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The Visual Anatomy of a Scene: 'One Click Away' Part 2

06.14.12 @ 10:51AM Tags : , , ,

This article is a continuation of the series “Anatomy of a Scene.” See Part 1.  The purpose of this series is to help emerging filmmakers improve their craft by sharing techniques (how something was done) as well as presenting the creative rationale behind the choices (the “why”).  I’m not presenting my work as a model of artistic perfection and I don’t expect readers to agree with all of my choices.  My intention is to analyze a sample of work to encourage other filmmakers to explore their own creative process of interpreting a project visually.

In this article, I’ll continue to discuss the camera and lighting set up for the “tormented souls” scene (4:15) of “One Click Away,” a recent three day shoot that I photographed.  Our first two days of the project were shot at Indent Studios in Portland, Oregon. We chose this facility because it’s a large eclectic space that suited some of our strange and dark location requirements. In addition to a large sound stage area, the studio has several finished and unfinished areas that were part of the original building, which was formerly an industrial laundry facility.  For our “tormented souls” scene, we chose a scary-looking room with a wonderful patina of industrial grime etched into the walls.

Camera Set Up

Side view of triangle light pattern rig featuring actor Aris Juson. Photos by Levy Moroshan

I set up the camera as far away from the best “picture” wall as possible. Even though I was using an 18mm wide-angle lens, I wanted the wall to go slightly out of focus to keep the attention on our tormented subjects.  As I mentioned in Part 1, the camera was armed out and away from the tripod using offset arms to avoid a tripod shadow on the triangle pattern card.  Large sandbags were used to counterbalance the camera weight. Part of our challenge was to shoot 10 actors in approximately 1½ hours, so we had to be very quick and efficient.

To keep the framing consistent for jump cutting, all of the actors’ faces would need to be approximately in the same spot.  I set the camera height to accommodate the tallest actor at 6’4’’.  Then we used a series of apple box sizes to raise the shorter actors into the sweet spot of the shot.  This still required some vertical framing decisions due to the variety of head and face shapes. For extreme close-ups, standard headroom is not a good guide for consistency because head tops may need to be cut off.  Long and short foreheads, necks, and chins can easily confuse compositional choices.  In the end, I used eyes and mouth placement as a guide to balance the vertical composition.

Color Choice and Control

Blue-green hue for tormented actor Donny Persons

Our color palette for this scene was influenced by a desire to avoid the cliché of using red or warm colors to symbolize hell.  Jason, the director, wanted to create a sickly pallor on the faces using make-up, so I suggested enhancing the effect by using ½ plus green gel on the key light.  Green is generally a very unflattering color on all flesh tones.  I added a blue cast overall in the camera to add a sense of darkness and to avoid being so obvious with the green choice.  My first instinct was to also add blue gel to the lights that illuminated the triangle pattern. However, I would lose up to a stop of light.  I had already chosen T4.5 as my preferred lens stop.  This stop allowed enough depth of field for the actors to move in and away from the lens slightly without losing focus.  The DOF at this stop was also shallow enough to allow the background to go slightly soft since the focus mark was set at 18”.  To achieve the blue cast, I set the camera white balance on preset.  In the Sony F3′s Picture Profile (PP) menu, I warmed up the “white” Kelvin preset number until the desired amount of blue was mixed with the green.

Lighting Choices

Note: bottom of back light peaking in frame upper left third. Light hung from "goal post" supported by combo stand to left of Actor Benjamin Farmer.

To create depth in the shot, I put a streak of light on the back wall using a 650W fresnel.  I placed the angle of the light high and close to the wall, to bring out the texture of the wall.  Since the light was just barely outside the left frame edge, we needed to use a half double scrim to help even out the light intensity on the left side of the frame. There was no obvious source to motivate this light, but this was already a “stylized” scene, so I wasn’t concerned with “natural” lighting.  I used a diagonal pattern, which creates tension and “leads the eye” back to the subject.  I also added a high angle backlight (1K fresnel) to separate the subjects (especially those with dark hair) from the background. Since the actors were very close to the lens, the angle of the backlight needed to be quite steep to avoid flaring the lens.  The grips used a “goal post” rig to facilitate the perfect angle placement.  A “goal post” is a speed rail pipe (1 1/4” diameter aluminum pipe) with “ears” on both ends, supported by two combo stands with grip heads outside the frame line.  I generally prefer this approach to rigging from the ceiling because the angle of the light can be adjusted very easily.

Toward the end of the “torment” scene (5:41), there is a symbolic transcendence from agony to hope.  Knowing that Jason prefers “in camera” effects to post effects, I came up with a “real time” lighting effect that would symbolize the transition to hope without losing the presence of addiction.  We hung a second backlight (1K open face) behind the original backlight.  This light was set at a lower angle, just above the top of the frame line.  It was powered into a 1K variac style dimmer.  On a verbal cue from the director, an electrician cranked the light up from zero to full power at a modest pace.  As the backlight was dimming up, two grips on either side of the subject (out of frame) slid two pieces of white foam core over the triangle pattern up to the edges of the lens.

The result had a threefold effect.  First, the subject developed a halo from the intense backlight. Next, the low angle of the light created both a hard and soft flare in the lens, washing out the dark contrast of the back wall.  The sliding white foam core replaced the triangle pattern eyelight/keylight and bounced lots of soft light back into the subject’s faces – creating an overexposed ethereal look.  Although in the final edit, the effect is not shown in real time, you can imagine the transition.

