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90 Minutes in Heaven

my latest shoot

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#21 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 03 February 2015 - 09:50 PM

My DIT Violet Jackson is creating the ARRI Looks and the LUT's for dailies, based on my notes.  I just want something a bit muted and less yellow-green compared to ARRI's Rec.709 look, and then another one that has deeper blacks and less saturation.


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#22 Miguel Angel

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Posted 04 February 2015 - 04:19 PM

I just wrote an email to Tiffen the other day regarding the filters and this the answer just in case you were a tad more curious about the differences 😊:


"Glimmerglass is a diffusion filter that softens fine details by adding a mild lowering of contrast while adding a not too overpowering mild glow to highlights. The filter has a distinct silver sparkle to it, that when viewed by the talent can be used in an pseudo physiological fashion, by showing your talent you are using this filter to accentuate their beauty and make them look wonderful!

Pearlescent Filters are designed to remove the excess sharpness of today's lenses and high resolution sensors. Pearlescent filters produce a subtle new look by introducing a slight softening of contrast added to a luxurious spill of halation around highlights. These new filters aid cinematographers and photographers alike in taking the edge off the image and aid in reducing blemishes on talent adding a softness in the images highlights.

You can also learn more here:
http://tiffen.com/ti...ion-test-film/"

Hopefully the first day went well!

Have a lovely day.

Best.
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#23 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 04 February 2015 - 10:57 PM

Just that's just marketing talk, when I want to know how a filter works, I need to know the mechanism behind the diffusion.  When I look at Pearlescents up close, they have silver sparkles in them like GlimmerGlass but I do find that the mistiness of the glow from Pearlescents is less "grainy", somehow tighter.  So maybe part of the design involves a different form of particulate matter to create the glow than ProMists or GlimmerGlass uses.


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#24 Freya Black

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Posted 05 February 2015 - 04:40 PM

Good luck with this David,

 

Probably too late and I expect you don't have the budget but I saw the removable head Alexa on a car mount the other day which was an interesting setup!

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 05 February 2015 - 04:42 PM.

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#25 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 11:23 AM

WEEK ONE

 

We just wrapped our first week, all at a research hospital that represents one of the two story hospitals.  In fact, we spent three days in a 12'x12' ICU room.  Even though the walls were not movable, at least there were observation windows looking into the room, so when shooting master shots in there, the question always became whether to be inside or outside the room.

 

Since so many scenes involved people standing over the bed, it was difficult to hold both a horizontal subject like a patient in bed and a vertical subject like a standing person in 2.40 without going wide.  Inside the room, I usually had to use the 16mm Ultra Prime or the 18mm Master Prime to get those shots.  It's been interesting for me getting back to using primes after three years of using zooms on TV series, and to get back to framing for 2.40.  You find that when you are cropping to 2.40, you use shorter focal lengths than you'd think because the cropping makes them tighter vertically.

 

When possible in other rooms, I generally back off so I can use longer lenses for the wide shots, mainly because I like the straighter lines of the architecture.

 

The Alexa has been great to work with, the wide dynamic range has been very helpful when dealing with things like white hospital clothes and using more available light without fill.  In fact, I almost never have had to set up a fill light other than a small LED over the lens (a LitePanel Croma) to get a glint in the eye when the source is a bit toppy, like with the fluorescent tube over the headboard of the bed.

 

I pulled four frames just to show some of what I'm dealing with, lighting-wise. The hospital room is on the second floor and faces southwest, so the real sun, on clear days, starts to come through by 2PM.  The window is too high in the air to flag the sun off of the glass other than near sunset when the light beams almost straight in.  I have a condor to light through the window, set up with a 9K HMI and a 12K tungsten underslung on the platform, and then a Joker 400 HMI for night scenes as well.  So in the morning, I either use natural soft window light or I shine the 12K tungsten through for a sunrise effect.  Then in midday, I either use the real sun or the 9K HMI (if it is overcast) or I just go back to available overcast light.  Sometimes I'll close all of the blinds and light the interior for a twilight effect, warm inside and cold outside.

