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Archive for category cinematography
What is ‘film lighting’, and do we need it? Will we ever be able to just turn on our camcorders and start shooting without making any effort or giving any thought to lighting the scene? Possibly, in a galaxy far, far away where they have special ‘lighting droids’ which assist the cinematographer by beeping, refusing donuts and running up and down ladders all day without complaint. At the moment though, as filmmakers, we need to think about the direction, colour and quality of light and how it helps us to tell our story.
Why do we need lighting?
Lighting our films creates depth, atmosphere and a type of ‘reality’ that engages the viewer’s brain and helps create the believability necessary to sustain the world we’re depicting. Flat, dull and lifeless scenes just give the viewer a reason to stop downloading press ‘eject’ on the dvd player.
How do use light?
Light is used to ‘model’ the subjects or actors we shoot. Next time you watch one of your favourite movies check out any scene with faces in it. Chances are you will see a shadow on one side of the nose and a patch of brightness under the left or right eye. This indicates a light source placed in front of the subject, a bit higher than their height and also off to the left or right side by about 45 degrees. This is an important position for a light in order to create good ‘modelling’ on an actor and will probably be their ‘key’ or main illumination in that particular shot. This modelling is then built up with side lights, back lights, top lights and so on all helping to separate the subject from the background and realise that all important feeling of ‘depth’.
Two dimensions or three?
Film and video lighting is about creating three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional medium. Without the contrast of light and shadow, shooting with a camera – even if it’s the best camera in the world – will produce images that are flat and uninteresting. It is up to the film-maker working with a DP (and everyone else) to create that interest and bring the film to life.
Do we need lamps?
If you don’t have access to lights or don’t know how to light properly, you can still work with what is available naturally. Some directors of photography only work with light found on location, practical lamps and so on; some use combinations of mirrors to direct sunlight into the correct positions without any electrical lamps at all. You might say you are only limited by time and your own inventiveness.
Use what’s available.
If you don’t have room in your budget for lighting equipment then sunlight and location ‘house’ lights will be your sources. You will have to position your subjects in the most favourable positions. For example, when shooting outside, a good rule of thumb is to keep the sun behind the camera and off to one or other side (similar to the 45 degree key light); this will create at least some basic modelling on your actor. It is always a good idea to avoid having the sun in front of the camera lens or behind the subject that you’re filming in order to minimise under-lit faces, flares etc although this is one way to achieve any silhouette effects.
Sunshine and rain
If you are outside on a cloudy day there isn’t a great deal you can do to make things look good if you’re lacking in lights; everything will be pretty flat and shadowless as the sky is one big source of diffused light. However, sunlight will create very bright and very dark shadow areas in the same shot and exterior shooting almost always involves the generous use of reflectors; these are specially made or improvised highly reflective surfaces that can be used to direct light into shadow areas making them less dark. This ‘fill’ in or ‘bounce’ light makes the contrast less noticeable and the ratio of light (the range of exposures) easier for the camera to deal with.
Lighting for film also involves choices such as what ‘style’ to use to best express the story we are telling. Soft and hard lighting, high key and low key and high contrast/low contrast and others all help to generate different reactions within the viewer by communicating visually, the various aspects of the human experience.
Cameras don’t yet match our brains
We are blessed with an incredible image-making system built into our brains that helps us interpret the world we live in; it is very difficult for a recording medium to reproduce that to the level we’re used to. It’s getting closer all the time but we still need to build those three-dimensions to transport our audience out of the cinema, bedroom or beach hut and into our film’s reality. The most important part of filmmaking will always be the story and if that’s good enough you could shoot on pixel vision and still make it compelling for people to watch but the art of cinematography and the skill of the D.P. will enhance and complement your movie-making immeasurably and produce a more satisfying and memorable experience for everyone.
Finding a Director of Photography (shortened to D.P. or D.O.P.) or Cinematographer can be complicated. Do you go for someone you know who may be able to do the job or do you look further afield? In the beginning when you are starting out, it’s probably easier to use the contacts you have but as your projects become more sophisticated, you may have to employ a seasoned professional.
DP’s generally fall into three categories:
- those who light to make it look good.
- those who light to make it look good and tell the story.
- those who say they can but actually couldn’t light their own granny, (Luckily, few and far between but they do exist!)
