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Lighting

Stéphane Dirschauer, writer/director of A DISPLAY OF EMOTION, contacted me in September 09 with his latest script VOL DE NUIT. With the NFB and Ontario Arts Council already on board, we got prep underway early – a full year before going to camera. It was so early, in fact, that the 7D was still just a rumour, but I had a feeling that this would be a better system for us than film or the RED (the other options we were seriously considering and pricing out) because we needed something we could use under low light with minimal noise and artifacting and, especially, something small. I started looking at Philip Bloom’s 7D samples, specifically the now-iconic Dublin’s People video, and thought that this might be our best option for the night-heavy story, much of which also includes the characters talking in a moving taxi cab through the city.

See DUBLIN’S PEOPLE by Philip Bloom:

Stéphane saw the link and brought up a good point: he didn’t want the lushness of the shallow depth of field and the vibrancy of the colours and bokeh to distract viewers from the performances on screen. Not having heard much criticism of the HDSLR “look” that people had otherwise already started falling in love with I thought that this, from a directorial standpoint, was a very valid concern. Agreeing that the practical benefits of the 7D were otherwise perfectly suited to our needs, I spent the year shooting as much as I could on DSLRs to see what the differences in the visual and technical approach would actually prove to be.

For the most part, many of the commercials and shorts I’ve done on DSLRs so far have called for the loose, improvised style that is now the quintessential 7D aesthetic: breathing focus, shallow depth of field and handheld. But none of this suited the style we had in mind for Vol de Nuit. We didn’t want to date the film or equate it with a look that is too current and overly reminiscent of the format we would be capturing it on. We wanted a very controlled look – classical, stark and precise. As we all now know, pulling focus and achieving pin sharp accuracy on DSLR still photography lenses is extremely difficult. So back in August I began talking to my friend Mike Reid about his new 7D, modified with a PL mount by Illya Friedman in LA at Hot Rod Cameras. The 7DPL with 35mm cine lenses was the system we went with and it worked beautifully.

VOL DE NUIT is the story about Karine (played by the brilliant Montreal-based actress Marilyn Castonguay), a young woman working for a catering company at an upscale reception and finding out that her father is in critical condition following a car accident. Karine gets caught stealing a guest’s purse in an attempt to find some fast cash for a trip home to her family in Quebec. Gauthier (Bernard Arène) sympathizes with Karine and helps her flee the scene.

This project had some amazing challenges. For one, we needed to light a two-level reception hall encased by 25′ windows at night (the Assembly Hall venue in Etobicoke – a tricky location technically but the most beautiful one we saw). The scene involved 35 extras, a wipe-out of champagne flutes and some indoor/outdoor window action. I needed to tie all of this visually with the dingy hallway and industrial kitchen of another location. To give the two worlds a very different feel, I used 1/4 Warm Black Pro Mist filters on the reception scene and very soft, warm light. We abandoned our filters for the bowels of the reception hall, shooting under our own overhead daylight fluorescent tubes and 3200K on the camera for the hallway and kitchen sequences. You can see the difference in these screen grabs, taken straight off of the raw footage:

I ended up grabbing a small set of Zeiss Super Speeds from Complete (25mm, 50mm and 85mm, as well as a 14mm that was used on some tracking shots in the narrow hallway, as seen in the garbage bag shot above). All interiors were shot ISO 100, and night car interiors/exteriors were shot at ISO 400. Here are some shots from our night car scenes, lit with the help of some soft tungsten and HMI lighting in the stationary scenes and a 9″ Mini Flo kit in the moving shots:

ISO 400, 85mm Zeiss Super Speed, f2

Much thanks goes out to 1st AC Alex Leung (who, like me and the guys at Complete, was also loving the ARRI follow focus and cine lenses on the 7D), Misha Petrenko for his care and his eye with our lighting, Jason McKendry and Cliff Ramnauth.

Can’t wait to see the finished product (and hear the score!) of what is bound to be a beautiful and elegant piece. Post-production will be completed at Technicolor in Toronto in February 2011.

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Still from "The White Ribbon", lit by Christian Berger's CRLS.

“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?