March 16, 2011

16mm film course: week 3

This week, we actually got hands on. The lights were yanked out and cranked up, the sound gear dusted off and furred up and the camera... rolled (it didn't actually film anything per se. But it rolled) . 

Of course, this being a film class (being much like a film set) it didn't happen anywhere near that quickly. We were, of course, taken through a few things beforehand. Things such as loading film (using some junk stock) into the can, the lighting kits etc. Alex pulled out a Kino light he has - a piece of lighting gear, that can act as a fluorescent light, without the flickering you would find in actual fluorescent (fluorescent lights are not continually "on". They flicker back and forth along their tubes at 100 times a second). These Kino lights are also good for hiding around a scene, for a lot of ambient lighting - apparently used on Green Zone quite a bit. So, again, I'm not someone who is generally a hands-on or technically minded person. This is my challenge and my opportunity for this course.

I was once again reminded of the importance, and the difficulty, of lighting a scene. With my background in (so far) low-to-no budget film(video)-making I have not had the experience in properly lighting a scene. With this workshop we were working entirely with the lighting kits (using no natural or ambient light) and in an entirely black room - something of a challenge. When lighting a scene, it's not just a matter of plunking a light in front of the actors and lighting them up so we can see them. If you light someone from front on, it tends to look rather flat and boring. So, you have a key light, likely off to one side. But you don't want that to be the only light, because then one actor will be in shadow and will just generally look weird. So, you have a number of fill lights. There's one in the back, just to help to add some sort of depth to the scene. There's one coming in from the other side, to throw some light on from there. And maybe another, softer one at the front just to even it out. It's kind of a challenge to light a scene without it looking like it's a lit scene. So, there is much fiddling about, taking light readings, adjusting light heights etc. I ended up holding some diff (diffusion) to soften one of the main fill lights; the fill was just that tad too bright, and needed to be toned down so as not to over-ride the key light. Not the most glamorous job, but it has to be done. I also find it best to sometimes just stand back, try and not let too many cooks get involved. Sometimes a film set can seem like many people working, but not much getting done.

So many aspects, so many different things and departments have to come together and work together just to get one scene of 10 seconds or so filmed. Of course, quite a few us are relatively inexperienced so things may have taken longer than usual, but it is certainly a prime example of that old filmmaking adage: hurry up and wait.

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