Saturday, 4 July 2015

Rain and Night shoots.. nothing to be afraid of.

Occasionally I recycle some older blogs that i yhink are worth a read...try this one.
There are some situations that occur in every Director of Photography’s career that can make or break that career..
Asking around among my colleagues who specialize in this dark art it transpires that the pet hates and worries are night shoots and filming in the rain.
I love both of these situations and embrace every opportunity to go out at night and scare the neighborhood, if I can I will use big lights and rain..What a sadist I am..
A film I have much time for  “The Road To Perdition” has a scene where the hero, played by Tom Hanks appears from the darkness and in a downpour, with a blazing machine gun, he wipes out the gang surrounding his main target..Paul Newman..
It is a great scene but it would have lost most of its impact visually if it had been shot in ..a, daylight..and ..b,at night without the very heavy rain.
At the very top of the scene the mobsters exit a restaurant into a dark street, it is almost entirely heavily backlit and the figures are almost virtual silhouettes. The rain is bouncing off the street and forming a little spray cloud around them as they attempt to get into their cars..That’s when the demon Hanks goes for them… of my favorite scenes…And to my eye, one of the easiest to light for maximum effect..
I have no idea how explicit the script was or how much input came from the Designer or even the Director but this was the craft of lighting for film at its finest…
For a number of years I was fortunate to work on some very heavy duty crime films, which inevitably had lots of night scenes, not much killing takes place in broad daylight, and in every case I would plead  to have some rain employed.
I remember one scene that took place in a bleak and very dark back alley in Glasgow, and they don’t come much darker or bleaker,  where our victim walked up to the iconic red  phone box, with its twenty watt bulb, opens the door, picks up the phone and then was immediately grabbed and murdered..I lit the entire scene with one 2k blonde and the lamp in the phone box.
This was only possible because I used lots of rain effects..
Another scene from the same film starts off in a Glasgow bar where our two stars start fighting each other, they brawl their way along the bar and then out onto the street, where they continue for a little while longer until one of them runs off up the road into the dimly lit centre of the city..
Again this scene was shot at night, entirely from the exterior of the pub and we tracked along as they stumbled out onto the street..It was lit with the existing lights in the bar and one 2.5k HMI from a building opposite.
The exposure level throughout had to match the level on the street and the level of the road, which was lit by street lights.It was fortunate that there had been a very heavy downpour  that evening and the lights just kicked up from the wet road surface..But I did have a water bowser on stand by..
Beware the source of the water supply..I say this because I filmed a love story for HBO and it was mainly set in a castle on the remote West coast of Scotland.
The two lovers meet after a long absence, they both arrive at the great gates of the castle, in separate cars, get out and dash towards each other for a passionate embrace.This was all done in a raging storm, lightning, thunder and sheets of rain, all ours of course.
It looked terrific, there they were, kissing away and oblivious to the weather, soaked to the skin, they were completely unaware of the elements.
So was I until some of the spray from the rain finally got to me and trickled down my face. I wiped it from my mouth..What was this…salt water…sea water..
For this particular shoot I had secured a brand new super sixteen Panaflex camera, never been used before, first one in the country, a beautiful machine..And there it was being covered in a fine film of spray that even the camera crews frantic efforts to cover failed to stop the corrosive salt water getting onto the body.
It was ruined.
The water supply team had thought they could do the job on the cheap and instead of supplying a bowser full of fresh water they had simply put their pump over the castle wall into the Loch, a sea Loch..
It looked great but the camera was a right-off..
Night shooting..
Again this is something I love doing..I hate the hours and the disruption to ones social life but sometimes they just have to be done.
The maxim for me is to make sure you have sufficient lights. never go with the small stuff, you can never make it brighter but you can make the bright stuff darker..
And the other Maxim is to keep it simple.
Usually I prefer to three quarter back light, from both sides, this is not always possible but it’s not a bad rule of thumb, and if it is at all possible do the location recce at night, it lets you work out what is available from buildings and street lights.
Allow plenty of rig time..never push the sparks, its dangerous rigging at night and accidents can happen..
Two very quick anecdotes.
I had a big scene to light where four thieves robbed a country house/mansion, at night.
The Director had them running across a field, along the driveway , up the broad circular stairs to the front door,  which had columns of stone pillars along the balcony, they had a key and the shot finished with a close up of the key sliding into the lock.
Easy eh..
We laid a 150 foot track which had a dolly and crane on it, the start was on the robbers feet, so we started low, track along with them and as they went past the camera, about half way along the track the crane would rise and leave them in the bottom of frame with the grand mansion at the top of frame
…are you still with me..
Good, there is more..
The crane would then continue its track to move close and pick out the lead robber as he mounted the steps, the camera had to be perfectly placed as he ran very quickly and there were these darn columns, the key was in his hand , the camera is moving very fast, the key is in the lock and the camera finishes on the bcu of the lock. Cut..
It took one take.
The light for the scene was a quarter Wendy Light on a crane at the far side of the field and provided an even back light and the crane/camera operator was a pal of mine who had been the operator on the first Star Wars movie..One take, job done, home for tea and biscuits. Simple..
High winds and lighting towers/cranes/cherrypickers.
It is always better to have the big back light as high as possible so we use high cranes or cherrypickers, wonderful tools of the trade, except they are severely limited by weather conditions.The drivers /operators will not take them up if the wind is too strong.Fair enough
I was  shooting a SAS film  some time ago , out in the desert..a stone quarry in North London really, big scene, lotsa shooting, at night.
The cherry picker was up there with the back light,and a wind got up, it started to rattle the gel on the lights, the recordist complained, the director wanted the light brought down and the gel attended to.
The wind was now very strong, the cherrypicker  should have been brought down anyway for safety reasons, but it would never have gone up again…the scene would be incomplete..A quick walk over to the wagon to have a chat with the operator. He was fast asleep and not monitoring his wind meter…we very quickly finished the scene..
Just recently I had a night shoot on the moors above Manchester, again we had a  cherrypicker, the idea was to backlight some rescuers who were searching for a missing child..The wind was horrendous… The operator said it couldn’t go up…What to do..
I put the large lights,4x6k HMI’s, on the ground, over the hill top and skimmed the light just above the ridge, then I ordered some smoke machines to go down to the bottom of the hill and pump out as much smoke as possible.. we upgraded the powerful torches the rescuers had…It worked…Thank heaven..
Adversity is best planned for and is sometimes the mother, and father of  invention.