Tuesday, 22 March 2016


Disturbing Title right....
Ponder on this small tale..it is a true one and happened to me.
Some years ago I was living in a very upmarket apartment block in the centre of fashionable Chelsea, London.
At that time I was shooting a very popular TV show...the Studios were a tube ride from my nearest tube station which was at the South Kensington Underground and the journey took about 45 minutes.
As usual the Production company had hired a run down warehouse,which had been abandoned for several years and was in a filthy dilapidated state..the sort of place where you didn't want to touch anything.Accordingly the entire crew and myself wore really tough old clothes,torn jeans, boots, baseball caps..in case the everpresent pigeons in the rafters decided to relieve themselves...and really tough old jackets.....  we looked like a bunch of hobos .

Ok..you have that image...let us move on..The working hours were from 8am until 7pm and we were shooting in the winter months, so when I was finally released I would walk across to the Tube station in the dark and of course it was dark when I exited at my station in town.
Walking home in that part of London was always a pleasure..Elegant white painted terraces..home to the privileged and wealthy..and me.
The entrance to my apartment block was through some large glass doors and then to get to the elevators there was a thirty yard walk.As I crossed the wide pavement and approached the front door a woman who I would have placed in her late fifties,early sixties approached the same door from the other direction and we both arrived at the same time.I held up my keys and offered to open the door for her...she completely ignored me and opened the door,went in and closed the door behind her.

Maybe she was having a bad day...that's fine..I then opened the door and went into the long hallway to reach the elevators...she was waiting halfway down the corridor and stood facing me
Her.."Do you live here"
Her "I don't know you"
Me.."Thats ok,I don't know you either"
We both walked to the elevators as she continued her questioning.
Her.."Which flat are you in"
Me...holding up my keys.."I live on the 7th floor"
Her.."But which flat...what number"
I pressed the button for the elevator which was showing to be on the top floor...the indicator showed it had begunits journey.
Her.."I don't think you live her at all"

At this stage she began to become rather agitated and backed away from me and the elevator and pushed herself into a corner where she slid to the floor and then burst into screaming at the top of her voice..."Rape..Rape  he is raping me..help help" 
The loud shouting continued and she began to pull at her clothes,ripping her blouse out of her skirt as she now laid down on the floor.
So here I was..a nutty distraught woman yelling rape and murder..the lift was approaching  and was just a couple of floors away.
Then the horror of it hit me...If the lift had anyone in it and the doors opened on this scene..or if other residents came through the front door..what would they see..a rather scruffy man in very rough clothes..a middle class woman down on the floor and screaming RAPE....what would they have thought..
The police would no doubt have been called.and in all probability I would have been arrested..taken to a police station and questioned....no doubt kept in overnight.
My non arrival at the studios and the reason why would have soon been broadcast around the very small business in London and even if I could prove my innocence the smelll would linger..It would have been almost impossible to work in the industry again...and I was completely innovcent...what would you have thought if you had been in the lift or walked through the front door.
Anyway the lift arrived...thank heaven it was empty....no one in it...the woman was still screaming and  her screams continued to echo all the way up the lift shaft where I leapt out on the 7th floor and ran to my apartment.
That woman could have completely ruined me.
I continued to live there for a long time and never saw her again.
Could make a nice small Budget Horror movie
And all true.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Shooting in the rain and Night scenes

Shooting in the rain and night scenes.

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…..one 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.
More lighting tales next week..

Previously posted on Reelshowmag

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