 

Here's a shot where the only light in the room is the real sun coming through the windows, no fill other then a small ceiling bounce outside of the room to bring up the wall around the observation window frame:

90M1.jpg

 

We had a short hallway with windows on the second floor that we put some chairs into for a waiting room, all available light.  On the opposite side of the windows were some modern boxes and an ugly exit door that we first tried to hide with vending machines but they were too large so we pulled them out.  I saw a glass cabinet that I thought about using to block the left side of the hallway but it was too heavy to move -- instead I just used a piece of glass on a c-stand in front of the lens to create a reflection that hid the left side of the room:

90M2.jpg

 
We had one night exterior in the parking lot. I wanted an overhead streetlamp effect and had a small condor rigged with a 2K Chimera pointed down for that, but the parking lots' lights were so bright that I was able to just park the car under a real streetlamp, which allowed me to pull back even wider.  So the only lighting was a Lowel Rifa raking the foreground bush and a distant light to rake the far tree line. I was at T/2 at 800 ISO, with a 1/8 Black Frost on the camera:
90M3.jpg
 
This is a hallway shot at night for day.  I left only two overheads on down the hall, globed with daylight fluorescent tubes, then put 1000H paper on the glass doors at the end of the hall and blew them out with an 18K HMI through additional diffusion (considering I put a triple scrim in as well, I probably could have done this with a smaller HMI).  The foreground was lit with a 2K tungsten fresnel with 1/2 CTO on it, hitting the wall hard for a sunset effect with siders and a topper to box in the pattern.  The camera was set to 4300K so let the background go cool and the foreground go warm. You can see the bit of glow from the 1/8 Pearlescent filter:
90M4.jpg

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#26 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 11:31 AM

In general, I found that I was turning off most of the overhead hospital lights and letting things be lit by the windows and lower practical lamps.  I've also been shooting at 500 ASA most of the time on the Alexa instead of 800 ASA, it just looks a bit cleaner that way and I haven't had a problem getting to a T/2.8 most of the time.  In fact, in the hospital patient room, because of how much natural light can come in there, I've had to use ND filters sometimes.

 

I bumped up to 800 ASA for that night scene and have gone as far as 1000 ASA for a couple of little low-light things, some of them inserts that I've shot with my LensBaby, which I usually leave with an f/4 iris slide because it gets a bit too mushy with no iris in it. I've only done one shot so far with the 24-290mm zoom I am carrying, for a zooming shot, otherwise I've been glad to just use the Master Primes for most everything, the sharpness of the lens works well with the light diffusion of the 1/8 Pearlescent or 1/8 Black Frost.  I've also been using a light haze in the rooms sometimes, though most of the hospital area I'm not allowed to use a smoke machine.


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#27 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 01:14 PM

Lovely work, as always, David. I worked on a hospital drama for many years in the UK, so I can testify just how difficult it is to keep bedside scenes interesting...

 

Great idea to use a piece of glass to hide the unwanted parts of that corridor. I may well steal that idea.


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#28 Justin Hayward

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 11:48 AM

Wow, this looks great, David.  Thanks.

 

Can you describe your working relationship with Michael Polish?  (when you have a free second, of course :)  With this many films together, I imagine there's plenty of short hand, but all the movies have such strong visual imagery, yet all are very different in style and tone.  I'm curious what some of your discussions about the look of the films are like when you first begin talking.  Does he give you a very clear vision of what each movie should look like?  Or is it more of a collaboration through discussion of the script?  If there are storyboards, do you do them, or does he?  And how close to you stick to the boards when actually shooting?  How involved in those discussions is Mark Polish?

 

Thanks again, this really looks great.


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#29 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 February 2015 - 02:16 PM

We completely storyboarded "Twin Falls Idaho", "Northfork", and "The Astronaut Farmer", and then there were partial boards on some of the others, and we've boarded the major stunt scene for this movie, but it really takes me about three weeks of solid meetings with a director to break down a whole script into shots in order to proceed to storyboards, and you generally are too busy in the final two weeks of pre-production for that, which means you need at least a five-week prep on a feature if you want to throughly storyboard a movie.  Plus it implies that the script is 80% finalized and the major locations are known, or at least, that helps.

