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 café 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.