Totally Unauthorized

A side of the film industry most people never see.

Night for night

There are two ways to light a night exterior scene* – the fast way and the way that actually looks like night. The fast way is to put a BFL (big fucking light) in a lift and send it up, which visually we’ve all accepted means ‘night’, but really…

When was the last time you saw an 18,000 watt moon?

So the other way is to forgo the BFL and light with a lot of little lamps both on the ground and in the lift. This method results in something that looks much more realistic (I’m talking about urban scenes here – actors in a field in the middle of nowhere pretty much have to be lit by the BFL method), but it does wear out the set lighting people since we have to do a lot more running around when there are five of us and the gaffer’s placing 150 lights instead of twenty.

So last night, we had two condors, but with small lights because this particular DP goes for the realistic look and not the easy look. Which is fine, but right in the middle of the scramble, I had to take my condor up and wait for the turnaround (turning the camera around and looking in the opposite direction. Turnaround can also mean the time between wrap and the call time the next day) so that production wouldn’t be waiting on lighting. As much as I hate leaving my co-workers in the middle of a scramble, duty called.

So up I went, and as soon as I got the basket raised I discovered that this particular condor’s ‘level’ feature didn’t work – most condors have a control which enables one to tilt the basket itself to make it level. Not this one – it had the control but it wouldn’t level, so my basket stayed tilted forwards at a 45 degree angle all night.

Every attempt on my part to raise the angle of the boom to level the bucket a bit resulted in the arm settling – which makes a popping sound – and since the sound mixer was sitting right at the base of the condor, said popping sound resulted in more than a few dirty looks thrown my way so I just lowered the arm a bit, braced myself against the tilty and waited.

Finally, on the last shot of the night I turned on my lights and after a few takes, came down and helped my co-workers wrap.

After I went to the ladies’, of course.

In other news, the other one-hour drama that shoots on the lot has just fired it’s entire electric crew – everyone from the gaffer down isn’t coming back for the next season, so there’s a mad scramble to find out who the new gaffer and best boy are so we can put our names into the ‘day player’ hat.  So far, no good info – just a lot of conjecture.

*Although it’s fairly easy to shoot day exteriors at night, it’s almost impossible to shoot outside during the day and make it look like night – if you’ve ever seen a movie with a night scene that was weirdly blue and totally wrong looking, that was an attempt to shoot night at day. If you’re a budding filmmaker, take my advice now and just don’t do it. Shoot day for day exterior  and night for night exterior. It’ll save you a ton of headaches.

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April 2009
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