DIRECTING ACTORS: PRACTICAL EXERCISE

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In order to prepare myself to shooting my film, I captured a series of photographs experimenting with lighting. I confined to the conventions of the film noir genre and directed my subject to pose in a number of ways. The original photos can be seen below.

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Below is a range of screenshots I captured whilst editing my pieces. By looking at these you can understand my work in PhotoShop and how I created my final photos.

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I also took a range of photos of passing cars in order to form the background for my images.

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Here are examples of my final pieces. Experimenting with three-point lighting and my direction of the subject really helped by get a range of “noir” pieces.

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IMG_9912 cropI think the shoot was successful in that I exercised by cinematography skills, lighting skills and directional skills in preparation for my short film, Screen Three.

THREE-POINT LIGHTING – HOW I LIT ‘SCREEN THREE’

In a group of two when making a film production, one must take on a wide range of roles in order to make the film happen. In the video above you can see my contribution concerning directing and cinematography with my focus on how I lit each scene. In a close look at the set of my second scene, you’ll get the chance to hear about the composition of Three-Point Lighting, its uses and effects, and how I applied it to my film ‘Screen Three’.

“HOW DID YOU DO THAT?” – IMAGE MANIPULATION AND ENHANCEMENT

This post is all about the processes and technologies behind beginning to create a poster for our film, “Screen Three”. In the video below I talk about editing Jannath’s sketch, taking this image as inspirational for our poster photo and editing this photo on PhotoShop.

The slideshow below will give you a closer look at the plans we did for our poster. Clicking on each image will enlarge them and will feature more details and them and how they’re made.

The original sketch that served an a draft for our poster communicating content and composition.Art by Jannath Hussain.

The original sketch that served an a draft for our poster communicating content and composition.Art by Jannath Hussain.

The edited poster plan achieved through Adobe's PhotoShop.

The edited poster plan achieved through Adobe’s PhotoShop.

IF WE CAN’T GO TO THE CINEMA, WE’RE GOING TO BRING THE CINEMA TO US.

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Myself and the Ritz had a email conversation concerning filming that ran throughout October. We discussed the films content, organising a date and things we needed for the shoot such as a piece of film being projected with no sound to run during the shoot. However, towards the end of the month there seemed to be a communication breakdown and I learned the establishment was extremely busy through undergoing big changes to its theatre. Jannath and I wanted to get a date sorted however, we both agreed it was important to not be pushy and apply pressure to the already busy Pete Genders who runs the “community driven project” of the cinema. I sent a few emails every so often but got no reply and Jannath thought it would be a good idea to contact that a different way.

facebook pageWe came across there Facebook page and managed to contact the boss about filming then but it was not good news.fb convo ritz

The Ritz not being available to host as a location until December seemed like a huge problem at first but soon we realised it might turn out for the best. Shooting in December wasn’t really an option as we wanted to get filming on the road as fast as possible. We both knew the editing process can often take far longer than the production process and so we need as much time as we can to do a good job with that.

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And so we had a challenge upon us. Unless we contact another movie theatre, how are we going to make the scene in the cinema work? Peter Glanfield who plays our main role as the “Old Man” in our short film luckily has strong connections with Horncastle’s Red Lion Theatre which , from a previous film project, I know has an ideal seating arrangement that consists of many rows of stylistic red seats facing a stage.

But what about the cinema screen? If we are to have a film being projected in the scene there’s no way the scene will be convincing if my group don’t do anything about the lighting. Together, Jannath and I came up with an idea involving the light from a projector bouncing of from a reflector and onto the characters’ faces. I did a camera test and here are the results!

I think they’re convincing and turned out great in that we see the movie in Jannath glasses and she looks forward to where the screen is imagined to be. Thanks to her standing in as a subject, we got a great feel for what we had to do during the shoot and was definitely a big and valuable part of pre-production.

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Concerning “three point lighting” the projector almost acts as a backlight for our shoot and creates a great look for me that it replicated right when we’re in the theatre will be fantastic. Additional light are to be added to set a more atmospheric scene and to distinguish what’s going on in the frame.

All this preparation would go to nothing if we couldn’t get to a theatre and so through our links with the Red Lion Theatre in Peter, our main actor, we contacted Shirley Moffat who confirmed our shoot after numerous emails describing the details of the shoot.shirley email2

Before arranging a date I spoke to all my actors through Facebook and we all came to a date we were all available to make, as well as a date likely for the theatre to be free. We’d realised through Peter that many dates would be taken up by the theatre company. Below you’ll find an extract from my conversation with the four actors involved in the production.

actors dateLike I said, with thanks to Peter we had an advantage. Being a member of the theatre for over a decade he knew what was going on behind the scenes concerning rehearsals and guest appearance and was kind enough to personally email me these details.

