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Monday, November 25, 2013

••◊ Cinema Lighting: Wraping Light Around an Actor

The director of a short I'm slated to shoot next week was enamored with the look of the party scene from Meet Joe Black and challenged me to take inspiration from that film to light his cafĂ© scene at night.  The first picture below is a frame grab from YouTube, where the clip can be found.


From the picture I knew there was a very large light source at the right of the frame.  You can see it in Clair Forlani's eyes as well as the soft fall off on her skin.  What I couldn't understand was how the light was stretching around her head all the way to her ear.  We tried a simple test using our producer near an 8' section of bleached muslin filled with a 750W Lowell Tota light.  As you can see, it didn't have the anywhere near the same soft fall off characteristics.  In fact, it's somewhat harsh even with a book light and I was only getting an exposure of f/2.0(.8) at the native ISO of the camera I'm going to use.    

So I went on the excellent site cinematography.com and asked for some advice in their lighting forums.  There M. David Mullen, ASC suggested that Emmanuel Lubezki, ASC may have been flashing his films at that time.  Flashing film stock essentially lifts all the levels of the film by exposing the film stock to a flashing light as stock travels through the camera.  I wouldn't have known about flashing film stock, but David mentioned it during one of the ASC breakfast talks earlier in the year.  Furthermore, Guy Holt chimed in that he had worked on that scene in the electrical department and said that the actors were lit with a 12x12 diffusion frame.  Hah ha! 

So that at least gave me a direction to go.  I also learned last week that our lead actress was going to have much, much darker features than northern Brit Clair Forlani.  In fact, our actress is shown in the pictures below. 

The director, actress, and I went into Video Gear in San Diego and performed a lighting test.  The first thing I did was use a double book light with two 1k's at either end.  I found that using the rear book light in a more traditional bounce and the front book light in half bounce, half shoot through gave me much better fall off.  Then I added a simple fold out silver reflector at the near end of the muslin sheet to extend the diffusion and add what I though would be a reasonable emulation of flashing the film.

This wasn't quite enough and the director agreed.  She looked good, but her far ear was still falling off into shadow a little too quickly for the look we were after.  I knew that we had some Chinese lanterns in our production design, so I took advantage of a voice activated light stand (VALS) and hung a 24" China ball with a 250W tungsten bulb approximately over where the camera is going to be.  I knew this wasn't going to create any undesirable shadows.  It also makes sense in the eye reflection since we are going to see lanterns in back of the actress in the production lighting.  Now we had that nice gradual fall off with correct looking shadows.  From the picture just above to the picture just below I would contrast them as drama (above) and romance (below), even though the actress has a less than romantic expression.  Imagination people...we're making a film.  It's all fake!

The picture below is an aerial view of our lighting setup with my director/VALS.  You can see the double book light, silver reflector with lovely blue painter's tape, and the Chinese lantern.  I also added a 150W Fresnel lighting her hair, which I just threw in the mix quickly.  I would want to go a little more subtle and soft during the shoot next weekend.

Wish us luck during the shoot next week.  We also have a computer room scene that tested out lovely.  I used a bit of inspiration from 90's action movies and a bit from Paul Cameron, ASC.

Many thanks to the infinitely helpful M. David Mullen ASC, Guy Holt, and Tim Tyler on cinematography.com. Hopefully I can share this film with you when it's finished.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

••◊ Get Dirty! Race Cyclo-Cross.

Last weekend I borrowed the Sony FS-700 from Video Gear and took it to my club's annual cyclo-cross race at Lake Hodges.  I wanted to do a test of the Sony FS-700 auto-focus feature, so I was using the stock 18-200mm lens and the internal AVCHD codec.  I haven't found a way to use an external recorder while over cranking yet, so if anyone out there knows please contact me.  All the footage was shot at 240fps.

