No this isn’t a case of deja vu, we have a second week where the theme of the meeting is another practical evening.
No this isn’t a case of deja vu, we have a… hold on didn’t I type that already?
Anyway, the idea behind this week’s session is to follow up what was learned at the last meeting about lighting. Much information was imparted about how to light a scene, what type of light to use and where to position it and now it is time to put it all to good use.
David Laker will be running the evening along with a little help from Andy Watson and Trevor Rogers. They will be bringing the club camera and lights but ask club member attending to bring their own cameras and any lighting gear they may have that will help add to the production.
In lieu of any other ideas, David has come up with a scenario he would like to use which will allow a chance to try out the various ways to alight a scene. If anyone has an idea of their own they are welcome to bring it to the meeting and time permitting we may get to try them as well, and hopefully even get to check the footage on the club PC before we wrap up for the evening.
So, it might be dark outside but it will be anything but when you join us this coming Tuesday for an illuminating evening of filmmaking!
This week’s club meeting is a two part coaching evening to help improve the filmmaking skills and knowledge of club members and familiarise them with the club equipment.
First there will be a demonstration of how to use the various supplementary bits of kit we have at our disposal (full list is HERE), including the dolly track, wireless mic, steadycam and more.
The second part of the evening will be a Q and A session in which your questions will be answered by our ever knowledgeable panel of experts. So if something is nagging you about lighting, sound, editing, focusing, or you have trouble understanding terms like “aperture” or “backlight” then this is the perfect opportunity to ask someone who knows to explain it to you.
Remember there is no such thing as a silly question as we all had to start somewhere, so don’t be shy in asking for help if you need it.
We are a filmmaking club and we are just as effective working as a group unit as we are as individuals, so please make use of this session to help improve your understanding and knowledge of making films, or to share your knowledge with those who need it.
I’ve been a member since late last year, but that’s not a lot of time in a club that meets only bi-monthly for people to really know who I am, so here goes – about the author.
Despite first writing software in assembly language and being involved in computer graphics, both at a semi-professional level since very young I never chose to enter into these as a career. After seeing various forms of government service however, which did ultimately involve both at key levels I decided to form my own companies. Today, I still run software development, digital graphics and digital publishing companies at the same time as being lecturer up to degree level computing in Mid-Kent. From next year, I’ll also be involved in the HE Digital Media program.
I did this however, without any qualifications in these fields so in 2004 after more than thirty years in the industries (amazing what happens between eye-blinks…) I
went back to school by starting an HNC at Mid-Kent College in computing and an Access to Arts course at the University of Creative Arts. Today I teach that same computing course, hold a BSc in Computing, am a Chartered IT Professional, a PGCE (i.e. I’m qualified to teach), am in the last few months of an MA in Digital Design, and gearing up for a Doctorate in Digital Design / Digital Media in the next academic year.
So what has all of this to do with this article?
While I’ve not done much with my graphics company for years (too much work elsewhere), I covered a lot of corporate work and too many fan films to want to remember them, as well as a vast amount of CG work of a different nature that was never intended to appear on film. I decided to get back into the film world via OVFM and learning new / updating my non-CG film making knowledge by joining Raindance.
I completed my Scriptwriting Certificate with them in November last year, and started my Technical Certificate this Thursday with the aim of converting each set into their Diploma level qualifications (you can take these up-front, but I don’t have time). I’ll be taking as many of their courses as I can shoe-horn into my schedule in readiness for the Doctorate next year.
Who Are Raindance?
Some of you will be well aware of who Raindance are, some of you will know Raindance from a particular perspective, while some of you will never have heard of Raindance at all. If you want to know the nitty-gritty details, take a look at their website at www.Raindance.org, but here is a summary.
Raindance was started in 1992 by Elliot Grove, an extremely knowledgable and experienced industry professional, in order to greatly expand and improve film making in the UK (though he’s a Canadian by birth). Raindance organise the Independent Film Festival, the Independent Film Trust, as well as running the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA). It is supported by film industry professionals ranging from Chris Nolan to Mike Figgis.
