Jump to content




Photo

Indie Tricks-of-the-Trade, or how to get good production values on a modest budget


  • Please log in to reply
7 replies to this topic

#1 Guy Holt

Guy Holt
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 511 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Boston

Posted 31 March 2016 - 04:12 PM

What I'm trying to do here is to stand up for the majority of people who work very hard, for almost nothing, who work themselves to the bone in pursuit of an impossible ideal ... We are judged by the same audiences to the same standard as that one per cent. Occasionally, we can convince someone, by application of hard-won and exquisitely-realised skill and, yes, a bit of luck, that we are a "real" production... 

 

It takes more skill to make an indie film than a big budget studio picture. Where a Hollywood production can throw money at a problem, an indie production must work smart.  I have started this thread as a place where we can share indie tricks-of-the-trade for realizing big budget production values on a modest budget.  Or, as Phil Rhodes so eloquently put it in a recent thread “by the application of hard-won and exquisitely-realized skill.” Posts to this thread should not herald DIY lights, nor lighting a set with practicals alone. The emphasis should be on FILM CRAFT using a basic tool kit that can be carried in a 18’ rental box (say a 3-5 Ton Grip & Electric Pkg.) and powered off the wall or off of putt-putts (no diesel tow plants.) With the newest camera systems that are capable of a fourteen stop exposure range and ASA sensitivities of 1600 without grain you shouldn’t need anything more to get decent production values if you know what you are doing and willing to work hard. 

 

I will start it off by re-posting here my post from the thread “Night Lighting - Balloon VS Dino/Wendy's” (http://www.cinematog...showtopic=70842.) This thread is for those productions for which $1500 for a balloon light or a generator to power a Wendy light is simply not in the budget and they have to figure out how to accomplish the same look for a lot less.  For example, I would say the smart indie alternative would be shoot his wide establishing shots dusk-for-night and only his close coverage night-for-night. Dusk-for-night, is an important technique for indie filmmakers to learn because it is a means of obtaining expensive looking production values for very little money. Dusk-for-night uses the fading daylight as an ambient fill to gain a base line exposure in wide establishing shots without using a big source like a balloon light. Typically it is intercut with closer framing shot night-for-night to create a realistic night scene. The advantage to shooting dusk-for-night over day-for-night (the other low budget alternative to expensive night-for-night cinematography on a large scale) is that if you are shooting a house or city street you can incorporate set practicals like window or porch light, car headlights, or even streetlights or raking moonlight in a wide establishing shot. But in order to get the balance right between your lamp light and the fading daylight requires the right location and careful planning.

 

For example, the key to success in shooting the house pictured below dusk-for-night is choosing the right location. To get the subtle separation of the night sky and trees from a dark horizon, you don’t want to shoot into the after glow of the setting sun. Instead you want to find a location where you will be shooting into the darker eastern sky. With dusk-for-night, you have maybe a thirty-minute window of opportunity after the sun has set to shoot the wide master before the natural ambient light fades completely so you have to have everything planned out, rehearsed, and ready to go.

 

In order to get the balance right between the practicals and the ambient dusk light in the limited time you have to shoot the establishing shot, you have to start with larger fixtures and be prepared to reduce their intensity quickly. For instance if you want the glow of an interior practical light raking the lace curtains in a window, start with a PH213 in the practical and 2k Fresnel raking the lace curtain. Wait until the ambient dusk level outside has fallen to the point where the balance between the natural light and your lamp light looks realistic and then roll. To get a second take, open the camera aperture a half stop and drop a single in the 2k head, dim down the PH213, and wait again until the ambient dusk level outside has again fallen to the point where it looks realistic and then roll. If you continue in this fashion with nets after you have exhausted your scrims, and a PH212 when the dimmed PH213 starts to look too warm, you will be able to get multiple takes out of the diminishing dusk light.