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HOW TO FILM IN LOW LIGHT CONDITIONS

CAMERA SETTINGS

From my visit to The Ritz I learnt that it was a surprisingly dark there and definitely in the need of the a lot of light for a shoot.

APERTURE. SHUTTER SPEED. ISO.

These three pieces of vocabulary are key for any photographer or filmer that needs to tackle scenes with low light. They’re camera settings, but how can these be manipulated to get footage with a good amount of light is something I thought was wise to research and study.

Apertures

Let’s talk aperture. An aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels into the camera. The wider the hole means the larger amount of light gets in therefore creating a higher exposure and a brighter result.The hole differentiating in size can be observed to the right however, below is a diagram explaining the setting of how aperture is controlled in comparison to the f-numbers. The lens aperture is usually specified as an f-number, “the ratio of focal length to effective aperture diameter”. A lens typically has a set of marked “f-stops” that the f-number can be set to. A lower f-number denotes a greater aperture opening which allows more light to reach the film or image sensor. However, there is, what can be, a problem when messing around with f-numbers in that reducing the aperture size increases the depth of field, which describes the extent to which subject matter lying closer than or farther from the actual plane of focus appears to be in focus. This can be difficult to handle in that getting your subject focused can be a delicate process when shooting at a low f-number such as 1.8, 2.0 or 2.8.

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Next up; shutter speed. It is the shutter speed and the aperture that determine the Exposure Value (EV). Within photography, shutter speed is fairly simple to understand; a longer shutter will allow more light but may add motion blur while a fast shutter speed can freeze motion but cuts down on the amount of light entering the camera. The confusing part is how this affects video. When we are shooting stills with action, a slow shutter speed will have motion blur and a fast shutter speed will freeze action. When we translate this concept to video, a slow shutter speed will create a smeared look to the video. If the shutter is too fast there isn’t enough motion blur to smoothly transition from frame to frame causing a stuttering effect. This is clearly and cleverly illustrated in the video below.

But what about shutter speed in relation to LIGHT. Well it’s simple. The longer the time the shutter’s open, such as if it was set to be open at 1/10 of a second, one would have a far brighter image than if it were set at, say, 1/1000 of a second, and there is indeed a big difference and so this will have to be noted and taken into consideration.

Last but not least it’s ISO. ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the grain.

Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds. For example an indoor sports event when you want to freeze the action in lower light. However the higher the ISO you choose the noisier shots you will get.

iso-1-tmAbove are two images shot each with a different ISO setting. The image on the left is shot at 100 ISO and the one on the right is shot at 3200 ISO and you can clearly see the difference in quality due to the abundance of grain in the right image. I’ll have to choose the right ISO wisely so that I get a bright image but keep the amount of grain to little and if not, none.

The above is all detailed in this great tutorial video by Fenchel & Janisch where I learnt to a few rules to follow by when filming at night:

Rule #1

When filming, never go higher than ISO 1600. Any higher and the image gets noisy.

Rule #2

Shutter speed should range from 1/30s to 1/50s. Higher shutter speeds may cause some lights to appear flickery.

Rule #3

Aperture should remain from F/1.2 to F/5.6.

Rule #4

Change the picture style of the camera to make no contrast.

It is said if these rules are followed, good results should follow. This research would be pointless of course if we didn’t apply it to our film opening and so hopefully if we remember these points the footage should turn out well. The tutorial video can be viewed below.

THREE POINT LIGHTING

BRIAN HALLI’m currently taking part in the British Film Institute’s programme at Lincoln University studying filmmaking and as part of this process I got chance to speak to cinematographer, joint programme leader and senior lecturer Brian Hall. I asked him about lighting a scene and discussed mine and Jannath’s short film and ways we should light the scene in the cinema and this is where I first heard about “Three Point Lighting”. By using three separate positions, the photographer can illuminate the shot’s subject (such as a person) however desired, while also controlling (or eliminating entirely) the shading and shadows produced by direct lighting.

sketch tplDuring our discussion, he drew out a quick sketch of how three point lighting would be incorporated into a filmed interview. The “<” drawn represents the camera whilst the two circles are the interviewer, who remains behind the camera, and the interviewee. The “Key light” is placed facing the subject as you can see in the sketch and can be move to create more or less shadow depending on its angle. It shines directly upon the subject and serves as its principal illuminator; more than anything else, the strength, colour and angle of the key determines the shot’s overall lighting design.