 

With the shorter, faster preps of today's movies, I generally find that I can only get the major sequences boarded, which is fine.

 

The things with storyboards, for me, is not that you have to follow them, it's just that the shot ideas you have when sitting behind a desk weeks before filming begins are different than the ones you have on location or in the set on the shooting day -- and neither is necessarily better or worse than the others, it's just a different part of your brain at work. You have the luxury in prep to imagine several radically different ways of approaching the coverage of the scene, because it's just your imagination at work free from time constraints -- on the shooting day, you have the clock running and you have the space sitting right in front of you, so you respond to the reality before your eyes.  It's like the difference between being a street photographer and a studio commercial photographer, the second is more design-oriented, the first is more about using your eyes and being inspired by what's in front of you.  And there are times when the street photography becomes more planned and designed and the set photography more improvisational.

 

The stories that Michael and I have worked on together vary quite a bit in terms of how much stylization is justified.  You just have to use your taste and go with what the script seems to be telling you in terms of how it wants to be visualized.  In this case, the story is based on a real incident and the settings (other than Heaven) are down to earth so to speak, so there is a base naturalism that should ground things but... and this is significant... the story is a spiritual journey, so we have to get inside the head of the main character, which suggests at times a more expressionist tone, a psychological reality rather than strict realism.  A good example is the film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", which at times gets quite visually abstract and surreal in order to capture the experience of the main character suffering from a stroke.  So even though a good chunk of this movie takes place in a hospital, there will be a lot of variety in how each scene is approached; we will be taking some creative license at times rather than be strictly realistic in a  documentary sense.

 

Michael and I discuss all of this and we pull up references from art and movies that we show each other to inspire discussion.  Just the other day, Michael came across a hyper-real painting of water running down a pain of glass with the lights of a city refracting by the water, and the next day while shooting a scene of an ambulance pulling up to a hospital entrance in the rain, Michael and I realized this was an opportunity to create a shot like that painting.

 

In prep, my general approach on all movies is to get the office to schedule three hours in the morning every day for me and the director to talk through the script.  I take a lot of notes, some of which become shot lists or not.

 

On the more stylized projects, Michael is more likely to have some strong overall visual scheme from the beginning before I arrive on the scene, like the gray pallet of "Northfork" or the brown one for "Manure", plus it was his idea from the beginning that all of "Manure" would be shot on stages even for farm exteriors.  On those we have very rigid rules about what goes in front of the camera and how it can be shot.

 

On the more realistic stories, Michael obviously has been thinking about the visuals from the beginning, especially since he normally writes the scripts too, but the look will evolve and incorporate ideas that the production team comes up with, and how the locations inspire us, all filtered through Michael of course.  The opposite of the chamber piece of "Twin Falls Idaho", which was very controlled and pre-planned, was our next film "Jackpot", which was very much a run & gun shoot where we had to make art on the fly.  So our shoots can sort of be aspects of either of our first two movies.

 

I've said this before, but one of the reasons Michael and I work so fast together is that we have similar tastes photographically (and Michael has shot two of his own features, so can act as his own cinematographer) so I know that if I have an idea that I like, he'll probably like it too. But he always has the final word, all I can do is suggest things.  


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#30 Miguel Angel

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 02:38 PM

The frames look amazing! 

 

I know this is something that you might have answered million of times (but maybe you have a wee time after wrapping up to post more updates).

 

With the Alexa (and digital in general) do you try to have the same contrast ratio (either the same way or with the light a bit softer, etc) by eye when going from a wide to a close up or you still measure the lights so you can get what you want and, are you worried a lot about matching wide and close ups nowadays?

 

Have a good day! 


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#31 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 10 February 2015 - 07:04 PM

Of course the wides and the close shots should match well-enough to intercut but in terms of fill level, I set that by eye.  I usually set it by eye on film too, except for tricky exposure scenes.  It's sort of a feeling you go with because when you soften the key light on a close-up, it wraps around the face more so you may not feel you need the same degree of fill as in the wider shots which had harder shadows.