 

Dusk-night_Ext.jpg

 

Likewise with a streetlight or moonlight raking across the front of the house. To create a moon dapple on the front of a house against a night sky, you will need a good sized HMI set on a high oblique angle so that it will rake across the front of the house. Break it up with a branch-a-loris and wait. When the ambient level of the dusk sky has fallen to the point where it looks realistic against the moonlit house and the practical lit interior - roll. You can even add a car pulling up to the house, but you have to be prepared and have enough manpower standing by to dim the practicals, net the lights, and scrim the car’s head lights very quickly. The final touch is to use a graduated ND filter on the lens to darken the sky and balance the camera between daylight and tungsten so that the ambient dusk light filling the shadows is cool and the practicals and tungsten lights motivated by them remain warm but not too warm.

 

Once dusk is past, you shoot the close coverage night-for-night when a package consisting of what you can run on a portable generator will suffice. If you parallel two of the Honda EU7000is generators for 120A output, you will be able to use a 6k HMI for your moonlight at dusk on top of a sizeable tungsten package to light the interior of a house to a high level to match the daylight.  For example, the scene below takes place in the middle of a near vacant parking lot of an all night convenience store. The establishing shot of the brightly lit convenience store situated in a wide-open expanse of a empty parking lot at night was shot dusk-for-night because the production didn’t have the resources to light up the parking lot and building to separate it from the night sky. Close coverage was then shot night-for-night with nothing more than a single modified 7500W Honda EU6500is and a small tungsten package of 1ks and 650w Fresnels.

 

GM_MontageSm.jpg

Left: Close coverage shot night-for-night. Center: Transformer/Distro provides 60A/120V circuit from Honda EU6500 and compensates for voltage drop over long cable run to set. Right: Operating the Honda EU6500 from behind the grip truck at a distance was all the blimping required to record clean audio tracks.

 

With no building or other sound barrier within a reasonable distance to block the sound of the generator, Gaffer Aaron MacLaughlin put it behind their grip truck as far from set as possible. This was only possible because he used a transformer to step down the 240V output of the generator, and in the process compensate for the voltage drop they experienced over the 500’ cable run to set. Operating the Honda EU6500 from behind the grip truck at a distance was all the blimping required to record clean audio tracks.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Screenlight and Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston.


  • 2




#2 Miguel Angel

Miguel Angel
  • Sustaining Members
  • 563 posts
  • Cinematographer
  • Spain / Ireland / South Africa

Posted 31 March 2016 - 05:08 PM

Thank you very much for opening this thread Guy!

I have saved it already! :) 

Have a good day!


  • 1

#3 Guy Holt

Guy Holt
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 511 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Boston

Posted 03 April 2016 - 01:22 PM

To get this thread rolling here is a repost from another thread "Lighting setups on moving car" (http://www.cinematog...howtopic=70910)

 

I'm shooting a short film that is set entirely inside a car soon. ... The whole film is one setup in terms of camera, mounted to the car bonnet, on a 35/50mm lens to capture a medium two shot of a driver and passenger in the front seat, jump cutting between different days/months. ... For my main lighting setup, I have planned ... to hang LEDs either side of the car, lighting the drivers and passenger side depending on the setup.... This lighting setup will allow me to increase/decrease the intensity of the LEDs either side of the car depending on the look I am going for, whether that be a soft 'overcast' daylight, or a harsher 'sun' coming in from one side of the car, with softer skylight from the other side. ... These are just some of the basic ideas I have had so far. I was wondering if anyone on the forums has had experience lighting this kind of setup with LED lights? Would be great to hear some of the tricks/tools you used to enhance the naturalism in the lighting. 

 

I’m afraid your LED 1x1 Panels are not going to be enough to light the interior of the car on day scenes. On car setups like this you face an extreme contrast problem during the day. If you were to expose for your talent, even with the LED panels on, the exterior as seen through the back and side windows will blow out.  If you expose to hold detail in what you see outside the car, your talent is under lit and will be underexposed. The problem is that you are shooting into a black hole. To the contrast problem a second problem is that when the windshield glass is backed by black it becomes a mirror and will reflect the sky above. The challenge of these set-ups is that you need to both pick-up the levels inside the car (not easily done with 1x1 LED panels on a bright sunny day) as well as eliminate whatever it is (usually a bright sky) that reflects in the wind shield. Below is a picture of how a big budget movie approaches these problem.