What some people perhaps do not know is that Raindance, as part of their commitment to improving film production provide a wide range of film-making services as well as having a massive training commitment which has expanded from the UK to include Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Mumbai, New York, Budapest, Berlin and Brussels. These are the courses taken by and delivered by some of the most influential British film makers in the industry today.
Chris Nolan stored his equipment in a spare space in the Raindance offices while filming his first film in and around Soho as a student with them, while Guy Ritchie hammered out the details of the ‘Lock-Stock’ script with Elliot during his film-making course. So far I’ve attended courses directed by Elliot, Chris Thomas and the legendary Syd Field.
Today, Raindance even run a flexible, tailored MA program in film making consisting of their courses, validation by University, and resulting in the production of a film as the final project.
While I may go back and retrospectively tell of my experiences and pass on tips from the Scriptwriting Course if people are interested, this short set of articles is about the Technical Certificate. Over the next five weeks, I’ll be passing on experiences ranging from lighting (last night, the first session) to weeks dedicated to sound, DSLR film making, editing, and finally SFX.
The Power of Lighting
The first session covered the power of lighting – an interesting proposal in the Craven Street rehearsal rooms off Charing Cross as they consist of small, sub-basement cubes of white-washed walls, probably the last place that a tutor wants in the instruction of lighting techniques.
The environment consisted of a wide array of lighting types ranging from Red-Heads and Blondes, to Dedo, Kino lamps and LED arrays. A wide range of clips were also on show to demonstrate exactly how setups, concepts and genre lighting styles (e.g. Film Noir) had actually been utilised on film as they cropped up in discussion.
The big question to start off with however, was ‘why light?’ (as in the noun, not substance). That may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s actually a more complex topic today than it was years ago. In the past, film cameras needed vast amounts of light from incredibly powerful beams just to get anything appearing on the film at all. Bright natural light after all, is the whole reason why Hollywood even exists.
Today, modern video cameras need very little light to do the same job – the Ewan MacGregor / Christopher Plummer film ‘Beginners’ (for which he won an Oscar) for example, was filmed on a RED camera with no lighting setup at all – it was all done with whatever natural (i.e. non-contrived) light sources were available.
Five reasons raised their head:
Illumination (the obvious one),
to create mood and atmosphere,
the focusing of attention,
the creation of depth in what is essentially a 2D media form
and the enhancement of the directors vision in what is actually a highly collaborative art form (i.e the director states his vision, the DoP/L and lighting engineers arrange it, if feasible).
Other than the first, what all of the others ultimately refined as was ‘to tell the story’. If you are experienced enough and know why you are doing it, every rule in the book can be broken in order to further the story that you are trying to tell. An example of this was the final death scene in ‘The Assassination of Jesse James…’, where every camera angle switch breaks continuity so as to tell the story – the story telling is so successful, that the lighting continuity breaches are overlooked.
As a side, Mike Figgis in his book on Digital Filmmaking goes into this as well – breaking down the need to even consider traditional lighting setups.
Naturally, I don’t want to simply repeat the entire session here, but here are some of things that the session raises and has you thinking about:
With your lighting, how much camera movement can you get (for storytelling purposes) with the same setup? This is not so much about avoiding re-lighting for a different camera angle, but more about the realities of the scene e.g. a hotel room with supposedly inflexible lighting sources, avoiding the placement of red-heads that magically generate light from what should be a solid-wall.
Always look not just at the lighting, but how much shadow you are generating as well. Sculpting with light is not about light intensity, but the balance between the light and shadow to create the story. A different sculpt will completely change the character of the scene and individual actors. Simply placing a lamp high, middle or low alters the apparent dominance of the character, regardless of the acting.
Colour is the ultimate confuser. Many pros switch their monitors into B&W so that they only see the light intensities. Colour causes the brain to lie about what it is seeing, and some film-makers, even in contemporary stories choose B&W over colour. e.g. ‘The man who wasn’t there’ was actually shot in colour due to a contractual requirement to provide a colour print to certain markets, but it was not the Coen Brothers first choice. A huge amount of experimentation was required to re-print the film correctly into B&W as even different hair colours reflect light differently – a factor which is hidden by the human eye registering the colour instead of the intensity.