 

When I was shooting for a photochemical print, I was a bit more meter-oriented because I couldn't adjust contrast in post, so I had to nail it in the original.  But with a D.I., you know you can match things a bit better even if you don't exactly match fill levels.


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#32 Miguel Angel

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Posted 12 February 2015 - 08:01 PM

Thank you very much for the kind answer. 

One more day and the 2nd week will be completed! 

 

Looking forward to reading your update! :) 

 

Have a good day!


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#33 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 February 2015 - 04:09 PM

WEEK TWO

 

We did our last day at one hospital at the start of the week and then moved to a second hospital for the rest of the week, finishing last night at that location.  So starting next week, no more hospitals to shoot, we'll be in various homes and other locations.

 

In the story, there are three hospitals which we have created from two existing ones.  The one we were at last week was more of a research center with an unused wing that we could take over for filming but the one this week is a huge, busy working hospital.

 

Rather than impose a single look for all the hospital scenes in terms of color and mood, we've varied things partly to match the shifting fortunes of the main character but also to avoid visual monotony, though one could justify that approach too in a hospital drama, that things are endlessly repetitive over months and there is no sense of time.  But in this case, I tried to create some changes to suggest time passage, etc.

 

For example, we had three scenes at a pay phone on a wall in the hospital corridor and I lit each of them differently, you saw the one from last week where I had the warm sunset effect on the foreground, we followed that with a scene where I turned off the foreground light for a silhouette effect:

 

90M5.jpg

 

We also had three scenes in a waiting room outside the E.R. where one was at dusk (lit with very blue soft light out the windows), one was at night (single white overhead fluorescent on), and the last was at sunrise.  Here are two frames from the sunrise scene.  I used a 9K HMI with Full CTO to get the golden look (with the camera set to 5600K), there was some weak fill through the glass hallways windows on the left with a daylight Kinoflo.  In the close-ups, I brought that Kinoflo closer and softened it more.  That patch of bright light on the floor was the real sun peaking through so I had to raise some CTO gels high on stands to get it colored to what my HMI's were doing.

 

90M6.jpg

90M7.jpg
 
The last three days of the week were spent in the patient room, which faced west with a rooftop right under the windows. On this location, I wasn't allowed to use any haze machines, but I noticed that all of these hospitals have power plants that put out a lot of steam, so I was allowed to put steam machines outside the window on the rooftop (you can't see it in these photos.)  It was particularly effective in the night scenes where I put some distant Dedolights with cyan gel in the background to look like industrial lights backlighting the steam.
 
The sun came into the room at 1PM every day until it set directly out the windows.  We had clear days every day so the sun was quite intense when it came in, and with the height of the windows, at best we could flag the upper half of the window from the outside to cut some of the sun, otherwise I decided to incorporate it.
 
The first scene in the new room is supposed to be sad, and was shot in the morning before any hard sun came in, so I mostly used available light and set the camera to 4300K for a cold look.  To augment the window light, we taped a bounce card hanging from the ceiling above the window and I bounced a Joker HMI Source-4 Leko into the card to increase the soft backlight on the bed.
 
90M8.jpg
 
After that, in the afternoon, I generally shot one scene at least with the real sun and mostly available light.  I began one scene near sunset and managed to get a master off in available light only, but when I did the coverage, I had to recreate everything.  I used a T12 tungsten fresnel with the lens removed to recreate the hard pattern of sunlight on the bed, and in the reverse angle I had to blast the wall scene out the window with an HMI, plus backlight the windows with tungsten.  I just added a lithe bit of a dim key light on the nurse with a daylight Kinoflo:
 
Available light only (camera set to 6800K):
90M9.jpg
 
Reverse angle shot at night:
90M10.jpg
For the bit of window you see on the left, we stood a 4'x8' white board up vertically and hit it with an HMI to white out the view. Fortunately for the window on the right, there was a large wall we could hit with a light.

