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Lighting Series Number 4: "Into the Blue" Sunset for Hours

When John Stockwell asked me to do a film set in the Bahamas about sunken treasure, greed, fun, and really hot chicks, I was in. I had never done a movie on the water. MGM was producing the film and at the time was making a big push to shoot the entire movie digitally. They wanted me to shoot on the Sony F-900 and they kept on talking about bottom time – being able to stay underwater shooting for longer lengths. On underwater housing for film you have a 400′ load. That is equivalent to about four minutes of bottom time. With an HD camera you could shoot for 50 minutes. I wanted to be fair to the studio and do a test. I wanted film. They wanted digital.

It was a shootout like no other: three days in the Bahamas. Peter Zuccarini was my choice as the underwater film cameraman and Al Giddings would be the Sony F-950 digital cameraman. They both had talent dressed in the same swim suits. They had all the same props like flashlights, knives, etc. They had three days to blow my mind with their art of cinematography under the water.

One thing that was amazing to me when we arrived at our dive site was the clarity of the water. I had just gotten my Padi diver certificate in the Pacific Ocean and had about three feet of visibility. Here I was looking at 75-100 Ft. of vis. I then realized that I would never have to dive to light my underwater scenes at night, I could do it from the boat and that is exactly what we did. We positioned the actors and the camera in ways to bring out the depth of the water at night as well as closing it in all around you so that you never knew what was coming. After the night work that we did on the test Pete came up to me and said, I have never seen someone light underwater from a boat on top of the water. I asked him how it looked, and he said it looked like nothing he had ever seen.

So that became my process. I had a very difficult time equalizing to begin with so it made it that much more productive if I didn’t have to get in the wet suits and the diving gear all the time.

I feel as a cinematographer you can get too caught up in the backgrounds and lighting them. It is about the characters and the performance, not about the background. We want to make it look beautiful but if you ask a movie goer if he or she saw that cool stuff in the background they will always say no, I was looking at the actor or actress’s face. I will go at it a different way on this next film “Deadfall.” I’ll be taking what Roger Deakins did on “No Country For Old Men,” and only lighting the areas that the characters inhabit will be my mantra.

My idea for this film was to reinvent how underwater photography was done. I was able to do this with the assistance of a Digital Intermediate (DI), my colorist Frank Romano, Pete Zuccarini and his kick ass team, my lighting, grip, and camera team. This was something that was not done around this time. It was very expensive and not very many films were using this digital process, they were finishing photo-chemically. I had come from rock videos and in the telecine process we had tons of tools to make our videos kick ass, but the film digital post process was limited. The director and I wanted the camera to have no rules, to be able to spin around and not see lights, to be a helicopter, a crane, and a dolly all in one shot. We would not roll out by taking off our fins and sitting on the bottom and sending down tons of light so that I could get skin tones below 25′. I would inject that skin tone to 60′ of depth and let Pete rock out in a world that was liquid. Pete told me it was so inspiring to work this way, to not have all the limitations that there normally are when you dive to 60′. Once we got back to LA and looked at footage it was a no brainer. There was vitality in the actors and actresses faces at 50′. They looked alive and sexy as hell. The HD colorspace even with its 10 BIT 4:4:4 range could not deliver skin tones. So film it was.

Topside we had many scenes to showcase including Jessica Alba‘s beauty as well as Paul Walker‘s incredible good looks. I knew I would never stay on schedule if we did any lighting at sea, so I made that call early on. I selected a film stock that needed very minimal fill light and that was 5245. I picked a boat that was white so that the natural bounce off of it would fill in the actors faces without having a light or bounce cards. The other thing was to keep it small. This is what makes John Stockwell such a genius. He told me, “keep your footprint small on the water. If the sea hands us rough waters, we can duck into a bay and continue to shoot.” His vision was proved on day one. Everyone had their support boats, their anchor boats, their make-up boats, their lighting and grip boats. It took us hours to position them and then the minute we wanted to turn around they were in all of our shots. John asked all of them to leave and we made the movie from the picture boat, where we put sound, make-up, wardrobe, and craft services and my camera boat that Ricou Browning Jr. and I designed called the Corinthian.

