Lighting the Lovecraftian Short Film – Office Scene

Interrupted by the arrival of a new client.

Interrupted by the arrival of a new client.

A little alcohol makes this line of work easier to deal with.

A little alcohol makes this line of work easier to deal with.

For some more info on this scene, check out the previous blog post from yesterday.  The office scene really establishes the atmosphere of our short film; shadowy, moody, desaturated.  While much of that look is achieved in post production, there is absolutely no replacement for lighting it properly.  Still I wanted the light to appear natural, which for me meant bouncing a big light off the wall and ceiling.  With that set up in front of and to camera left of the Detective, we could leave some of her face in shadow, while soft light rained down on the rest of the scene.  To make sure her face didn’t have too much shadow, another stand with some white board clipped to it served as a reflector on the darker side of the Detective, acting as a fill light and bringing up the shadow by reflecting some of the soft light.  Finally, a rim light (or hair light) was placed in the back corner behind and on camera left, set up high and angled down.  This light is a small, hard and focused light, which falls right on the back of her hair and shoulders, serving to separate her from the background.  I only wanted a very slight effect, because I wanted the Detective to blend in somewhat to the messy dark room behind her, emphasizing how she practically lived there.  To achieve this, I attached a dimmer to the hair light and adjusted it down to be very subtle.  For shots of the scenery, I adjusted the big light bouncing off the wall and ceiling as well as the white board reflector, giving the scenery the same kind of shadowy appearance.

That was great, but we still had another person – the Detective’s client – who also needs to be lit in the same scene.  We used a similar set up but facing the other direction, and added in a black flag on a stand to block out some of the light that was spilling over where we didn’t want it.  Oh – and I can’t forget the sandbags used to hold down the light stands and make sure nothing toppled over.

In the end it was a pretty simple set up, but it was effective in creating our natural looking scene.  For those familiar with 3 point lighting, you can think of our big light bouncing down on the scene as the key light.  We could have easily used a traditional interview set up and put a big softbox as the key light, but the way we did it helped the light fall softly and evenly across much of the office.  This gave it a more natural appearance, as if some dingy light on the ceiling were shining down on the room.

In post production the colors, contrast, and saturation can be manipulated to find the right look.  Color grading is a more involved process and we’ll cover that in depth some other time.  Suffice to say that this was only quickly color graded for a preview picture, and the actual color grading process has not yet been done for the film, so the final look may end up very different.

Interested in lighting for film, or lighting for television?  There’s a lot of info out there, and I’m not a master by any means – the bulk of my experience in lighting was for TV shows and corporate.  I recommend doing a ton of research on film lighting, and once you understand how it works, watch your favorite movies and try to pick apart where the lights are (and why they are there).  For this particular scene I used a small amount of equipment – A redhead and a big fresnel for the bouncing lights, small fresnel lights for the hair lights, white board and black flag on their own stands with clips holding them in place, and a bunch of sandbags.  The bigger lights were on C-Stands and the smaller ones on some air-cushioned stands (Impact was the brand I believe).  Oh, and an electrical dimmer – and a bunch of cables and extension cords.

While it wasn’t a very difficult set up, the crew did help me bring a ton of stuff in because we didn’t know what we’d need (they also helped set some of it up).  It still took some time to get everything just where I wanted it, and since I’m the lighting guy, director, and cameraman, that’s a lot of set up for one person.  In the future when we have a budget, I will be sticking to the directing portion which will save huge amounts of time.  When you don’t have access to a location beforehand, you better come prepared and get creative in order to accomplish your objective.  On a no-budget short film, this is pretty much a certainty for every shoot unless it’s someplace you own.  Big thanks to the cast and crew for all their help, and my talented Mom for the set design (what good is light if there’s nothing to shine it on!).  Also big thanks to Mitchell, who in addition to being the audio guy, was able to secure the location for us.

Lighting Safety Tip: If you are plugging a lot of powerful lights in, don’t put them all on the same circuit!  Make sure you know what your circuit can handle, because best case you blow it and worst case (in some poorly wired older houses for example) you could start a fire.

Lighting Safety Tip #2: Use gloves whenever dealing with lights – they get hot enough to literally melt your skin, and using gloves every time will help make sure you avoid burns.


About Yog-Sothoth

I'm a filmmaker working to get a small studio off the ground. If you want to know more about our projects, or if you want to become involved, send me a message and SUPPORT OUR KICKSTARTER! On this blog I'll talk about the film(s) we're working on, as well as give general insight into the techniques, equipment, and day to day experiences running a small production company. I'll also talk about films that have inspired me or that I've enjoyed recently. View all posts by Yog-Sothoth

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