The race had a bit of a somber tone.  My fellow club member, Udo Heinz, was hit and killed by a bus while out on a ride earlier this year.  In memoriam the club decided to name the race "Udo-Cross."  There was a nice memorial service at the mid-point of the day.  One of the posters they used was a picture I shot at the race last year with Udo standing in front of the finish line, smiling, happy, and surrounded by an activity he loved.  I don't want to say "surrounded by what he loved" because I printed his memorial service pictures and it was clear that Udo loved his wife and kids first, even if he did manage to land a racer chick (Macht schnell Antje! Ranchooooooos!)

So here's my small tribute to Udo-Cross.  I hope Udo would have gotten a kick out of the video of the racers.

Yesterday was his memorial ride leaving from Spy+ Optics in Carlsbad.  There had to be at least 200 riders there to honor Udo.  Of course, the first thing that happens with a bunch of racers is that a break forms.  Antje stayed with the lead group.  As we headed up Questhaven road, a dirt road no less, I knew this ride had to be inspired by Udo.  I was on my skinny tire road bike and decided to do it anyway.  The only issue I had was when I had to set my foot down and some mud got stuck in my cleats.  A little water bottle spritz cleared that out.  I have to give a big thank you to Spy+ for stepping up and putting on this fundraiser event and Antje.

I wonder if Udo knew that all those relationships he was forming while he was alive would allow him to take care of Antje and his kids, even if he physically couldn't?

...back to cyclo-cross.  Seeing races like this makes me miss the days of riding in the dirt.  Udo, you may have inspired my next bike purchase.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

••◊ Report from All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival


My documentary film, Stronger + One Last Rep played yesterday at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival in North Hollywood.  David Patterson (pictured above) was the subject of the film, so he flew in Thursday night from Seattle.  We had a night dinner at Ortega's in Hillcrest, which earned my seal of approval, and prepared for the long drive to Los Angeles the next day. 

Before we headed to the classic El Portal Theater in North Hollywood we made a quick stop at the top of Deronda Street in Hollywood to take the first picture you see at the start of this blog entry.  Even though Dave was a bit hesitant about this trip at first, his eyes lit up when he saw us driving up Beachwood Street toward the symbol of Hollywood.  I, of course, got a bit lost due to questionably marked streets and lack of natural direction in the tall trees and multi-million dollar homes of the Hollywood hills.  On our second attempt we actually made it to the top, but were thwarted by a garbage collection truck on the way back down.

After that, we made a familiar stop at Hollywood and Highland so Dave could get his full tourist on.  He was having fun walking up and down the block taking pictures of the stars along the Hollywood walk of fame, like a kid discovering something really cool.  The Jimmy Kimmel show was doing some type of interview on the other side of the street.  When we were leaving Dave pointed out the three "Spiderman-s" who were taking a break at the corner.  One of them he nicknamed "skinny Spiderman", another "fat Spiderman", and the final one I don't remember.  Let's just say that their physiques didn't quite match the costumes.  Lunch was at my favorite lunch place in L.A. - Local.

The All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival was small by comparison of other film festivals I've been to.  At least half the audience was typically the filmmakers and their actors and we were screening in a small theater company space.  When they started having technical difficulties with the video randomly cutting to black, it was somewhat disconcerting.  After all, Dave had flown down just to see this film and my camera op/actor friend David Truax had driven up to see the film as well.

We survived the first round of student films, but my first thought was..."is my film really in this category?"  As the films got better and better through the second and third screening groups I started to feel a bit better, however technical glitches were still causing delays and random video cut out.

During our screening group Dave got up and said he had to visit the bathroom.  I told him, "our film is next!"  His reply was "No.  I checked and we have another one to go before yours."  Well, as you can probably guess, the "illuma.blogspot.com" logo came up just as soon as the theater door closed behind Dave.  So there I was thinking, "Dave is missing one...two...three minutes of the film."  I'm sure he felt a little embarrassed walking back in those few minutes later."  Note to Dave - Do as you mother always taught you and go to the bathroom before you have to be anywhere important!  At least the video didn't crap out or have to be restarted like a lot of the other films.

Today is a recovery day.  Tomorrow I'm off to shoot slow-mo video of bicycle racing in the dirt.

11-14 UPDATE:  I received news this morning that Stronger + One Last Rep won best documentary short and took the audience choice award.