May 10, 2015

Advice from a Prolific Indie Cinematographer: 'Keep It Simple with Your Gear'

Jim Denault ASC Creative Live Cinematography Course
Earlier this year, Jim Denault, ASC, led a two-day masterclass on how to effectively prepare and shoot scenes like a pro.

In case you need a quick refresher on Denault's impressive resumé, he's worked on countless independent features over the years -- most notably Boys Don't Cry -- and is now hammering away on HBO's insanely hilarious Silicon Valley. The CreativeLive course that he taught, however, focused heavily on how to effectively plan for shooting independent films. In that respect, Denault talked about the philosophy of thinking small and keeping it simple.

Check out this excerpt from the course in which he details his lighting and lens packages from Boys Don't Cry.

While Denault's lighting package for Boys Don't Cry is far from "small" for most of us, he does offer some great advice for how to think about putting together a modest, yet effective and versatile setup. With any lighting package, it's wise to incorporate a mixture of "big lights, medium lights, and small lights." Depending on the size of your budget, you can get away with one or two larger lights like 18K's, 10K's, or even a 2K, although lights of that size aren't usually necessary unless you're working with a less sensitive camera and need to illuminate large amounts of space.

The medium lights are your 1K's and 800's. These are usually your most versatile and oft used lights because, in the context of today's hyper-sensitive digital cameras, they can be used for almost any purpose, from providing a nice key or fill, to illuminating an entire room.

Lastly you've got your small lights, which can be anything from 300-watt fresnels to ring lights to small LED fixtures. These are typically used for accents -- to add a subtle kick or rim light on your subject, to illuminate a particular piece of the foreground or background.

The other crucial tip here is that being sparse with your lens package can not only yield great looking results, but can even help define the unique visual style of your film. Many of our favorite films and shows are shot primarily with 2-3 lenses, and those lenses are typically used methodically in very specific types of shots in order to build the visual language of the finished piece. So if you've only got a 28mm and a 50mm, you're in luck. Those two lenses, when used properly, should yield all of the coverage that you need and create a simple, focused aesthetic.

If you're interested in more of Denault's tips and tricks for effectively preparing for a shoot, be sure to check out the full CreativeLive course    

Your Comment

12 Comments

Yah, this video is total posh balls sweat for most us.... at least for me. It's like an American traveling to Uganda and telling the locals that the secret to happiness is to not be so materialistic.

May 10, 2015 at 8:43PM

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Jonesy Jones
Storymaker
726

Btw, this is not meant as a complaint towards NFS or the article, I appreciate the consistent content. I just can't relate to this video at all.

May 10, 2015 at 10:06PM

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Jonesy Jones
Storymaker
726

I get the fact that you can't relate to this article, but what is the point of telling us all that. If not to rag on NFS, then what? So, get sympathy? Go push yourself in some new way so that this video would be relevant to you, instead of just complaining on the internet.

This video is totally relevant for me. I am calling a rental house today to confirm a lighting kit that I will need for a big shoot this week. Thanks, Robert, for taking the time to post it.

May 11, 2015 at 2:15AM, Edited May 11, 2:15AM

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Ricky
Director/DP
264

Agreed.

May 11, 2015 at 5:24PM

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Jonesy Jones
Storymaker
726

His principles and thinking is what matters. That can be applied at a host of budget levels.

May 11, 2015 at 5:04PM

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Jonathon Sendall
Stories
1820

Speak for yourself.

May 18, 2015 at 5:24PM

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William Stewart
Director of Photography
562

More irony from NFS! Do you think your audience is Hollywood studios? The post is appreciated but the title is not, Keep it Simple? Shaz-If!

May 11, 2015 at 1:06PM

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Jonathan Gentry
DP Potomac Media
234

The video was great because it's practical. It's encouraging hearing him talk about being able to shoot everything on essentially 3 lenses. I also like the practicality of getting pairs of lighting units instead of one of a bunch of different types.

May 11, 2015 at 1:51PM

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Thomas Culton
Writer / Producer / Director
78

Great article and video! If anything it's just encouraging to hear a real pro who still remembers what it was like being small(ish). His points about thinking of ways to simplify and consolidate your equipment can't be said enough. You can see less choices as a virtue or a burden. Seeing as how most of us aren't going to have unlimited resources or choices any time soon, it can be liberating to just take what you have and go for it anyway.

May 14, 2015 at 11:49PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
333

Nice idea about using few lenses, but very rarely can you rent one or two lenses from most rental houses...you usually have to rent a set.

May 20, 2015 at 4:54AM, Edited May 20, 4:54AM

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Daniel Mimura
DP, cam op, steadicam op
2047

Really appreciated this - can never hear the fundamentals too often, thank you for posting.

June 4, 2015 at 12:43AM

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Philip Bateman
Bravo Charlie - The world is waiting for your story™
86

Useful! I've always loved the look of Boys Don't Cry.

December 29, 2018 at 12:46AM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
697