 

Car_Rig_Eyebrow_WS_Sm.jpg

 

Note that they have rigged an 8x8 solid "eyebrow" out over the windshield so that only black will reflect into it. They are also using an Arri M40 4k HMI (equivalent output to a 6k HMI Par) to pick up the interior of the car. Because all this gear obstructs the view of the driver, but also because it is quite often too much for an actor to act and drive at the same time without getting into an accident, the big movies tow the picture car behind a camera truck with an onboard generator to power the lights.

 

Car_Rig_WS_Sm..jpg

 

If a process trailer like that pictured above is not in your budget. A less expensive alternative is to rent a “car carrier” to tow behind a pick-up truck. A number of low budget indie productions I have worked on have done this with great success.

 

Car_Rig_w_400W_HMI.jpg

 A partially built car process trailer. Rosco Scrim still to be applied to windows and a 8x8 solid tobe still rigged to roof rack.

 

To reduce reflections in the front windshield, you should likewise rig a large solid on top of the car. To also reduce the contrast range inside the vehicle the solid should extend several feet out on all sides as well.  This way you will not have to deal with any direct sun on your talent and can light them through the front windshield for better modeling and continuity.

 

To reduce the size of HMI that you need to light your talent, you can reduce the contrast between the interior and exterior of the car as seen through the back and side windows by putting Rosco Srim #3421 over them (any window that will appear in a shot.) This scrim will act like a Neutral Density gel and reduce the intensity of what is seen through the window by allowing a specific amount of light  (two stops) through fine holes in the material.  When it is slightly over exposed you don’t see the scrim itself but just what is on the other side. It is better than Neutral Density Gels in this situation because it is more pliable and less likely to wrinkle and shimmer as the car is traveling down the road.

 

Even after this contrast control, you will still need a light that is larger than what you can power with an onboard battery or through the car lighter socket. Car lighter sockets are only capable of handling a couple of hundred Watts at most and you usually require at least a 400-575W HMI to light your talent during a day scene. To power a small HMI on the hood of the car you can use a "Battverter" - which is a Battery/Inverter system. A "Battverter" system consists of a 12V DC power source (usually large Marine Cells), a DC-to–AC True Sine Wave Power Inverter, and a Battery Charger. Wire these components into a Road Case or milk crate and you can put it on the floor in the back of the car.

 

Here are some production stills that show you two Battverter systems I built to run lights in vehicles at various times. The first is a 750W "Battverter" rig wired into in Calzone case.

 

Car_Rig_w_750W_Battverter.jpg

 

To maximize the running time on the batteries, I made up a "jumper cable" that we attached to the leads of the pickup truck's battery. That way the engine alternator charged the batteries as they were being discharged by the light. Tie–ing the Battverter into a vehicle engine will extend the running time on your Battverter batteries so much that they may never run out of power.

 

Car_Rig_w_Battverter_into_Truck.jpg

 

The production stills below show a more elaborate 1800W Battverter system that I built to run 16 - 4’ kinos  tubes inside an airport shuttle bus. Use this  link - http://www.screenlightandgrip.com/html/shuttlemailintro.html - for details on  how we wired it into the shuttle bus.

 

shuttlefilmstrip4.1lg.jpg

Kino Flo 4x4s  rigged to an exo-skeletal frame of a Shuttle Bus and powered by an 1800W Battverter

 

shuttlefilmstrip3.2lg.jpg

Custom 1800W BattVerter powers 16 - 4' Kino Flo single tubes rigged in the interior and on the exterior of an Airport Shuttle

 

When building these rigs, keep in mind that when voltage goes down, amperage goes up. Wire that carries 12V DC has to be much larger than that which carries the same load at 120V AC. For instance to supply 12 volts to the 1800W inverter used on the shuttle bus required that we run 2 Ought feeder to the bus' alternator. Also be sure that

the alternator is large enough to take the load without burning out.

 

Finally, You have to be really careful when choosing a DC-to-AC inverter for film production because there are three basic types of inverters and not all of them are suitable for all types of motion picture lights. For more information on what type of inverters to use with different type of lights I would suggest you read an article I wrote about portable generators that is available online (use this link.)  Since inverter generators use the same three types of inverters, the information in the article is applicable to stand alone DC-to-AC inverters designed for use with batteries as well.

