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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8 Responses

  1. MaxMarois says:

    How long did it took you guys to set up all your lights that night?

    The whole electric crew? Got to wonder if there is a reasonable reason behind it, or if it’s just another day in the film industry.

    • Peggy Archer says:

      I’m not sure what you mean – we usually use the whole crew for lighting set-ups. That’s why we’re there.

      • David H. says:

        I think Max meant that as a separate thought and is referring to the whole crew of that show being fired.

      • MaxMarois says:

        Let me clarify this.

        The first part was a question about how much time it took you to set up your condors that night?

        The second one, not related to the first one, is a comment about the whole electric crew of that show been fired.

        Hope that helps!

        • Peggy Archer says:

          Oh, yes.. that does help. Normally, when the gaffer gets fired, the entire crew is fired as well because most gaffers want to work with their own people and not someone else’s crew – so yes. The whole crew got fired.

          I don’t know how long the set up last night took – I wasn’t timing it, but I’d guess about an hour and a half.

  2. Charli says:

    How different is the realistic look to the moonlit look? Is it such a difference that the audience is going to sit there and say “whoa, that looks cool” or is this just a DP going to the extreme, too self-indulgent?

    One of the short film I did (as a writer/producer) the director thought to save time and film day-for-night scene, uh, yeah, that bluish, I so get that. I made sure that short isn’t put up anywhere on the internet.

  3. Nathan says:

    I had a meeting a bunch of years ago with the Mayor and Police Chief of a small Ohio town to discuss traffic control for a car chase (daylight scene) we wanted to shoot in their town. The Police Chief was concerned about how disruptive this was going to be and asked if why we couldn’t just shoot at night with lots of really big lights.

  4. JCW says:

    On MILK, we shot a lot of night scenes. With the exception of scenes where mid-shots and close ups were required, there was precious little special lighting for the crowd scenes – I guess Harry Savides is really adept at shooting night scenes ’cause they came out beautifully.

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