Lighting: An inside look into "The Rat Pack"

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.

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.

Lighting Plot for Sammy Davis Jr. Scene in the DC hotel Room

Lighting Plot for the Sammy Davis Jr. scene in the DC hotel Room

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.

Lighting plot for Dean Martin's Performance at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas

Lighting plot for Dean Martin’s Performance at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas

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.

  1. Julian 5 years ago

    Shane, this is simply amazing!

    I really want to thank you for spending so much time on educating ‘us’.

    Keep up the great work and lookin’ forward to the next 14 parts!


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Julian, thank you for those wonderful words of support. You all rock. More to come.

  2. Joe Movick 5 years ago

    Great! I am so excited for the rest of this series. I have one question to be considered in another post/scene study: When you’re moving in for close-up’s do you start by trying to just use flags/silks/reflectors or do you just start moving some of your bigger sources? I know it all depends on the situation, but I’d love to hear you walk through a particular shot. Thanks so much for sharing!


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Joe Movick, thank you so much for your kind words and support. This is something that I will definitely go into, Shaun was asking about this also.

  3. Jerry Rojas 5 years ago

    Hi Shane!. Awesome post!, thanks for sharing all this inside info, it’s very valuable and a great learning tool…

    Looking forward for the next 14 posts.


    Jerry Rojas

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Jerry Rojas, no you rock Jerry. I miss you very much. I hope everything is good down in Mexico my friend. Thank you.

  4. Dirk 5 years ago

    Great post Shane. I can’t wait to see the rest of the series!
    One question. It looks like you cheated the TV right a little. I assume this was so that it appeared in the opening wide-angle. Was this done because panning any further left would have revealed your lights? Or because you liked the composition in the rest of the frame as the shot is?

    thanks again!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Dirk, I loved the composition with the camera on the hard left side of frame. The focus was the black man in a white room, so that was our cross hair. The audio would bring in the mood of the TV without necessarily panning over to see it. The director and I knew we would cut to it in the next shot.

  5. Shaun Trevathan 5 years ago


    Nice article. Really cool/creative solutions to some real world problems. As far as what I would like to see in your upcoming series of lighting posts would be the following:

    1 More tips on solving lighting problems like you showed in this article.

    2 I remember in one of your last posts you showed how you used some home made light units and you have mentioned how you use lots of lights from Home Depot. I think it would be great to illustrate how to construct the light rigs you make and how to use them to light your films. Also how you use practicals to light scenes.

    3 I imagine a lot of people here are working on their own projects or are just starting out and will be working on small to non-existent budgets. I think it would be great to include articles on how to light scenes on a low budget.

    4 I would also like to see some tips on how to light a space both on location and on set.

    5 Articles on how to shape and control light.

    6 How to light a scene for multiple cameras.

    7 How to light a wide shot and then adjust for close ups.

    8 How to light for movement both an actor moving through a set and for a moving camera.

    9 How to scout a location.

    10 How to determine the type of lighting gear you need to shoot a scene, so you can determine a lighting budget.

    11 I have always read that as a DP gets more experienced they tend to use less lights to light a scene. It would be great to get some tips on how to light scenes with using a small number of lights.

    12 How to create different moods with lighting. Maybe have a scene with 2 people talking in a room and then explain and or show how you could light that same scene as a comedy, drama, thriller/horror, etc…

    13 How you breakdown a script and plan the lighting to best tell the story visually.

    14 I am sure on every film you’ve worked on regardless of the budget you are always under restrictions of budget and time. I would love to get some tips on on how you approach your lighting so that you stay on budget and on time, while still getting good images. I also imagine you have to pick your battles as to which shots you should dedicate more time to and others which you may decide to work faster on. Tips on how to make those decisions and how you work with the Director on those situations would be great.

    – Shaun

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Shaun Trevathan, thank you so much for the kudos and all of your input. I will definitely go into some of this over the next 14 posts. I promise. Thank you for your passion my man. But so much of what you are asking about I go on instincts, of what you see and then react to it. How the actors move and the way the light plays on them. That is so hard to describe and quantitate sometimes. But I will try my best.