The fill light also shines on the subject but from a side angle relative to the key and is often placed at a lower position than the key (about at the level of the subject’s face). It balances the key by illuminating shaded surfaces, such as the shadow cast by a person’s nose upon the rest of the face. It is usually softer and less bright than the key light (up to half), however, not using a fill at all can result in stark contrasts (due to shadows) across the subject’s surface, depending upon the key light’s harshness.

The back light shines on the subject from behind, often (but not necessarily) to one side or the other. It gives the subject a rim of light, serving to separate the subject from the background and highlighting contours.

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Here you can see my own use of two point lighting. Notice how in this “after” photo there’s a shadow on her nose which needed to be avoided through another light.

ON LOCATION – THE RITZ CINEMA, LINCOLN

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After a series of very casual emails, I arranged with the man in charge of The Ritz, Mr Pete Genders, to visit the location for a number of reasons. Lighting is a big concern in filmmaking and needs to have a lot of attention to make it right and so shooting in a place where you have no idea about the lighting is a big mistake. Also I was concerned about spacing and size and so a small photo-shoot of the place would serve as a practise for framing shots and a reference for later on.

After arriving at The Ritz it turned out Pete wasn’t around however, myself and Amy Westwood, who I asked to help photograph with me (being a photographer herself), were kindly toured around the entire establishment. This was great in that I got a real feel for the potential the place had.

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The first thing that surprised me was the lack of light in the cinema. Light was only supplied by the two big lights you see above. This means light sources have to be supplied by us, the filmmaking, which won’t really be a problem seeing as we have a few lights at our disposal. Here you can see a range of photos we took from our visit of the location.

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In the past I’ve found it very helpful to take pictures similar to shots I have in mind for my film. It helps me understand the composition at the time and after the shoot and you can see this done here with me blog detailing the preparations I made for my short film, “PRAY”:

https://a2bellmqegs.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/st-marys-church/

As you can see a lot of work needs to be done concerning light. I set my camera at ISO 800, shutter speed 1/50 of a second with an F-value at 1.8 to let as much light in a possible without really sacrificing quality yet, the shots appear very dark and this needs correctly with the right light. There’s still a lot of work to be done but it’s jobs like this visit that will help us very much when it coming to principal photography.

A STUDY OF SIMILAR PRODUCTS AND THEIR INSPIRATION

A range of different ideas had been bounced around between my group but they lacked the ability to excite me or get me really determined get production underway as soon as possible. That is until we came about shooting something in a cinema. I tend to think of ideas really cinematically and so the location really inspired me since cinemas often present a nice atmosphere and potential for greatly composed shots, but this way of thinking was drawn to me by my own personal experience and seeing other media products such as films and music videos shoot in a similar location.

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Alien Ant Farm, an American alternative rock band that formed in Moreno Valley, California, United States, in 1995, featured their music video for “Movies” entirely in a cinema. The piece features the band jumping into the cinema’s screen and becoming part of the movie they were once watching but a large amount of the footage portrays the audience amongst the seating area, and this is similar to a lot of the shots we have in mind for our own short film. The lighting and some of the angles was something I admired and hope to replicate elements from in my film. The way the light from the screen appears to illuminate the crowd is something I admire and really adds to the scene’s atmosphere. The close-up on the the left inspired me to plan a similar shot where the camera focuses on an actor in the foreground who’s positioned on one of the horizontal thirds whereas the rest of the audience remain blurred and unfocused to form the background.AAF2I’ve been a huge fan of Wes Craven’s work since before I began even thinking about making my own movies. His film, “A Nightmare On Elm Street” was one of my favourites films for its consistent cinematic, trapped and disgusting atmosphere as Freddy torments Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langerkamp) in this 80s horror classic. However, the 90s welcomed a different direction for Craven as he creates a new horror series concerning Ghostface and him tormenting a small American community. The second film in his series, “Scream 2”, features an iconic and haunting first scene in a cinema where Jada Pinkett Smith’s character get killed in front of the entire audience.

The story of this first scene is very clever with its twists and turns and the manipulation of light featured is something to be admired. It’s bright, it shows the characters clearly but yet is dark enough to portray a believable cinema scene. This is something I’d like to include in my own work.

In my research I managed to find myself a playlist of film clips that are set in a cinema or a theatre which really helped for me to see a variety of different tones and directions.

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?annotation_id=annotation_307096&feature=iv&list=PL6F8603ED8741C127&src_vid=fnTckzsYgg0

I also analysed The Butterfly Effect, directed by Eric Bress J. Mackye Gruber, and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver starring Robert De Niro.