Tag: film production
These days, not only is every filmmaker a director, editor, and DP, but it seems that a lot of us are having to be electricians as well. With little lights and high ISO cameras, I see a lot of people playing gaffer and lighting their own sets. That’s fantastic, except when it’s dangerous.
I’m no electrician. I know maybe two things about electricity on a set, but they’re biggies so here goes:
- Never hold one light in each hand.
- Make sure any circuit you plug into has a ground fault circuit interrupt (GFCI).
Here’s my understanding of why you never hold a light in each hand: Something, something, something, electricity can shoot through your heart. There might be a more thorough explanation on Wikipedia, but really, do you need one?
As a director, you can always phone it in with standard coverage or rely on your DP can find you lovely backgrounds and nice shot compositions, but if you want to pull off any shots that are interesting, meaningful, or cool, you need to plan them out ahead of time with storyboards or a coverage plan. Great shots don’t just happen.
I believe that being a good director means making a plan that I can share with other people before the morning of the shoot. That’s why I typically put in a bunch of prep time creating storyboards, shooting plans, and shot lists. In this post I’ll talk about what these are and why I think they’re important.
Preparation: The Burden and Opportunity
Typically on a shoot day you barely have enough time to get all the shots you need, let alone explore them. As much as I love the romantic notion of a director figuring out his vision on the set as he and the actors try new things, the reality is, a good director figures all that out long before the shoot. And then maybe, if he’s done his prep, he gets a few more ideas in the moment. But that’s only after all the work is done.
So how do you figure out your vision before you’re actually on the set looking at everything? One of the best ways is with storyboards and shooting plans. Sketching out what you want to shoot is a great way to try new things, refine your vision, and then communicate that to all the people who will help you realize it. In many ways, the director’s real visual exploratory work is done on paper.
(* The other exploratory work a director can do—the performance exploration—is in workshopping and rehearsing with actors. I’ll talk about this in a future post.)
I don’t own any big film lights—my biggest lights are a couple of 1,000-watt Fresnels. With today’s fast film stocks and digital sensors, you can easily illuminate a medium sized set with a couple of 1,000- and 650-watt lights. Often on a location you can’t go above about 2,000 watts total without blowing a circuit, anyway. So, like me, many smaller producers keep their personal lighting packages constrained and rent bigger lights like HMIs only when they need them and know there will be plenty of power to run them. (And enough man-power to haul them around and set them up. Big lights can be a lot of work!) So the ‘big’ lights I carry are pretty standard (boring) stuff. What I really dig are the little lights.
I own—and highly recommend—a complement of little Fresnel lights in the 100 to 300-watt range. These are miniature little Fresnels, with barn doors and scrims that can flood or spot like any other Fresnel, but rather than keying or filling a scene, these add texture, style, and focus. In my mind I think about the big lights as the ones that light the scene, and the little lights as the ones that make it look cool. (continue reading…)
Blackwrap is invaluable when you’re lighting a scene—and the cheaper your lighting gear, the more you probably need it. It’s sort of a Swiss Army knife of lighting—filling a lot of jobs. Just about any time that you’re working with a hot light, and you don’t have the right tool in your kit, blackwrap is what’s gonna save your butt.
For something so useful, it’s surprising that it’s often missing from very low-budget shoots. (But never missing from a pro shoot.) Blackwrap is basically aluminum foil that’s been sprayed with a matte black paint to keep it from bouncing weird reflections all over the set. You can bend it to any shape and put it right on a light without worrying about it catching fire. It’s a great way to block off any stray light that slips through. But it’s crazy expensive for tin foil—it costs 30 bucks a roll So, a lot of people skimp. But you should bite the bullet, buy a roll, and use it—and re-use it—judiciously. Because it’s awesome.
Here’s a piece of equipment that I bring to every film shoot and yet hope I’ll never need to use: the fire extinguisher. This is usually one of the first things I pull off the truck when I’m unloading my gear (and conversely, the last thing I put away at the end of the day). If you’re going to plug in lights—or plug in anything for that matter—you really must have a fire extinguisher. With you. On the set. Film lights get hot enough to set curtains or other things on fire very quickly. And you really don’t want to burn someone’s house down to make your film or series.