DC-3 that was sunk

1 of 3 DC-3′s that we sunk to different depths. One we set on the Tongue of the ocean at 60′ so that you see the deep blue color. The 2nd was set at 25 ft, which was a shallow water to take advantage of sun beams. The third was inside a make shift tank that we built from a Bacardi molasses tank in the Bahamas.

Treasure Hunting Boat

This is our treasure hunting boat with the prop deflectors up in the air, these are lowered down to blast the ocean floor in hopes of revealing buried treasure.

It was the most bad ass catamaran you had ever seen. With its dual Honda out boards this baby would do 25 knots with a crew of 20 on board as well as a 30′ technocrane and a six camera pkg. with support. Everything was done from this flotilla and we stayed on schedule and on budget. My key grip Scott Howell was instrumental in keeping my bearings. He had done tons of films on the water and I looked to him for insight.

On land it was very interesting. We had this drug dealer’s home that was right on the point in Lyford Key. The scene that we will be discussing is a pivotal scene in the film where Paul Walker’s friend Scott Caan tries to convince Paul to go for the money and fame and not to do the right thing, which is walk away from this impeding disaster. Both John and I felt that this would be great at sunset, the mood and the tone would be right. But we all know that sunset last about 15 minutes at the max. I had to come up with an approach to deliver the director’s vision.

We would do an establishing shot 15 minutes before the sun set. This was this cool technocrane shot that Roberto De Angelis and I came up with to show the point, the boat, the house and the sunset all in one sweeping move. Once we nailed that I brought in three cameras to shoot the coverage while the sun was setting.

Scott Caan Medium Shot

Scott Caan Medium Shot

Scott Caan Close Up Shot

Scott Caan Close Up Shot

Medium Shot

Medium Shot

Wide Shot

Wide Shot

Scott Caan’s direction is all natural light as well as the wide shot of being on their backs. You can literally see the sun going down in the coverage.

Paul Walker Medium Shot

Paul Walker Medium Shot

Paul Walker Close Up Shot

Paul Walker Close Up Shot

You can see that they are right on the edge of a cliff, so for Paul Walker’s coverage, while we were in twilight mode and we had lost the sun, we moved them off of the edge so that my gaffer Dan Cornwall and his team could swoop in with an 18K with ROSCO full and one half CTS and push that through a 8×8 Half Soft Frost diffusion for his mediums and close-ups.

Minolta Color Meter II, tried, true and tested

I used my Minolta color temperature meter to match the color exactly, which came in at 2400 degrees Kelvin. I found that Rosco half soft frost looks great for that semi diffused look that you get from the sun at sunset. When all was said and done, we had expanded this particular sunset for about an hour and 30 minutes.

I have asked world renowned underwater cinematographer Peter Zucarrini to write a small blog about shooting “Into the Blue,” as well as our work together with the 5D underwater. Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks. Above is a little teaser of his stunning work on this film. Working side by side with him was an amazing experience. Together I felt we were unstoppable in delivering a world that know one had experienced before.

On a side note, there is a great new app that puts the power of the gel swatch book in your iPhone.  I have used it three times already on Deadfall.  Here are the specs: Gel Swatch Library. It offers colors and diffusions from Rosco, Lee and GAM. It gives their color along with transmission data and graphs. Enjoy. Stay tuned for the Camera Schedule and Breakdown on Deadfall, how I go about it, and why it is so important to do this sooner rather than later in prep.

Author: Shane

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41 Comments

  1. Wow. This blog is a gem.

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  2. Great post, very educational!
    I wonder would you be able to get the sunset effect only with CTO and Tungsten lighting? In other words, are there any other options to create ‘magic hour’ besides HMI and CTS?
    Did they really swim with sharks? Look quite realistic.

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    • Alex, yes you could have gotten that with a Tungsten light and maybe 1/4 and or half CTS in addition. Yes we swam with sharks the whole time. We had been chumming that site for 2 years prior to us filming there. SO the sharks were ready for their close-ups.

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  3. Shane, these lighting posts are absolutely fantastic. I’ve been a 5d guru for some time shooting commercials and films, and I must say you’ve become my dslr hero. (you’ve convinced me to get a whole array of Leica primes…they are the best!) It’s easy for people like me to get caught up in the cameras, but you are showing us how equally if not more important lighting is to making beautiful pictures. Now you’re my lighting hero as well, haha.

    Looking forward to more reading….I can’t get enough of this stuff. Thanks for the inspiration! Hopefully I’ll be able to meet you at NAB this year.