Many genre lighting setups are deliberately unnatural and go against what may seem to be common sense and reality. Good examples include Film Noir, which deliberately aims to have most lights (and especially key lights) give hard, crisp shadows.
Lighting types (not equipment) tends to be regarded as falling in four groups: Natural daylight (because it changes); as opposed to Artificial Light (controllable and today essentially consisting of conventional fittings, tungsten, HMI, Fluorescent or LED); whether the light is Hard or Soft; and finally whether the light is Directed, Reflected or Bounced.
The main difference between all light sources (the mixing of light sources is not seen as a problem in itself) is that of colour temperature and therefore the adjustment that needs to be made to return the appearance of white as seen by the camera (i.e. the white balance) back to a human acceptable white for the conditions. In the session, as well as conventional examples, we used a combination of both Tungsten and Daylight lamps (simultaneously) to generate believable setups – setting the white balance in this case was more about deciding what was intended to be the normal time of the day according to the story. A mix of light sources is a normal and believable daily occurrence – having a day lamp giving the impression of a window on one side of the face, while tungsten light gives a different impression on the other is a situation which the human brain actually expects to see and considers normal.
There is still a huge hangup on aperture. Traditionally more of an issue with stills photographers and older cinematographs who are traditionally film camera users, lenses and cameras tend to be favoured with as low an f-stop as possible. While nice for a desired effect (such as the associated depth of field etc.), it’s heavily over used and irrelevant in the modern digital camera world which can perform the same tasks at ever higher f-stop ratings (again, see the ‘Beginners’ example, above). Side note: a film which breaks this mould is Citizen Kane, for which they deliberately designed new wide-angle lenses to have as great a depth of field as possible, but subsequently required vast amounts of light for even the dark film that it is.
Today, light metres are irrelevant and a hang over from film. The change from film to digital is not the important factor here however, but more that it is now possible to see exactly what the camera is seeing without the need to guess using a mathematical model (i.e. a camera version of WYSIWYG), then hope for the best when the film is printed.
The final part of the evening involved experimenting with a traditional 3-point lighting setup but taking it far further than the conventional use – especially with what has already been said here regarding the capabilities of digital camera.
While the important factors of the traditional 3 point setup were discussed (not repeated here, as we’ve already gone though a coaching evening on this very thing in any case), we also went into repeating the same principles to create 4, 5, 6 and more point lighting systems establishing the approaches to increase the storytelling of the background and alternative key features of the scene, as well as improve results and storytelling through the various lens apertures (e.g. lighting for the long lens etc.)
Conclusions from the evening
Being principally concerned with the teaching of various software development disciplines, database design and IT management as well as still being firmly established within industry, I sometimes despair at the gulfs between what an industry actually does on an everyday basis and what academia tells a student is important. It came as no surprise last night therefore, that many an arty member of the audience, clearly just out of or still in film school was (unintentionally) shot down by Chris (or Chris, a confusing night as both experts had the same name) by simply replying, ‘nah, not important’.
Books and traditional film classes are fine, but it is very beneficial to see what is really being used, done, or indeed ignored as irrelevant in the current film-industry by a working DoP and Director.
This in itself is important as in amongst the technical awareness of the evening there were a couple of important points which carried throughout everything:
Plan your lighting, and ensure that you have time to plan it, but not in order to follow some technical ‘how its done’ in either setup or the equipment being used. There is no such thing as the ‘best equipment’. Plan it so that it tells the story in the film that you want to make, regardless of how you actually do it.
If you can’t get the lighting right for the film that you want to make, you may not need to change the story but you will need to make a different film. Don’t try to force fit something that simply isn’t going to work for the budget that you have.
The Next Session
The next session will be far more interesting for me as while I greatly enjoyed this session, a lot of the technical aspects are things that I have dealt with before and have even been covered within the OVFM evenings. After all, exactly the same principles in lighting exist in preparing a digital scene as a real one.