  6. Casey Ryan Stone 5 years ago

    I have two questions about the stage scene

    The opening apple juice shot is definitely meticulously planed, but hamming it up onstage, how is that chaos organized. Is it just as planed out, with good editing and “looser” camera work selling the off the cuff nature of the scene, or do the actors have more freedom in their blocking with camera catching what they can from each set up.

    And secondly, take Frank and Dean at the cart. Is each set up there specifically lit, or was just that section of the scene specifically lit, or once the entire stage was lit for the entire scene, could you move the camera about freely with only minor tweaks to lights and levels?

    Beautiful work, I especially loved the Blooms on the whites and specular highlights, doubly nice to see it done with a stocking instead of a two thousand dollar plugin.

    Thanks for this wonderfully post. I look forward to reading the rest.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Casey Ryan Stone, When talking with the director we discussed that THE RAT PACK, would go off book all the time and they were very free flowing with their improv. So when I heard that I wanted to design lighting that would let the actors roam on stage, where ever they wanted to go. All of this photography was shot on 6 cameras that all worked together to catch those lightning in a bottle moments. Lighting like this is very important. As a cinematographer I light an area not a mark. This way the actors feel real and not blocked into submission. There were no tweaks for Close Ups. Everything was set to grab the moments and make the performance feel free form and fresh, the Rat Packs signature. You are very welcome and thank you for your support.

  7. Joseph Jang 5 years ago

    Well worth the wait for a new blog post from Shane!! Your vision to create and your passion to teach are both so evident. Thanks Shane.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Joseph Jang, thank you for all those wonderful words and your commitment to the blog. I will get back to you on the EVF. Did not forget.

  8. Bozzie 5 years ago

    Hi Shane,

    Great article! This is one of the reasons why you are known as ‘The Trail Blazer’. Whilst many would hide this stuff like a closely guarded secret, you kindly choose to share in order to inspire & motivate others. Thank you.

    Would really like to hear your setup thoughts for night lighting. The only film I can think of at the moment to use as an example would be Tim Burtons Batman.

    Looking forward to the remaining 14 parts :)


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Boozie, thank you so much for all of those kind words and support. We have video for both of these scenes. Technical difficulties, but we will have it up for everyone to enjoy soon. I will be taking several night scenes from my films and go in depth for you.

  9. James Stoneley 5 years ago


    Thank you so much for this valuable insight into your work. The lighting diagrams are such a great way of sharing your expertise but it’s the thought processes behind your decisions that interest me most. By sharing the context of the scene and the reasons that decisions were made you’ve provided a very rich educational digest. I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of the posts.

    One request – could you please include a still from the scene to show what the finished shot looked like?

    Keep up the good work, it’s great to hear that you’re getting so much out of sharing. An inspiration for all.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      James Stoneley, you are so welcome and there is video for this. For some reason wordpress vaporized our video link. We will have it up today so that you can see the finished sequences. I will go into more depth of why I made choices in lighting and composition on the next one.

  10. Tobias Hjorth 5 years ago

    Hi Shane.

    Once again a very interesting read. Shows how much dedication it takes to be at your level.
    I see you are using wordpress.
    You can make your site a lot more userfriendly for cellphone users using the wptouch plugin. I use it on my site and think it makes a world of difference.
    Either way great article as always.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Tobias Hjorth, thank you so much for those kind words and will have my web designer look into this. Thank you so much for your advice.

  11. Dave Smith 5 years ago

    Killer stuff, keep it coming. My favorite blog by far. How often do we get to learn from a top notch pro with such insight?! Thanks Shane, can’t wait for more articles.

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Dave Smith, thank you so much for those kind words. More cool lighting instruction to come.

  12. Alex 5 years ago

    Great stuff, Shane!!! Love to read your blog!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Alex, thank you for your support.

  13. Hi Shane,

    Thanks for your advice and insights.

    Being in business as a freelance cameraman for little than over a year now, I still find lighting to be one of the most exciting and yet also difficult things to do. If you start reading up on how bad lighting can really screw up your productions (green casts, blue casts, unwanted shadows etc.), you tend to become scared of the practice. Nonetheless, I know you have to start experimenting with it, because you probably only get better at it by learning from your mistakes (just hope that your clients won’t notice it and that you don’t end up trying to fix in post what should have been recorded differently). That, and of course insights from a master like yourself.

