Today I'll be writing about a scene in a piece I shot for Musicbed promoting the Musicbed Film Initiative, a campaign to help filmmaker's fund their passion projects. Link below:
For the purposes of this blog post I'll be focusing primarily on the cinematography in the poker scene. Two films that we referenced for style, mood, lighting, etc were Killing Them Softly and Mississippi Grind.
THE LOCATION (Scout Photos)
We staged the scene in an old warehouse behind Musicbed that they're planning to expand into new offices soon. As you can see it was pretty bare at first. There was also a giant counter that we had to clear out, which was a feat in and of itself. (Shoutout to producer Michael Leiato taking that on.)
To make the space work better for us we brought in a ton of cheap wood paneling and also filled out the room with lots of junk, furniture, and props. Most of the stuff was sourced from Goodwill. I also have to thank my wonderful girlfriend and collaborator Meagan Grace for coming in and doing the styling work.
PRODUCTION DESIGN REFERENCES
When thinking about my lighting approach to this scene I knew I wanted to rig everything to the ceiling in order to not limit myself with the coverage. There was a dolly shot where we were going to see a lot of the room and I didn't want to have any stands or equipment in shot. Luckily the room had drop ceilings which enabled us to easily rig from above.
I chose to embrace the fluorescent feel and just switched out the t12 bulbs in the drop ceilings with a mix of kino 5600 and 3200 tubes -- a technique called "salt and peppering." There were I think 4 total fixtures in the room but we only left 2 of the fixtures on. We then took a long strip of duvetyne fabric that hung down about 2' from the ceiling and skirted most of the spill off the walls which really helped with focus and contrast.
In addition I added a 500w chimera lantern on a dimmer to wrap the light a bit for the main actor's close up, which also gave him just the faintest bit of eye light. Outside the window we put an Aadyntech Punch Plus LED gelled with rosco urban vapor for a street light effect coming in and hitting the background. I rented the light for a lightening gag in a different scene (which it worked perfect for,) but it also ended up working great for us here.
LIGHTING DIAGRAM (click to enlarge)
Red Dragon | Cooke Anamorphic
I chose to rate most of this project at 1600 ISO on the Dragon (low-light OLPF.) I had heard some DP's I admire talking about rating the sensor at higher ISOs for a more filmic feel. And after some testing I ended up really liking the results. It's important to understand the science behind this though, because you definitely don't want to just boost the signal on the camera to get an exposure -- this will look like garbage. You have to expose accordingly for that ISO.
If you light accordingly and understand how the sensor is actually remapping middle-grey, it can produce really interesting results. Experimenting with different ISOs is a great way to get a variety of looks out of the RED sensor. Here's a good episode of the WanderingDP podcast where Patrick breaks it down.
I've even found exposing for 1600 and 2000 ISO (with the low-light OLPF) to be really nice for day ext/int work because you get more detail in the highlights, and the image just feels a little bit more filmic and organic overall. Sure, it's inherently a bit grainier/grittier, but I really dig it. I highly recommend testing it out.