The next session however, is a full session dedicated wholly to film quality sound and more importantly, how to use it – something which I have never experienced in a true taught environment.
With the evenings drawing in and austerity measures meaning street lamps are going out all over Europe, the time seemed ripe for a practical night on lighting etc at OVFM.
The buzz of expectancy at the club on Tuesday 15th November was enough to make your fillings rattle as The Crew set to work transfering the hall into an outpost of Hollywood (or Pinewood, Bollywood or any other Wood you fancy). So for those of you who missed this great event here is a complete and truthful report of what occured…honest!
Lights, camera…screen, projector…more lights, tripod, volunteers, more lights and ACTION! But first Ian took centre stage to get the ball rolling on the bijou but perfectly formed Coaching Evening Cinematic Extravaganza. This production will be the culmination of what will quite literally be a film making journey as week by every other week the Coaching Evenings build into a collection you”ll treasure forever…free binder with issue one.
Pep talk given, scripts distributed, volunteers…err volunteered it was time to Bring On The Coach! Drum roll please, draw back those curtains and give a warm OVFM Coaching Evening The Third welcome to…eh Chris!
Fresh faced and totally pumped after leading his own all day seminar on “how to do techy stuff” (don”t ask me, I still need two hands to tell the time…curse you wretched LED watch) Chris soon launched into part one of the evening.
And tonights subject? Lighting, lighting, lighting oh and a bit of tracking.
We have the lights Now all we need is a subject…bring on the first victim.
Tony steps up and is soon bathed in light as Chris shows the effect of dramatic side lighting. Tony”s rugged, handsome and very distinguished face, seemed to exude quiet authority as he sat calmly surveying the scene before him with regal gravitas (and let me just take this opportunity to thank Tony for his kind and totally unexpected contribution to my little charity). As Chris worked the camera Tony”s face appeared in glorious super close-up on the wall. Thus the effect of the lights could be easily viewed by all and the large and attentive audience of “wannabespielbergs” as they like to be know, to study the fall of light and shade in detail.
Marko then skilfully manned the reflector to demonstrate how it can be used to reduce contrast in strong lighting conditions and kick light back where it”s needed. As Chris pointed out, unlike our eyes, the camera is unable to cope with the extremes of contrast that occur in many situations. The lit areas of the subject can too bright and overexposed while the unlit shadow areas can be dark voids without any features. So lighting should be managed to control this by the intelligent use of reflectors or “fill” lighting.
Reflectors. Why are they available in different colours?
Now at this point you are probably expecting some explanatory photos for illustration purposes.
Well! It”s like this. Needing a subject for the photos I contacted our regular Go-to Glam Girl Model to propose a short photographic sitting.
“How much?” Freddy demanded down the phone.
Naturally I was taken aback. After all Freddy is well known for her generous nature, as well as her beauty, and anyway the OVFM photographic slush fund had recently been withdrawn (don”t ask, but my all expenses paid long weekend in Paris slot machines to seek “inspiration” may have been a contributory factor) and I was now totally skint.
“How about a chip butty and a nice big mug of tea Freddy.” I suggest, thinking this a very tempting offer, especially as we all know tea is the drink of champions.
“Wise guy! I don”t get of of bed for less than £10,000!” She shouted, before throwing the phone down with such force I was deeply concerned for the safety of any innocent bystander who may have been passing.
And so in the abscence of our very own diva of the catwalk I shall just have to describe the lighting effects, thanks Freddy!
Silver, neutral in colour but with maximum reflectivity.
White, also neutral in colour but less reflective, when you want less fill or your don”t want to dazzle your subject.
Gold (or similar) this is not neutral coloured but adds a “warm” tint to the subject that is not unlike a suntan and consequently gives a healthy glow to the subject. Use sparingly as the colour cast can appear unnatural if used in the wrong situation.