    I already have a basic 3-point Dedo lighting kit, which I extended with a few more spots. However, what I would love to learn is how to better use available lighting to your advantage. Most often, I operate as a one-man band, so there is no time/budget for doing extensive lighting. Therefore, I am very keen on learning more about this.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Richard van den Boogaard, thank you so much for those kind words. I understand, I will make sure to do a post in the lighting series that uses available light, but shows you how I would shape it to make it more pleasing and cinematic.

  14. Oli Kember 5 years ago


    In my previous comment to your last blog post I mentioned how I would love to read more about lighting- something you are in a pretty unique position to share and educate about. To come to your blog now and read such a wonderfully generous post about lighting, and to read that there are 14 more to come- It’s more than I could have hoped for. It’s very interesting understanding the philosophy behind the lighting, the problems that were solved and overcome, and how the lighting is used in tandem with set design, costume and sound to help tell the story.

    I’m amazed that you are able to recreate or even get hold of the lighting diagrams you used. It’s great that you are able to share specifics in terms of lenses and positioning of lights 12 years on. I wonder if you keep archives of all your light/ camera set ups, or just happened to remember the way these specific scenes were shot/lit? Having the video underneath the diagrams is the icing on the cake by the way, thank you.

    I’ve got one specific question relating to the bedroom scene. How did you go about overexposing the walls of the room by 5 stops but not Don Cheadle? Is it the case that by exposing for DC’s darker skin tone the walls naturally blew out? What would you have done had you wanted to expose both DC and the walls faithfully? I imagine for a close up you’d bring a light in just for his face, but how would you expose both dark skin and lighter walls within a wide shot?

    Shaun, above, has listed pretty much all the things I would hope to see in future posts, so I won’t re-iterate. Thanks again for a very engaging post, can’t wait for all the others!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Oli Kember, I am glad you are enjoying the blog, more to come. Thank you for those kind words and continued support of this site. I recreated all the diagrams from memory. I have a weird brain that way. I can remember almost every exposure, lens and lighting set-up from all of my films. I do take very detailed notes so I can go back and duplicate a look for if we need to do pick-ups. With the overexposing question. I knew I could over expose the white walls 5 stops to burn them, but Don Cheadle only read 2 stops over on my spot meter. I knew that the film would hold that no problem. When I go into post I put a window around Don to bring him down and build nice blacks within his outfit and his skin tones, without that effecting the rest of the frame.

  15. Drew Mastromartino 5 years ago

    Damn Shane,

    I found you through Vimeo and I am so glad. There is way too much text on the internet on how to light things, but it lacks visual content… which cinematography is all about isn’t it!?!?

    I enjoyed your first lighting post, and am excited for the next 14!!! It’s not often you will see a Hollywood Cinematographer share stuff, so the advice you give is definitely 10x (or even 100x?) more valuable than the low budget guy who hasn’t produced any hits.

    Thanks for doing this,


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Drew Mastromartino, I am so glad to have you. Thank you for those kind words and look forward to your comments on the next 14. I love what I do, I am passionate about what I create and love to share. Yes it is about the visuals. Every post will have the visuals to back up the theory so you all can decide.

  16. Tim Kang 5 years ago

    Shane – it’s like reading American Cinematographer but even more in depth! Your blog has been an inspiration for me to take the leap into cinematography as a career, so thank you for this post and starting this series – I’m definitely looking forward from reading them.

    I’m particularly interested in seeing a post or series of posts that systematically shows the effect of different diffusion and modifiers on a subject or scene. I.e., you can have a grid of images of subject/scene lit by a single light (or light bank) that show a different light modification in each one (scrim, frost white diffusion, gridded, distance of modifier, etc.). That way we could see how the shadows and look of the scene changes. i guess you can use this method for different color modifications, light positioning, and effect of multiple lights.

    thanks again!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Tim Kang, I want to thank you so much for those kind words and support. What your describing is a test shoot and that will not be possible. Through the lighting series you will see all types of photography one with nets, diffusion and just plain clean. You are very welcome.