 

If you don’t want to tie batteries into the car’s alternator, you should consider using a small portable generator. But, you don’t want to use a generator, like the Honda 2000, whose fuel is gravity fed to the engine. The size head it can power is limited and the fuel will slosh around and cause the generator to run erratically. I suggest you instead use a generator that has an electric fuel pump like the new fuel-injected EU7000. The fuel pump assures that the engine receives a continuous feed of gas. When used with a 60A transformer/distro, the EU7000 is capable of powering HMIs up to 4k and it is so quiet that you will not hear it in the car with the windows closed. As you can see from the picture below of another rig, a generator this size with a 60A transformer/distro is cable of powering even a couple of 2.5 HMIs for daylight fill.

 

 

Car_Rig_w_2.5k_HMIs.jpg

A 7500W modified Honda EU6500 powering a couple of 2.5HMI Pars on a car rig.

 

If you have any questions about using inverters or generators, I would suggest you read the article I wrote on the use of portable generators in motion picture production mentioned above. Use this link to read it on-line for free.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, SceenLight & Grip, Lighting and Grip Rental & Sales in Boston.


  • 1

#4 Guy Holt

Guy Holt
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 511 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Boston

Posted 23 April 2016 - 08:08 PM

Don’t try to light your talent with only practicals. After exposing for the light they throw on the talent several feet away, the practicals themselves will blow out. Not only is supplemental lighting required to light your talent, but 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.

 

Millers_Crossing_Example.jpg

 

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 is a good example.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer,

ScreenLight & Grip,

Lighting Sales and Rentals in Boston.

 


  • 0

#5 Guy Holt

Guy Holt
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 511 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Boston

Posted 08 May 2016 - 09:58 AM

To get keep this thread rolling here is a repost from another thread "Getting A Similar Look to This Scene from Grand Budapest Hotel." 

 

Gareth Daklin-Wren, on 08 May 2016 - 01:06 AM, said:

Any thoughts on keeping that look consistent with changing color temp and weather over multiple days? 

 

A couple of tungsten 1Ks and an open face 650 won’t be enough to establish continuity between shots over several days unless you can gel the sliding glass doors with an 85/ND9 gel and tent the outside of the doors with a large 12x12 solid. When shooting interiors with windows you have two basic problems: color temperature and the extreme contrast between the interior and exterior. Without either gelling the windows or substantially boosting the light levels inside, when you expose for your talent, your white curtains, which are being backlit by the exterior light, will blow out. If you expose for your white curtains to hold detail, your talent will be underexposed and become a near silhouette and those dark wood kitchen cabinets will become a black hole.

 

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 1k light becomes a 300W  5500K light when you put Full CTB on it. The output you get after correction will not be enough to light your talent with the windows uncorrected.

 

Covering the windows with a combination 85/ND9 gel will convert the daylight coming in the windows to 3200K so that you can use your tungsten lights at full strength, and it will knock down the level of your white curtains by three stops,  so that your tungsten lights will be more effective at  reducing the extreme contrast between the windows and the interior.  But, where a roll of 85/ND9 gel will set you back $140.00, it will be expensive and time consuming to gel sliding class doors of that size.

 

Since it is a long scene that will be shot over several days, you will also need to control the daylight hitting the glass doors from the outside. That’s where the 12x12 tent outside the doors comes in.   It will keep direct sun from hitting the doors so that only the “sky shine”, which is pretty consistent throughout a day, will be lighting the backside of the white curtains. But, since there is always the possibility that you will get a mix of sunny and overcast days, I would recommend that you use an HMI outside to throw your own consistent light on the white curtains from outside. 

 

The alternative approach is to use daylight balanced fluorescent or LED fixtures inside.  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

 


Edited by Guy Holt, 08 May 2016 - 09:59 AM.

  • 0

#6 Guy Holt

Guy Holt
  • Basic Members
  • PipPipPipPip
  • 511 posts
  • Gaffer
  • Boston

Posted 05 June 2016 - 07:50 PM

To get keep this thread rolling here is a repost from another thread  called "Diffusing sunlight"

 


I ran into a problem on a shoot I did today. On the outside shots, I wanted to diffuse the sunlight, of course. I had a 2x2 meter diffuser, but I couldn't get it high enough for it do diffuse the whole scene. The sun was pretty much in the middle of the sky, and we were going for quite a high-key look. 

