered by gravity or power.
Guy Holt, Gaffer, ScreenLight & Grip, Lighting Rental & Sales in Boston.