  17. Jose De Los Angeles 5 years ago

    Hey Shane

    Looks awesome! Can’t wait to get out to LA and join you and learn lots from you.


    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Jose De Los Angeles, I cannot wait till you get out here. We need your passion and expertise and hard work. Kevin is getting dialed in and we have a great rental division right now. See you soon

  18. Sam Kim 5 years ago

    This is different and quite enjoyable. Thanks. I’m going to look for the DVD now.

    About the Sammy in a white room scene I was curious about your exposure. How much did you blow out the walls? 4-5 stops? It being a viemo clip I was wondering how much texture and detail was captured in the neg and the print. The clip is blown out but I only have to assume that it was shot on film and help information very well. And personally, if the walls were all white that’d be too easy… I like that you had this challenge of raising the value which gave you very different shades of light grey/white in that room.

    About the Stage, six cameras huh? Did they all roll at the same time? I was looking to see if your parcans were only used when facing the audience or if it was adding fill to the rest of the stage as well. It’s a great look and the way you describe the lighting process in someone elses comment above really speaks about how not to impede what an actor really has to do (lighting for the area and not the mark). I’m curious how much planning went into getting all that coverage and how much freedom your operators also had with it.


    -Sam Kim

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Sam Kim, Hi Sam, yes there is far more texture in the walls and the bed. DVD’s are so compressed. It was a great problem to have hindsight being 20/20, it worked out to give us that depth and dimension. The par cans in the audience were only on when we did our reverse, behind the Rat Pack. The six cameras were capturing wide, tight, side angles, crane, etc. Yes, we rolled them all at the same time and the operators had the freedom as well as the actors to improv and bring this scene to life. A lot of planning went into being able to light a multi-camera set up like this. It is very easy to light for 1 camera, to make 6 look extraordinary is an art.

  19. Paolo 5 years ago


    Thank you so very much for sharing your knowledge!

    Could you tell us about your education on being a DP? Some of us are just starting and trying to wrap our heads around lighting beyond 3 point.


  20. sugarloaf mountain 5 years ago

    A mutual acquaintence sent me the url to your blog. Good stuff! I like how you really focus and get to the bottom line but can you go over that last part again? Just a little? –Emily

  21. Derek 5 years ago

    Hi Shane, thanks a lot for taking the time to share this information. Stuff like this really helps us young hopeful DP’s. I was wondering if you remembered how you lit Sammy’s wife sitting in the audience with those other guys. It is such a beautiful warm and soft light!

    • Author
      Shane 5 years ago

      Derek, you are so welcome. Thank you for your support. I lit Mia Britt (Sammy’s wife) with two big 4 x 8 soft boxes that I had 8-1K Lowell Tota lights in each. The practical on the table filled under her chin and had Neurtal Density on the front of it so that it would not blow out to camera but still help lighting her. We had 4 x 4 Honey Comb egg crates in front of the soft boxes to control them from flying all over the place. The edge light on her right cheek was a 1K Baby Baby that was on the floor, with Opal diffusion on it. Here is the set-up: Sammy's Wife Lighting set-up at the table

  22. Gerald Emerick 5 years ago

    Shane – I worked on this film. I was your stand in for Joe Montegna. You were a funny guy. I learned a lot then and even more here reading your notes. Congrats on all your success. I’ve been shooting music videos. shorts, and web commercials. I’m shooting a 3D short in 2 weeks. Hope to see you again. – Gerald Emerick

  23. Martin H 4 years ago

    Hey Shane

    That was an interesting work, too bad there was no money for extra, because i saw the video first, then noticed that illusion, weren’t showing any audience, so i quickly went to the description and found the reason. As a viewer, i didnt actually quite feel the full packed audience when i didn’t see them, that might because i am used to the wide shot of the audience’s reaction to the joke when comes to a scene like that. What i would have done is call all the production crew or your friends to fill the room :) maybe might work better.

    • Author
      Shane 4 years ago

      Martin H, we would have to taft hartley them into the union and that would have cost us a fortune. Trust me, if you are in it, you don’t miss it.

      • Martin H 4 years ago

        thanks for the reply, i wouldnt know how that works. Too bad the world is not that flexible.

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