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    • Richard Allen Crook, thank you so much for all of your kind words and support. I am glad you love this series. I wanted people to understand especially in this HDSLR platform how important lighting is. It is not about shooting with available light, but shaping it and making it feel. There is more on the way. Stay tuned.

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  4. Thanks for sharing! Great advice on sunset lighting.

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  5. Shane, I’m so glad you posted this! Into The Blue is one of my favorite movies of all time; not because of the acting or storyline necessarily. But because Into The Blue takes me to a place that I love! I’ve been to the Virgin Islands, scuba diving in the ocean, and whenever I want to relive those moments I watch this film! I truly appreciate what you’ve done, and you are literally the only person I would love to meet and say “thank you for what you did in this movie.” Because you and your crew single handedly captured my attention! Bravo!!!

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    • Jeff Neiman, thank you so much for those wonderful kind words. I loved the experience. I am glad that I can transport you to that place, this I feel is the art of cinema. I will pass on your accolades to my crew.

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  6. I’m amazed how well the Caan and Walker shots match, you really would have no idea that one was the sun and one wasn’t. I should re-watch the film for the night work. Thanks again for a great insight into your world.

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    • Oli Kember, I just watched the film again to do this blog last week and it was great going back in time. Looking at my lighting choices then and how I would proceed now. Definitely check out the night work. There is some spooky stuff in there.

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  7. awesome that you posted about into the blue, which i think is one of the best looking films ever. the lighting for the underwater scene is incredible, especially all the freediving stuff, but also you really nailed the topside stuff, almost every frame is so clean and fantastic.

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    • huw jenkins, thank you so much for all your kind words of support. I am glad you liked it. Shot the majority of the film at 50 ISO. I love the clean feel of the topside also. The underwater was also shot all at 50 ISO, with lenses that everyone told me not to use like 50, 75, and 100′s, they said that they don’t look good underwater. This is why both Pete and I think this movie looks new and different, because we never followed the rules, we broke them.

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  8. Shane, love that you said you broke the rules. I think more filmmakers need to do this. Try new things. You’ll never create new ideas if you don’t try. I’ve tried to do the same thing along the way, mostly out of not having someone to show me, but I’ve learned and a lot of times from mistakes. But they taught me valuable lessons. Nice to see that someone established is breaking the rules and making new ones also.

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  9. Hey Shane – Excellent post! I really wish you had a forum on this site for everyone to discuss different things without getting too off topic of the blog posts. I was hoping you could take a look at a music video I shot over the weekend and tell me your thoughts? There is so much grain, but I feel like I exposed it right on. The Canon LCD looked great and said my exposure was spot on. Maybe I am being too picky, I don’t know. I compared it to a film on my computer and it looked the same, but the DVD was at 480p and the 7D footage is 1080p. Shot on Canon 7D with a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8. ISO 640 (per your blog of it being a native ISO), 1/200 for the look of the movement, f/4.5 for focus, and Picture Style – contrast all the way down, sharpness all the way down, and saturation -2.

    For lighting, we used the stage lighting from above, a 500w softbox on my face, a 500w softbox on each front/sides of the stage, a 500w on the curtain stage right, a 500w stage left to back light drummer to help seperate him from the curtain, and then two 300w splashed up on the organ pipes in the back. We then sped the footage up to 200%.

    Edited in FCP at 422LT and then colored in AE – Added contrast, a slight RGB curve, and saturated the reds a bit for my sweater.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-1zNdehRC0&hd=1

    George

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    • George Pauley, loved the concept, loved the composition. The speed was very cool, drummer was very funny. Excellent job. I would have gone with a little more contrast on the lead singer, he felt a little flat to me, give him a down side. Thank you again for your kind words and support.

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  10. I have never seen such beautiful underwater shots. Very special by the choice of lens. And then the sharks. Complete madness. Ha ha, brilliant.

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    • Charles, thank you so much for your kind words. I felt Pete and I really re-invented underwater.

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  11. Hey Shane!

    Did you shoot with 5D markII underwater? I am curious what housing did you use?

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    • Elias Markkula, all the underwater on “INTO THE BLUE” was done with a film deep water housing. I do shoot now a lot of 5D underwater photography and for that I use the Aquatech housing. I feel that it is the best shallow water housing out there, it is rated to 25′.