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#34 Freya Black

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Posted 15 February 2015 - 04:37 PM

Okay, I didn't click that this was a period film until I saw this shot:

 

 

90M7.jpg

 

 

Which is really strange because there is little in this shot to give away the time period but I immediately wondered if the movie was set in the 70's but then I looked at the other shots with the silver telephones (that people are actually using) and the CRT TV and thought it must be set in the 90's maybe.

 

The whole thing comes across as being a bit indistinct in terms of time to me. It might be a good thing if it's not essential to the story as it gives that feel that it could be something that could happen now even perhaps. Although I note in your posting you said 1988.

 

I am very confused why the shot above would be the one that made me think that it was a period movie however as it's the one with the least cues in a way.

 

Freya


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#35 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 15 February 2015 - 04:54 PM

Yes, it's a period movie, partly because the real incident happened in 1988 and if we reset it in modern times, it brings up questions about why his car didn't have air bags, the medical procedures used would have to be modernized, plus everyone would be on cellphones to each other, so how news travelled would be different.

 

But it's also not important to the story that it be some elaborate recreation of the year 1988, the story isn't about the 80's.  So it's better if the period element is a little vague and is not front and center.  In fact, I generally prefer that for many movies even set in current time, to have elements of the past in there, older cars, etc. rather than have everything say what year the movie was made in.  That way, ten years from now, the movie will seem less dated.


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#36 cole t parzenn

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Posted 16 February 2015 - 03:26 PM

Ooh, pretty! Which frame lines did you end up using? Have you shot anything at T1.3, yet?


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#37 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 February 2015 - 04:29 PM

I drew some frame lines over the uncropped original (not the log-c original) to show the advantage of the near common-top approach to 2.40 extraction:

 

90M_framing.jpg

 

As you can see, the full uncropped frame, if shown that way on TV (I still prefer that it be letterboxed correctly to the theatrical frame, as any DVD/Blu-Ray would be) would not need any re-framing for TV displays.  If I had gone with a center crop for 2.40, then there would be a lot of odd-looking headroom in the medium-close shots (where headroom issues are the most obvious) and I'd have to zoom in to lose it, would would then mean losing the sides and having to do some panning & scanning.  I can't say that every shot will work for TV just by not cropping and just showing what got recorded, but 80 to 90% of the shots should without needing adjustments to framing.

 

No, I haven't yet shot at T/1.4, I guess it's hard to break habits, I'm just not comfortable with the focus gets too shallow.  But I'll find some moments later for that.  I have shot at T/2.0 for a number of shots, and I good portion has been shot at a T/2.0-2.8 split.  When the focal lengths used get longer for close-ups, then I often pull some ND off (if being used) and stop down a little more because the backgrounds are soft anyway and the focus-pulling is easier and the lens sharpness is better.  Where the shallow focus looks the most interesting is when you are closer on a wider-angle lens.  On long lenses, it doesn't look much more shallow anyway and on wide shots without foreground elements, it is hard to see the shallowness of the focus so you might as well use the lens at a more optimal stop for sharpness, so it's mainly when I find myself closer and more wide-angle where I employ the wider stops.


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#38 Scott Pickering

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Posted 19 February 2015 - 11:18 PM

I've actually read this book and I'm very curious as to how this film will turn out. The last faith based film I saw was rather poorly done, and didn't seem to be in the spirit of the book. I wonder David how the Heaven sequence will go. I assume this is what the green screen use will be for.


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#39 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 February 2015 - 02:35 PM

WEEK THREE

 

No more hospitals.  We started the week at a rec center in Tucker, GA that was originally a school built a number of decades ago, so has classic tiled hallways, classrooms with big windows, and a great gym / auditorium space full of light.  I mainly used available light in that location, mixed with a little soft HMI lighting.

 

The rest of the week was spent at the two houses in the story that the main characters live in, plus a brief scene at a grandparents' house.  Since we had drifted into a later call time by mid-week, I generally had some scenes shot at night that had to be lit for daytime.  Most of this shoot has been under clear weather, but by the end of the week, we had pretty heavy overcast with some light rain or snow flurries, but luckily we were mostly inside the homes.

