When you progress to a certain level in your career, you’re going to enter into the world of shooting on sets built inside sound stages. These stages are designed for the ultimate filmmaking environment… no windows, no ambient light, high ceilings, and the power to employ specific tools to get the job done. It gives you the creative control to build, execute, and bring to life whatever your mind can think of!
So what makes working on a sound stage so tricky at times?
Well, consider having to re-create the sun and replicate a specific time of day. How would you go about doing that? What tools would you want to use?
The sun is a source that, in a lot of ways, we take for grant. When shooting daytime exteriors, we usually depend on the sun to be our main source. With picturesque shots at sunset, we don’t usually replace the sun with another source… No, we use it to our advantage. Well what if you needed to replicate that source because the sun wasn’t an available option?
Yeah… things start to get a bit tricky.
On “Into the Badlands” my goal a lot of time was to re-create certain times of day for the characters to thrive in. Specifically when dealing with interiors, you need to consider a few things:
- THE STORY
- TIME OF DAY
- HOW MANY CHARACTERS
The story is going to help set the tone on how dramatic or stylized the lighting should be. What is the tension? How can I use that tension to create a unique look? How can the light help illustrate the underlying themes of the scene? Is the lighting going to be utilized to help evoke emotion?
Understanding how the light will exactly affect your audience and scene is key. Don’t just try to “light” something for the sake of it looking cool. Try to light something to enhance the story and provide more for the audience.
The time of day is going to ground your audience and help establish the “cinematic realism” (i.e. your world or setting). Are you characters just waking up and it’s the morning? Are your characters getting ready for bed and it’s night? Each time of day is embedded in our minds with very specific qualities and activities. Figuring out the time of day will help you dial in those qualities that everyone associates with.
The character(s) in the scene will dictate how you can light them. Knowing whether you are going to be lighting 1, 2, or more characters is always going to entail different needs. Figuring that out before your shoot will help get the proper tools together.
For me, to light these interiors scenes, my “go-to” tool is either an LTM 18K or the ARRIMAX 18K Par. You need to imagine that you have to try and replicate the sun…. That’s not an easy task.
My favorite lighting gels to augment these lights with are the Rosco CTS (Color Temperature Straw) gels. The reason being is that I prefer to see yellow injected into the skintones. With Rosco CTO (Color Temperature Orange) gels, you’re injecting red into the skintones. To me, more red can throw off the skin tones and create an unfavorable look.
The key to getting a good look on day interiors is to figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. For this setup, we were dialing in Late Afternoon… I needed to consider the position of the sun, the angle in which it was going to come through the window, and the intensity.
Do we want the audience feeling the heat of it coming through the window? Do we want the window blown out? Do we want the sun to come through in shafts or exposure for outside? Do you want the light to feel cooler, warmer, or whiter (neutral)? Each style tailors to a specific look and feeling…
Breaking down the script and preparing for what makes sense to the story will be your key to success. Go out and study how the sun affects the interiors of various rooms and areas. That’s a quick way to see how the sun is manipulated in the natural world.
What we learned:
Shooting on a sound stage has a different set of rules:
- When you shoot on a stage, you need to be cognizant of what it takes to create day interior light. A lot of people go in without understanding how the sun affects the interiors and what tools you’ll need to get the job done.
- Do your research leading up to the day on how you want the interiors to feel and what time of day it’s going to be. Whether you’re doing an early morning, mid-afternoon, or sunset look–you need to understand what you’re up against.
- Take in the world around you and understand the characteristics of the sun. If you’re trying to emulate it’s quality of light, you need to understand what it looks like first and foremost.
Communicating with your gaffer early on is essential to dialing in your look:
- Your gaffer is essentially the “right hand man” to help you dial in the lighting. It’s important to understand what it takes and that you convey this information as early on in the prep.
- Providing your gaffer with the tools to get the job done will make it easier on the day. Your goal is to re-create the light by using the “right” tools… not the wrong ones.
Consider the quality of light:
- Depending on the time of day, weather, and various other factors, it’s you job to figure out the quality of light and how to re-create it.
- Review the script and analyze what the scene is asking for. Does the scene depict a certain look? If not, what is the emotion of the scene and how can you aid that through lighting?
- Understanding the story and what makes sense for your characters are going to help create the parameters to play within. Speak with your director and collaborate on what will work best.
Understanding the tools:
- Utilizing the right tools to get the job done always makes things easier.
- Some lights are better for certain looks than others. A lot of the time, when I’m trying to re-create the sun, I opt for LTM and ARRIMAX 18ks. It’s important to know what it takes to get the job done.
- Using various lighting gels will help dial in your look. I’ll utilize CTS (Color Temp Straw) to get it into that warm tone that I personally like. Testing gels before or on the day can make a huge difference.