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Lighting a 1950's diner


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#1 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 10:29 AM

Hello,

 

I'm a new member and film student. I have a shoot coming up and could use some advice on how to light the space. See attachments.

 

I'm shooting a night scene in a 1950's style diner - row of booths up against large windows. There will be two characters sitting opposite one another in a booth and several extras sitting in the surrounding booths.

 

This will be an emotionally intense scene with hard light coming from a exterior street light (key).

 

The interior of the diner is lit from above - recessed fluorescents. My thought is to turn them off and light the space enough to show the other customers in the background. However, I want the rest of the diner to be more dimly lit - so that the emphasis is on the two characters lit by the key.

 

I'm thinking of bouncing off the key to illuminate the unlit side of the actor's faces. Not sure if that's the best idea but I want some fill.

 

My biggest issue/question is how to light the rest of the diner. It's a small space with a lot of windows.

 

I'd appreciate any suggestions.

 

Thank you,

Dawna

 

 

 

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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 01:18 PM

What a fantastic location! Here are some things to think about that may help you.

What is the tone of the film you are making? The reference stills of the location and your discription of the scene makes me think heightened realism, dark, moody, observational, tableau framing without much cutting, expressionistic lighting with specific colors.

I would guess that some similar films you could look at for reference would be 'Drive' and 'Carol'. This also makes me think of the famous Edward Hopper painting, 'Nighthawks.'

From a production value perspective, it would be a shame not to see that ceiling. The fact that you have so many reflective surfaces means that if you have some light on the beige building, that will be reflected in all of those surfaces (as it is now) and create beautiful texture and depth to the image.

Also, since you can see outside of the window it would be really nice to park a few vintage cars out there, depending on what is appropriate for the story. You might even place some extras against the building in the deep background, which would really add some depth.

Last thought - how far away from naturalistic lighting are you willing to go? Because if you turn off all of the overhead light, then it may seem like the diner is closed. Diners are typically brightly lit islands of light in a sea of darkness. So unless the scene takes place after hours, that may not be the best choice. I think if you keep them on and underexpose them with ND gel, then you'll keep some semblance of naturalism but also have a dark moody scene that you can add light selectively to.
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#3 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 03:21 PM

Hi Satsuki,

 

Thank you for responding. It is a fantastic location and yes - I'm thinking dark and moody. Ironically, I chose the Edward Hopper painting, 'Nighthawks' as inspiration- love the composition and high contrast of all his work.

 

The shoot will take place after hours - at night - so I won't have many exterior options - and the two feet of snow on the ground might be an additional limitation.

 

Any thoughts on lighting at night?

 

Best,
Dawna


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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 03:50 PM

I realize you will be shooting when the diner is closed, but is it supposed to be open and operating in the story?

If so, I would keep the overheads on for ambience, but selectively turn off the bulbs you don't want by twisting them off. You can also add ND gel or bobbinette fabric to the existing tubes that you want to reduce the intensity of.

You could key the actors through the window with something like a 2K on a high stand gelled to an orange streetlight color, but I would be tempted to imagine that there is a red neon sign by the door and just put a Kino Flo with red gel by the window. Have a grip wave a flag in front of it from time to time, or have a few crew members walk back and forth in front of it to create some movement. Again, depending on the content of scene and what kind of emotion you want to suggest to the audience.

For the background, I would get a 1K Parcan or a 750w Leko with some blue or yellow gel and either rake the building with it from the side, or uplight from below, or see if you can get permission to go on the roof and aim it straight down. A portable 2000w 2000EU Honda generator would allow you to put the light anywhere.

That way, you have a monochromatic background, sickly warm-green ambience inside, and a red key light that is motivated. You might even put a smoke machine outside with a hose pointed straight up, so that you get old-school 'manhole cover steam' in the background, which could look really evocative.

I think also adding some normal tungsten light to the kitchen area of the diner would add some relief for the eye. Something like a Dedolight or two bouncing off the cooking counter top.
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#5 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 03:57 PM

If you're going for more of a gritty Savides 'The Yards' vibe, I'd probably go more monochromatic overall and go with the 2K or Parcan streetlight idea from a high backlight angle, with some white tablecloth to bounce that light back into the faces.
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 06:15 PM

Oh, that's an absolute gift.

 

I've little to add to Satsuki's excellent suggestions other than that I notice, looking at the location, that it's isolated almost on an island surrounded by roads, so your ability to put things in externally to suggest, say, moonlight may be a bit limited. There is one angle you can light from, though, which may dictate where it's best to block the scene out. Is this the right place?

 

corner-lunch-diner-worcester-ma.jpg

 

(Also, Worcester is on my bucket list for reasons too complicated to explain.)

 

P


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#7 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 08:03 PM

Satsuki,

 

Thank you for taking the time to write such an amazing response! However, I should have mentioned that I'm shooting this single scene for a cinematography class - so I have a limited budget. That being said, I think of this as a great learning opportunity and would like to experiment as much as possible.

 

Yes - the diner is supposed to be open. Sorry to be confusing.

 

I'm definitely going for a look similar to the diner scene in Drive. Key through the window with a bit of a sickly green ambiance inside.

 

I'm not sure I'll be able to be selective in the overheads but I bet I can manipulate the intensity. Do you think the red and yellow ceiling will be a problem?