 

As we got near our night scenes, I switched to tungsten lighting, and if another day interior scene was scheduled at the end of the night, I just switched the camera's color balance to tungsten if I wanted a neutral white light for daytime.

 

I pulled three frames.

 

The first one was an evening dinner scene with the grandparents and their grandchildren.  I lit it for sunset rather than dusk or night, even though it was shot at night.  Since a number of hospital scenes have a cool tone to them, I wanted to find opportunities for the house scenes to be warm.  I used a 12K tungsten back off out on the lawn for the sunset effect, gelled with 1/2 CTO but with the camera set to daylight color balance, so it was like using a Full+1/2 CTO.  The kids were a bit out of the direct beam but got some light from how the 12K hit the sheers in the window, but to wrap more light onto them, I had a 2K tungsten (no CTO) through a 4x4 frame of 216 right outside the window.  I also had some weak fill, mainly for the grandfather who has his back to the light - I used a daylight Kino off of frame right plus a tungsten Source-4 Leko bounced into the ceiling with Full CTB on it.  There was a 1/8 Schneider Black Frost on the camera; I think this was a 25mm Master Prime.  Luckily I was able to back up the camera to get the wide shot without having to use a shorter focal length, which helps keep the lines of the set straighter.

90M11.jpg

 

This was a day scene -- it was overcast outside so I didn't have a problem with the background being too hot.  I used a tungsten Source-4 Leko to create a slash of warm sunlight on our actress, plus a second Source-4 in the background room to put a square of light on some furniture.  To create the cooler soft window light, I bounced a 2' 4-bank daylight Kino into a white bed sheet next to the Source-4 Leko, creating a blend of cool soft light and warm sun bouncing off of the table into her face. There was a 1/8 Tiffen Pearlescent on the lens, which may have been the 25mm or 32mm Master Prime.

90M12.jpg

 

This last example was written as early morning -- the emotional tone had to be a bit dark, so though I used a bright light for the morning sun (again, a T12 tungsten with the camera set to daylight-balance), I put up a black floppy opposite the windows so that the white walls wouldn't bounce all of that light back onto the couch.  Instead, I used a 2' 4-bank daylight Kino for a dim key on her face.  I tried also creating a second shaft of light by hiding a Source-4 Leko behind the small wall in the background (where the front door is, which I left closed to keep the haze in and the sound out) but I couldn't get the beam to look parallel enough to match the T12, because the tip of the Leko was so close to being in frame, so I flipped the Leko to the opposite side of the room and put a square of light on the ground to add a little weak ambience to the background.  I also put two doubles in the Leko to knock it down. Upstairs I had a single 2' Kino tube on to bring up the stairwell a little.  Because this was shot at night, I was planning on trying to light a white card for what you see through the window, then break it up by pulling the sheers closed over that spot, but I noticed a big magnolia tree outside and hit it with an 18K HMI instead, but to take the curse off of that, I put an ND.6 in the camera so I could shoot at T/2 and let the background go softer in focus.  Again, I used the 1/8 Tiffen Pearlescent on a 25mm Master Prime.

90M13.jpg

 

So all of these examples were shot at 500 ISO with the Alexa set to about 6000K.


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#40 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 22 February 2015 - 02:44 PM

Outdoors I've been gravitating towards longer lenses when possible, but with our hazed interior scenes, I've found (after some discussions on focus after the take with my gifted 1st AC Joe Thomas) that if you shoot on a lens above the 65mm length you start to lose some focus/sharpness looking through more smoke, so I decided that either I have to pull the diffusion or bring the cameras closer and shoot close-ups on the 50mm lens if I want to keep using the 1/8 Pearlescent.  For the non-smoked scenes, it's not an issue.  Also, it seems mainly an issue in soft light, if the lighting is more dramatic and contrasty, it creates natural visual edges that gives the impression of greater sharpness, so in that case, I can get away with the diffusion.  I think this is one reason why Kaminski can get away with using heavier Classic Softs and nets for diffusion -- he generally keeps the lighting fairly contrasty.


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