In Part 3, I will discuss some interesting non-traditional light sources used for the project.

[First photo: Actress: Emma Jane Olson Photo: Levy Moroshan]

Randolph Sellars, Director of Photography and Filmmaker, has over 30 years of experience photographing a variety of projects in 11 countries around the world. He has shot 23 feature films, including The Juniper Tree, which was a Grand Jury finalist at the Sundance Film Festival and was singer/actress Bjork’s first feature film.


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 23 COMMENTS

  • Can’t sleep, porn will eat me!

  • This is just like in the seventh grade when we analyzed a horse’s turd.

  • Michael Soomon on 06.14.12 @ 4:16PM

    any chance of posting the real-time transition you mentioned?

    • Randolph Sellars on 06.14.12 @ 5:12PM

      Michael, thanks for your interest. I’m sorry, I don’t have access to the unedited footage – or I would be happy to comply. If you look closely at the video again, at just past 5:41, the transition begins with the extra backlight dimming up. You’ll see a hard and soft flare in the lens and the man’s face just begins to brighten. The film cuts to another man where the effect is complete. His face is more washed out and the lens flare is more distinct. If you look at it carefully, you’ll see it. Hope that helps. Wish I could show you the whole effect.

  • people seem to be having a hard time getting past the agenda of the material. yes, it’s odd. get over it. our guest blogger is here for the craft, not the content.

    i thought we all wanted more filmmaking on this site, as opposed to more articles about cameras most of us can never afford.

    thanks for part 2, Randy. again, really interesting stuff. I love the part about flagging off the triangle light with bounce cards to kill that odd eye light and bring a nice soft bounce to the face. really clever. really looking forward to part 3.

    • Randolph Sellars on 06.14.12 @ 8:31PM

      Thanks for the support Kevin. I appreciate that. I realize that the content of the film may be polarizing. It’s OK with me that some people don’t like or even hate the message. It’s obvious, but unfortunate that not everyone will be able to separate the content from the discussion of craft. I do appreciate that some have been able to learn something about craft and technique without liking the content. For the record, I was not the originator or writer of the material – just the DP working for hire. I chose this film, not for it’s message, but because it was well documented with still photos and the whole creative team came up with interesting low budget solutions that I thought were creative and fairly unique.

      I’m happy to continue sharing as long as there is interest from serious filmmakers mature enough to engage in constructive criticism – even if they disagree or dislike my work. Part 3 is in the works. I’ll talk about using some non-traditional light sources.

  • Hey Randolph!!keep doing what you do.I have learnt alot from this.keep writing and helping us grow,despite some of the other comments i see hear!

  • I would like to add my voice to the people who are very interested in your process. As you said seeing why and how other filmmakers do things is a great way to learn. Thanks for the article

  • Thanks for taking the scene apart Randolph!

    • Let me add that I don’t care much for the message of the ad but if you turn down the sound then you don’t have to listen to it. Swell solutions in the dp department!

      • Randolph Sellars on 06.15.12 @ 8:51PM

        Now that’s a creative solution Ba Na! That’s something that I often do when watching DVD’s to study the lighting, editing, etc. It helps keep you from being distracted by the story (good or bad) and focused on visual elements. It’s interesting how many more “flaws” or lighting mismatches you can spot using this method.

  • Wow, the look of this is amazing. I look forward to the continuation of this series. Nice work!

  • Porn industry is eight billion/year
    Funeral biz is eight billion/year.
    14,000 murders/year.

    Just thought you should know…..

  • Nice post.
    Where can I watch more scene anatomies, like Robert Rodriguez “10 minute film school”. I love watching them and learning from them. I would want to know how Micheal Gondry videos are made.

  • Randolph Sellars on 06.19.12 @ 12:13PM

    Jagadeesh, I don’t really know where you can find more “scene anatomies.” Most behind the scenes footage is shot for general publicity purposes – not necessarily for filmmakers to learn. I’m planning to do more of this very type of thing in the future. It will take a lot of work and planning. Maybe Ryan Koo will let us do detailed behind the scenes coverage of his film “Man Child” for filmmaker education. What do you think of that idea?

    • Yeah, that will be great and very helpful
      The other day I was thinking about this idea, where you give a scene and give your view of how its done and the members can express their view of how its done. And when someone gets it right, you know, you can rate it as “the best” and the others can learn from it.
      But only thing we won’t get to know the exact way.

      • Randolph Sellars on 06.20.12 @ 7:46PM

        Jagadeesh, that’s an interesting idea. However, I wouldn’t want to critique how someone else thinks a scene could or should be lit. There is certainly no “right way” to light a scene. Lighting decisions are very subjective and there are usually several ways to achieve a desired look. I don’t ever want to suggest that anyone should copy my style or methodology exactly. My goal in sharing my process is hopefully to inspire “add on” or “hybrid” ideas in others.

  • Thanks for useful info Randolph
    don’t you have any problem with temperature of three 1k fresnel lights of triangle ?
    ( kinda annoying ?)

    • Randolph Sellars on 06.20.12 @ 7:30PM

      Good point Hamid. It could have been uncomfortable. Actually it was 5 – 1K’s and 1 – 650W fresnel total with the two backlights and background light. Fortunately, we shot this scene in February in a chilly room with no heat. The triangle pattern was built out of foam core and tracing paper, so there was no direct heat on the actors – just ambient heat from the lights in the room. Actually, it was pretty comfortable (temperature wise) by the time we started shooting. Also, I don’t think we spent much more than 1 1/2 hours shooting this scene.