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  12. Shane, thanks again for stepping from behind the curtain to show your process. How did you get the exposure correct and consistent for the background after the sun went down with iso 50 – after half an hour post sunset, wouldn’t it have been too dark even with a fully open t-stop?

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    • Tim Kang, Not at all. We played it all the way down to a f-2. The sky was still bright enough behind Paul Walker so I put that right on exposure and then hit them with an 18k that I over exposed 1 stop, this I road all the way down to a f-2.0, so I kept scrimming the 18K down to keep the ratio on the sky and his face.

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  13. Shane,

    Thanks so very much for these mind blowing explanations. Where can a guy like me with a little experience in lighting get to learn the ropes in depth?
    I am learning a lot from this blog but many things are just above me at this time.

    Thanks

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    • Paolo, I started at a lighting and grip rental house. I worked my way up the ladder. I saw what DP’s were using, fixed lights, built trucks out and soon started to go out on sets. I feel that this is still the best way to learn how to light.

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  14. “shaping & and making the light” lot can be said for that, and it’s a pretty intutive process. Given there are no formulas for that approach, it’s not easy to teach. Look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. Your lighting on that underwater set was beautiful.

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    • Keith Lanpher, thank you so very much for the kind words and support. Stay tuned there is much in store.

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  15. excellent this is one of my fav scenes from the film its great and also the conversation is just as dramatic to excellent very beautiful films its one I watch about once a month action hot clinate jessica alba and the subject matter its what I call the new classic great work mr.hurlbut thanks for inside look behind the lens!!!

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    • william clark, thank you so much for those kind words and support. I loved shooting this film. Working with all of those beautiful people. WOW!!! they rocked.

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  16. The underwater scenes in that movie looked amazing. What a sweet gig. I think I would’ve stretched out the ‘camera shootout’ a few more days. You know, to see which operated better while sipping a Mai Tia ;-)

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    • Matt Short, lol, ha ha, thank you so much for the kind words my friend.

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  17. This insight into lighting/theory and on set procedures is exactly what I’m looking for and I appreciate it greatly. I would like to see more detail about the focal length of each shot and the reasoning behind those choices in regard to continuity/story.

    How was the free diving coordinated to allow for the actors to get air and what was the decision process like in regard to bending reality for the sake of the scene?

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    • Bill Walsh, Th choice on the wide shot was an 18mm lens. I felt this was needed to be able to educate the audience on where they were. You see the drug dealers home, the cliff, their boat, the bay and the sunset all in one sweeping move. You also see the closeness of the two friends. The side mediums and close-ups were done with a 75mm and then a 135mm. These lenses were used so that my third and forth cameras which were the medium and wide behind the actors could work without the profile medium and close-ups being in the shot. The wide from behind was a 32mm and the tight was a 100mm. The free diving was done with 2 amazing free diving doubles that could hold their breathe for 3.5 minutes and these were physical minutes. The actors were put in by having an air tank next to the cameraman so that they could swoop in and give them air when they ran out.

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  18. Shane,
    Brilliant work. How did you do that crane shot? It seemed the camera was our on the rocks and then moved up and behind the actors. It was mezmorizing!! LOL Great sun sets shots..Brilliant just Brilliant.

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  19. thanks for the reply thats real cool of you also drumline is near and dear to my heart to because my daughter played for her high school marching band at the time drumline came out so I first saw it with about 15 or so of her bandmates
    it was awesome to they loved it the shots were fantastic to and Ive been at battles of bands and halftime shows to even saw the mighty famu the best college marching band in america year after yr oh sorry{ florida a&m university} take care!!

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  20. Great Shane! You described in detail why I didn’t get that job with Al Giddings. I had my diving gear and bags packed being the gaffer for Al. Oh well that’s showbiz….I got to gaff for you in Montana later however, and had a great time getting the upclose 5D workshop on location. Keep up all the great posts, you are inspiring hundreds of young cinematographers and a few of us older ones too. JP (elite team Montana member)

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    • JP Gabriel, Great to hear from you JP. I hope this finds you well. I sent you a link for the Marines spot.

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  21. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is fantastic blog. A fantastic read. I will certainly be back.

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  22. hi…great work sir…only one doubt sir u just shoot 100mm and 135mm that time image will distraction how to avoid that

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