21 months ago I never could have predicted the direction of my life. With the invention of the 5D camera, I started to understand that creating the look of “digital film” took an out of the box thought process and my collective experience as a cinematographer. I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy sharing and giving back through teaching because I had only done it sporadically before. So many people feel that the time to educate and inspire is when they are at the end of their career. A few of my friends are scientists in Boston and are Nobel prize material. They were saying to me that they lost their burning ambition. They said “Chasing the carrot at the end of the stick was not appealing to them anymore because you start to realize that another article published in a journal, another great discovery, and another award are all very hollow. They don’t feed the soul. We may have realized this rather late in the day, but now we’re looking to reinvent ourselves.”
Lydia and I created Hurlbut Visuals together to inspire and educate one filmmaker at a time. The Elite Team members and I still have our burning ambition and intense desire to shoot. The combination of the two is what is so exciting. We are preparing to ignite all of your passion, your ideas, your creative dreams, while at the same time testing, creating, and field testing the gear on a shoot. Carpe Diem! Why can’t we inspire and push filmmakers to be bolder, braver, and more creative in pushing the limit to help build their careers? I will not go as far as the French Jesuit missionary Father Ceyrac who once wrote, “All that is not given is lost.” I do recognize the importance of giving back through sharing my personal experience and value educating filmmakers. So, we are retooling Hurlbut Visuals with a new and improved virtual access to our site and blog.
With this update, I will be increasing my blog posts. Over the past month, I have been incredibly busy blazing the trail, traveling the world, starting my directing career, fine-tuning our HV rental division, and spending time with my kids. I also promised them a Haunted Barn this Halloween and I did not want to disappoint. 90 neighborhood kids were scared to death by members of the Elite Team who were strategically located in bushes, rooftops, a graveyard and woodsheds. Yours truly was LeatherFace.
I am listening to your requests to learn more about my lighting. We have so many gear blogs out there. Let’s talk about story, lighting, and the things that make you shine as an artist. I have designed a 15 part series that delivers an inside look into my lighting style. Now, if there is a scene in one of my films that you really liked and wanted a detail description, please comment and I will address those as well. Composition and movement are important, but lighting is king with this platform.
THE RAT PACK
In 1998 I was hired to shoot a feature film for HBO called “The Rat Pack.” It would be my first narrative feature film. The director Rob Cohen and I had just collaborated on a pilot for NBC and were ready to give this story a unique look. Rob wanted a timeless feel for this period piece that followed the lives of Frank Sinatra and his creative gang of artists, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Rob wanted the Pack to always feel like they were on stage even when they weren’t. He wanted them to have the perfect key light, eye light, back light and fill. Wherever they rolled out they looked like movie stars. The first thing that came to mind was the famous photographer back in the late 20′s and 30′s that shot all of the movie stars for MGM, George Hurrell. His high key light would be our mantra along with using elegant composition and contrast to pull off Rob’s vision. I shot the whole film on Panavision Primo primes while using a Fogal french stocking behind the lens. It gave their faces a wonderful glow, a vitality that was THE PACK. I used smoke in almost every scene, they smoked so we made sure the rooms were filled with it. I am a huge proponent of diffusion fog, it makes period pieces feel more real, like you are there hanging with the boys.
The scene that I want to break down for you was a very simple shocking image, as well as a influential moment in history. African Americans during this time period were still battling for equality, interracial marriages were considered the devil’s work, and JKF was just elected President. Sammy Davis Jr. is at a hotel in DC watching the television news broadcast as they talk about him and his new WHITE bride Mia Britt. Rob came to me and wanted a Black man in a white room. He wanted to show the segregation, he wanted to show that Sammy was an African American in a white world. To do this I said, “we need to have everything in the room be white except him, and he will have to be dressed in black.” “No problem Rob said,” but there was a problem. We were shooting this room at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and they would not let us paint the walls. The walls were like a hubbard squash kind of color. At this point I knew not only did I have to create this graphic scene but also I was going to have to blow the walls out so that the film would read them as white. Here are my diagrams.
THE PACK ON STAGE
When Rob and I were in prep on the movie, we quickly realized that their would be no money for extras. We had attracted some great talent to play the roles and so much would be going into costume and production design to pull this late 50′s early 60′s story off. I remember when Rob came up to me and told me this, “Shane, we don’t have any money for extras so we will have to create the illusion that the venue is packed, standing room only. I said.” “No problem, I can do that. This is just taking me back to my music video days where we never had money for an audience, we just smoked the heck out of it and blinded the audience with bi spotlights.” Rob, asked, “Does it work?” I responded, “Like a million bucks.” I would like to take you through simple light placement to sell the illusion along with sound design which is so important that the Rat Pack is playing in front of a packed house. This is how I did it.
The colors I chose were colors of the period. Placing the par cans so that it added the extra depth that I was looking for was again part of selling the illusion. Our budget was incredibly tight. We had to think out of the box but yet work within the box the budget had put us in. Please feel free to ask questions and comment on any other scenes that you want me to discuss and breakdown.