 

We are definitely shooting on a very tight budget. Is there any sensible way of doing this, or will I need a lift and a bigger frame in the future? I guess another alternative is shooting later in the day. 

 

The scene was set in the outside area of the restaurant with tables and chairs. We had 12 models on the shoot on three different tables.

 

Any input appreciated!

 

This is one of those situations where scouting, choosing the right location, and planning your production day is worth more than all the grip trucks, tow generators, and large HMIs in the world.

 

In these situations, the approach that I find works best is to choose a location that puts the sun in the backlight position for the establishing master shot and then wait until the optimum time to shoot that shot. Up to and after that point in time, shoot the close coverage under a full silk. Shooting the coverage under a silk offers a number of advantages. If the sun is in the wrong place for scene continuity with the master shot, the silk takes the directionality out of the sun and knocks down its’ level by two and half stops. Now a smaller HMI light will have more of a modeling effect. Shooting into talents' down side under a silk, I find that a 4k Par through a diffusion frame is a sufficient key source for a medium two shot and it can easily be positioned where it needs to be to match the establishing wide shot when you eventually shoot it.

 

A good example of this approach is a scene I lit for a low budget feature that took place around a campfire in a small clearing surrounded by woods. Surrounded on all sides by woods, we knew that we would lose direct sunlight in the clearing early in the day and would need lights. We also knew that the scene was going to take all day to shoot because of its’ extensive dialogue, so we figured out where the sun was going to be throughout the day and where it would look best for our establishing wide shot.  Where it was a two shot, mostly over the shoulder of one character talking to the second character that was standing with his back to the campfire with the woods behind him, we decided to wait until the sun had moved into a near back light position to shoot the establishing shot.  So we shot our close coverage first with nothing more than a 4k Par and 1.2k Par under a 20x light soft frost on top of which we threw leaves. The 4k was heavily diffused and positioned so that it gave the talent the reverse key modeling that would be consistent with the wide shot but still attractive. The 1.2kw was used bare and was positioned as a backlight where the sun would be when we would eventually shoot the wide - this way there was always an edge in every shot for continuity.

 

When the time came to shoot the establishing shot, the shadow of the overhead frame and stands were thrown forward and did not interfere with the wider framing. Since we were still shooting under the silk, we were wider open on the iris and so our exposure dug into the dark woods and brought out more detail. The smoke from the campfire drifted into the woods, creating shafts of light where the sun broke through the tree canopy. What would have been a high contrast scene without lights, turned into a beautifully lit scene, and was accomplished without a lot of amps.  The whole scene was lit with nothing more than a 4k and 1.2k Par and powered by nothing more than a 60A/120 circuit from a modified 7500W Honda EU6500is with a 60A Transformer/Distro.

 

Guy Holt, Gaffer, Screenlight and Grip, Lighting rental and sales in Boston.

 

 


  • 0

#7 Wiliam Cardoza

Wiliam Cardoza
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 44 posts
  • Other
  • Salinas, California

Posted 06 June 2016 - 12:40 PM

Thanks Guy, your balancing practicals rule of thumb helped me out on my last shoot...

 

"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." 


  • 0

#8 David Edward Keen

David Edward Keen
  • Basic Members
  • PipPip
  • 95 posts
  • Student
  • New York City

Posted 20 June 2016 - 07:55 AM

I just stopped whatever im doing to read all this. This forum's a great place to visit.
  • 0


Broadcast Solutions Inc

Technodolly

The Slider

Abel Cine

Pro 8mm

Zylight

Ritter Battery

CineTape

Aerial Filmworks

Paralinx LLC

Tai Audio

Glidecam

CineLab

Willys Widgets

rebotnix Technologies

Rig Wheels Passport

Visual Products

Ritter Battery

Abel Cine

Willys Widgets

Paralinx LLC

The Slider

Aerial Filmworks

Tai Audio

Technodolly

CineTape

Broadcast Solutions Inc

CineLab

Pro 8mm

Glidecam

Rig Wheels Passport

Visual Products

rebotnix Technologies

Zylight