Black, being a simple soul it took me years to get my head round the concept of a black reflector but now I “get it” as it is a very useful tool to control light. Basically you use it to subtract light and selectively shade the subject. For example if the subject is close to a colourful surface that is casting light onto it and you”re unable to reposition the subject then place the black reflector between the two. Or if you”re in a small, light walled room but you want dramatic deep shadows on your subject use the black reflector to block the natural fill. Or finally my favourite use for it is in available light portaits outside where “toppy” lighting can occur that throws the eye sockets into shadow. Use the black reflector (or similar) above and infront of the subject to block that top lighting so that the face is illuminated from the front (a similar effect can be achieved by taking the subject under the shade of a tree, for example).
Tony was very much at ease in the spotlight so it was time for Chris to welcome contributions from the audience. Basil made the excellent point that there were budget alternatives to the flexible, steel hoop style reflector that Chris was using. Options like silver foil on card (but do crumple the foil first), space blanket (excellent for portability, cheap but does require a friend or two to hold it), a white bed sheet (obviously coloured reflectors are not suitable as they add a colour cast to the subject). In truth any pale surface can be used to kick back a little light into the shadow side of the subject, a white wall or even a sheet of newspaper if you can get it close enough.
Rising to the challenge of creating Mastermind style lighting Malcolm and others leapt to the fore to tinker with angles, brightness, distance and even subject…sorry Tony but you”re FIRED!
Chris was also keen to show off his latest hi-tech acquisition, not his iphone (for once!) but a one metre wide by two metre long, half centimetre thick, deformable and light weight, tri-form waffled construction, fully recyclable device for light occlusion. Okay, okay! Yes it was just a piece of tatty old cardboard.
Chris Demonstrates 21st Century Technology[/caption]
Apparently this was all that Chris could afford since the budget available for club equipment had somehow been mysteriously depleted recently…but on the positive side some really excellent French cheeses are being served at the commitee meetings nowadays thanks to a generous but unnamed benefactor.
Anyway the point is that in the hands of an expect (where were you Reg when we needed you?) the cardboard can be used like barn doors, or a snoot, or a baffle, or a gobo, or in other words it can stop light going where it”s not welcome. We also learnt of giant inflatable screens used by film makers to shade large areas, which can be suspended from cranes for maximum effect.
Back light, background light, natural light, window light, room light, even light…the whole lighting thing is a real biggy. Chris could only touch on some elements of it in the limited time available but the subject will doubtless be returned to at future OVFM meetings or if you have any questions the club is replete with expertise so just ask around.
After teabreak it was time for part two of the evening which majored on the woefully under ultilised but highy effective club dolly tracking system. This simple, lightweight and easy to use gadget can add a real polish to your production by allowing the camera to move along smoothly and in a controlled way.
Chris demonstrated a number of uses for the tracking technique and several eager students took the opportunity to have a go themselves.
My absolute fav use of the dolly and tracks is the “Jaws” effect as I think of it. It is more properly known as the dolly zoom, or also as the Hitchcock Zoom, the Vertigo Zoom, the Trombone Shot etc.
There”s a scene in Jaws where the Police Chief (actor Roy Scheider) is sitting on the beach watching the tourists splash in the surf whilst convinced a rogue shark is about to strike but unable to close the beach. His keen eyes spot something in the water and as the emotions are written across his shocked face the camera rapidly tracks towards him while the lens zooms out (from telephoto to wideangle) to maintain his face at the same size. The resultant change in perspective is dramatic, unsettling and very spectacular.
With Bob and Lee in full acting mode, Anna, Jane, Freddy, Chris and others demonstrated this technique with great success. Andy has been producing DVD”s of all the Coaching Evenings and they are available to buy, this demo alone has got to make the purchase worthwhile…it looked fab, especially with Bob performing at Oscar winning level.
So sadly, with time having beaten us, the momentous Third Coaching Evening came to an end.
We were tired, entertained, uplifted but most of all thanks to Chris and his band of helpers we were all a bit wiser too.
The lights and the track system belong to the club and can be booked out for use by club members along with a variety of other equipment (look in the Members” Section of the website for details). DVD”s of this and the other Coaching evenings are available for a small fee from Andy. Psst…and if it”s delicious French cheese you”re after just tip me the wink and I”ll see what I can do.