All things being equal, you want the guy or gal in the middle. These are the people who will use their understanding of cinematography to express all the elements of your story and it’s characters. They may be more or less than wholly successful but their intention is the right one.
How then do you go about deciding who is the right person to work with? Here are some tips:
- Obviously, view the show reels of prospective D.P.’s/ this will give you an good idea of their work.
- Send a script before meeting. People are busy but D.P.’s, if interested, should be able and will want to read a script pretty quick
- Meet informally to discuss the film, choice of styles and creative issues.
- Be prepared to answer questions about characters, motivation etc .A good D.P. will have suggestions and won’t just be a ‘yes man’. This is a creative role and they will most likely be ‘thinkers’ and leaders. They will often challenge the way you think a about certain things.
- Be aware if someone just agrees with your every idea, this could denote a lack of ideas or confidence or leadership ability.
- Based on your answers a good D.P. may choose not to work with you! They have a reputation to protect/build and wont work with just anyone. (if you do have a poor script/personality you better have a lot of money!).
- References: Contact other producers and directors who have worked with the same person and get their view.
- Make sure you can get on personally. You will be working very closely together over a number of weeks of the shoot both before and after in pre-and post production so be certain you can work through any disagreements or differences of opinions amicably and maturely.
Finding a D.P. to work with is something all aspiring and established film makers have to deal with at some time. Ideally you will find someone you can work with again and again on different projects and thereby create a successful relationship of mutual respect and admiration.
This is Disgruntled’s guide to film jobs. This isn’t my opinion but that of a warped and bitter individual who has worked with too many a******s. Do you have the qualities to work on a movie set? Check out this guide to the roles of some of the film crew!
WARNING! Some readers may find the following film jobs and descriptions highly offensive.
Crack fuelled egomaniac with distorted sense of their own talent and or small penis (if man), moustache (if woman). “Hey wake up buddy, you’re a ‘director’, for like, four weeks of the year, the rest of the time your unemployed and sitting on your ass!”
Coke/booze fuelled egomaniac with distorted sense of their own importance – with one redeeming feature – access to money. If female, usually single because they’re such a pain in the ass…and fat and ugly.
Gadget/monocle wielding perfectionist harbouring a secret desire to direct and a plastic gel fetish. Soon to be out of business due to technical advances and new cameras.
Barely breathing, older hairy-assed spark who’s now too lazy to move. Wears a thong with the excuse… “but it gets so hot in here.”
Swaggers about like a rodeo rider on heat. Treats camera like prized stallion/sex object, always touching it, and shit. Masturbates over American cinematographer magazine. Avoid giving them a seat on the dolly or they’ll expect to be carried like Caesar or Cleopatra or Jabba. Believe themselves to be charismatic mavericks like Indiana Jones or James bond… which of course, they’re not.
Ass-kissing, elitist fucks suffering from mental dwarfism.
Promiscuous, coked up, hairy-assed with pot-bellies…and the men are just as bad.
Guy with a stick, with what looks like some massive dildo stuck on the end. They shove it up their ass (without the fluffy bit, which is harder to clean) when they’re alone… which is a lot.
Normally, a man-geek who is lacking social skill and/or sense of humour. A possible ‘Idiot Savant’. The are always one of the first to leave set as they only have some cables and a little box thingy.
Directors evil helper who needs a whip to crack. When they ask “how lon?” the correct reply is either… “suck my dick!” or… “how long till what?..Till lunch/dinner/snacks?..Till you suck my dick?”
No-talent, ass-kissers with no redeeming features who squawk “ooo, look at me, I work in films.” They will point a lot and order you around, telling you to “line up over there!” If you are a supporting artist, the correct reply to this is… “Eat me, you line up over there, bend over and get f****d in the ass!”
Anal obsessive list-makers and over ambitious P.A.s. who complain, “But don’t you have your movement order/schedule/some stupid form?” You say… “There was no paper in the honey wagon so I wiped my ass on it.”
You are sub-humans not be looked directly by any other member of the crew and cast. They will avoid all efforts on your part to chat, bond, obtain sympathy for your plight. You may think, “I’m an actor!” but like… so what?
Narcissistic bags of wind, who’ve never worked a day in their lives… “What’s your motivation? A boot up your f*****g ass if you don’t start hitting the god-damn marks, mother*****r!”
Overpaid face-painters only taken seriously by children and desperate mums. The females are cock-teasers, and the men…they’re cock-teasers too.