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#8 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 08:08 PM

Hi Phil,

 

Yes, that's the place. I scouted it yesterday and it does sit at the intersection of several roads. I'd love to know what you're thinking about the angle for light/blocking.   And just to entice you to visit Worcester, the city is full of interesting places like this - diners, old factories and mills, etc.


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#9 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 17 March 2017 - 09:26 PM

Wow, cool exterior too! I must visit there someday.

Yup, I hear you about the limitations of a class exercise - been there, done that, as they say! Still though, I think you have a ton to work with here. The limiting factor may simply be the amount of time you have to get the shoot done. It's good to keep in mind all the things that can be done.

There must be a way to change those fluorescent globes, my folks used to own an old shop like that and we had to change fluorescents semi-regularly. All you have to do is twist them to disconnect them. I would ask the owners if you can do it, and if so to show you how to access them.

I think the yellow and red panels are a feature, not a bug! It's really unique looking.
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#10 JD Hartman

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 06:57 AM

What's the place look like at night?  When possible if it's a night scene, best to scout and photograph these things at approximately the time you intend to shoot.  Also consider the phase of the moon on the night or night you intend to shoot there.


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#11 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 07:52 AM

JD - the diner sits in the middle of what i would call a mixed use, industrial area - not much light there at night. Never thought about checking the moon phases but at your suggestion I found there will be no moon on the night of the shoot.   Makes me worried that the complete darkness will present a problem with reflection of crew in windows.

 

 

 

 


Edited by Dawna Sirard, 18 March 2017 - 07:58 AM.

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#12 JD Hartman

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 09:02 AM

Still and all, if I were lighting it I'd want to see it at night.  No exterior lighting other than the two streetlights?  I'm sure you don't want the view out the window to be a black hole.  You might want to add some simulated streetlight splash on the wall of the building that's seen through the end windows.


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#13 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 11:09 AM

Have a little peek at the trailer for the short The Apology I shot a year or so back. Also all set in a diner. Not saying you should do this, but perhaps some inspiration or guidance on what not to do... :)

 

I strung double daylight tubes onto the ledge outside the windows for the big wide and used that as main source. With the rain it works really well. It's sourcy, but there were actually some lights there already, so I just took my cue from the location. For the over the shoulders I augmented a little with lower softer sources (I can't for the life of me remember what I used, but probably a Kino or LED panel through a 4x4 frame). I seem to recall I had a very soft three quarter back as well. And outside the "bad guy's" window behind him I just strung multi colored christmas lights between two stands and let the anamorphic lens take care of the rest.

 


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#14 Mark Kenfield

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 11:40 AM

The neutral colour of that building out the back would be perfect for adding some colour contrast, I'd probably try firing some light at it with strong colour to separate it out from the foreground.


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#15 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 18 March 2017 - 12:12 PM

Hi Adam,

 

Thanks for sharing the video - it's very close to the look I'm going for!

 

A few differences - it won't be raining (i hope) and I need to show a car parked outside the window. There is also some very nice old-style metal window blinds that I hope to make use of as well. I was thinking of using a AAdynTech JAB Dalylight LED to simulate the street light.

 

Much like your location, there is an existing (small) light outside and above each window so I could get away with daylight tubes. I was just watching a video on the Limelight LED tubes - maybe they would work.

 

A few questions - and forgive me, I'm still learning - for the over the shoulder shots, were the softer sources outside the window as well?

 

For the three quarter back, did you use a softbox or diffusion?

 

And I LOVE the christmas light idea. I was trying to figure out how to suggest street lights and this is a great idea!

 

Dawna


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#16 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 19 March 2017 - 02:15 AM

After looking at some stills it looks like for the over's that I used a Celeb light as main. The three quarter backs was probably vertical Kino Flo's hidden just outside of frame and outside of window, as in close up of old man. For the wide, seems like a 800 Joker or maybe a 1.2K HMI is going through a 4x4 frame.

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#17 Dawna Sirard

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Posted 20 March 2017 - 10:46 AM

Hi Adam,

 

I'd like to thank you for sharing the shoot images - I appreciate that you took the time to locate and post them. They are so helpful.

 

One more questions - if you don't mind - just curious what camera/lens you shot with. I did a practice run yesterday using my Canon 18-55mm and did not like the results. However, it was all I had. For the shoot, I'd like to rent an anamorphic lens.

 

Dawna


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#18 Michael Rodin

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Posted 20 March 2017 - 10:53 AM

Was it that you had to shoot on the wide end and didn't like the distortion or flare or what exactly?


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#19 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 20 March 2017 - 11:29 AM

Depending on what kind of camera you are using, it might be tricky to find an anamorphic lens set to rent. Almost all anamorphic lenses are PL mount and many require lens support as they are long and heavy. They also tend to be quite rare and thus expensive to rent. Unless you have an AC with you who has worked with these lenses before, it may be more trouble than it's worth for a class exercise.

You might try instead to get a hold of some fast prime lenses instead of a slow zoom. Something like a set of Zeiss Compact Primes in EF mount, or even Canon L series primes should be quite affordable and easy to find. They would allow you to open the aperture another stop or so and get a better looking image.
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#20 Bradley Stearn

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Posted 20 March 2017 - 04:26 PM

What a great thread! Thanks for sharing the great information. 


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