“I produce more than just a reproduction. There is a difference between photographing skin and photographing soul. I need to like the people in front of the camera- then I can do more to support them with light.”
-Christian Berger, AAC
Yesterday at the Berlinale a really great seminar was led by renowned Cinematographer Christian Berger, AAC, whose most recent work can be seen in The White Ribbon. A long time collaboration with Michael Haneke has allowed Berger to continue working in a very naturalistic style, often using available and minimal lighting. During the talk he frequently emphasized the importance of providing physical space to the actors, a philosophy that explains his ability to design long, moving takes (with Steadicam, as seen in The Piano Teacher) or minimalistic master shots that slowly reveal information or the essence of a situation.
It is this approach that inspired Berger to develop the B&B Cine Reflect Lighting System, an ingenious lighting solution based on reflectors of various textures and sizes used with a parabolic HMI “Panibeam” light. The unit itself provides a mere 1200 Watts, but the distance of the throw offered by the bounce material, called Paniflectors, is remarkable. Ultimately, the single unit can be redirected via Paniflectors to become any number of light sources of varying qualities and intensities.
Berger demonstrated how a mirrored Paniflector the size of a postcard redirected the light of the Panibeam unit (discreetly placed far from set in an adjacent alleyway) onto the rooftop of a neighbouring apartment building 75 feet from us. The benefits of lighting this way are obvious- less equipment, less power (the 1.2KW light can be run off of 15A household power, like any other) and, of course, greater emphasis on the ingenuity of a creative DP and crew (the rigging possibilities convinced us all that lighting this way was just much more fun). The lack of additional lighting units on set was particularly important to Berger when working with children on The White Ribbon. With his Paniflectors in place outside location windows, illuminating each scene with soft bounced light, he was able to keep his interior day sets entirely free of any film lighting equipment whatsoever. Lighting through windows on otherwise inaccessibly high apartment buildings also becomes much simpler with this system. I’m eager to give the rental houses in Toronto a call about this as soon as I get back!
On a side note, a bizarre debate was sparked today when Georgian director/producer Rusudan Pirveli, a guest on a Berlinale panel, discussed shooting Red on her debut feature. She gave a piece of advice to the crowd and told us to stop insisting that we shoot 35mm film when trying to get low budget projects financed. This prompted an audience member to declare that the Film and HD formats are as far removed from one another as music is from painting. Regarding HD technology he argued, “This is not cinema.” Good on Rusudan for her reply: “Technology means nothing- what is becoming more important now is taste and talent.” Do we really still need to be having this conversation?