Let’s look at how these lighting angles come together to light a scene with several actors interacting. The scene shown in Figure 5.6 shows Andy standing opposite Babette and Camile. Babette and Camile are lit with a strong soft key light from the left. The first shot is a master that holds all three actors in a three-shot with camera positioned as illustrated. With Babette looking left to Andy, the key light hits Babette’s face as a nice far-side key. Camile faces more toward the key light. It illuminates most of her face. The key light does not light Andy’s face at all, his back is to it, but we carve out his profile with the three-quarter backlight from the right. This backlight is also creating an edge around the camera-right side of Babette’s and Camile’s heads and clothing.
These three basic lighting angles can create many different looks. The relative strength of the three sources shown here, and also the color of each source, could be played in many different ways.
For example, the big soft light
at camera left can be played as the strongest source, warm soft window light, exposed perhaps 1 stop over the aperture setting on the camera, with a warm gel (¼ CTS is a straw-colored color correction gel that is great for this) on the light. The backlight from the right is played as a weaker bluer source, ½ stop under exposure, with a pale blue gel (½ CTB). The fill light
is played 2 stops under exposure. The result will be a warm light scene with rich contrast.
On the other hand, imagine what the scene would feel like if the big soft source could be played as a weak light filtering in through shades, exposed a stop under exposure and cool blue (3/4 CTB). Imagine that the backlight from the right plays as direct sunlight through a window, neutral in color and bright (2 stops over exposure), and the fill light is neutral in color and exposed 2½ stops under exposure. The impression now is totally different. The room feels dim, and moody.
In a scene with two or three actors facing in various directions, the key light for one actor may well serve as a backlight or edge-light for another actor. Here again it often happens that the primary lights form a triangle.
When two actors are facing one another and the camera is shooting them in profile (a 50/50 shot), or close to it, a common lighting strategy is to use a back cross keys (Figure 5.7). Actor A is keyed from the back right, actor B from the back left. From the camera’s point of view, these two lights are far-side key light for each actor. When shooting a moody, dark scene or night scenes, the key lights often move around to side and back positions. However, the back cross-key strategy is used in any number of situations. Multicamera sitcoms often employ this strategy, because the proscenium-style shooting lends itself to blocking where the actors are facing one another in profile to the audience.
Figure 5.7 shows the camera position for the master shot
has both actors in profile. If this were a dark night scene, the fill level would be kept very low, putting very little light on the visible side of either actor’s face, giving a sense of overall darkness. Note that actor B’s key light acts as a kicker, or backlight, for actor A, and actor A’s key light does the same for actor B.
A small amount of fill light is required to keep the side of the faces visible to the camera from going totally black; however, the fill light’s intensity must be very carefully controlled to get detail in the faces without overfilling. The fill light is drawn as a soft light; the fill light for a large night exterior is often made by bouncing light into a 12 x 12-ft white griff or provided by ambient light from an overhead light such as a balloon light. Similarly, the key lights might actually be large lights placed far from the action, often mounted in an aerial lift platform to light a larger area. In any case, the back cross-light is created with more or less the angle of light drawn here.
Once the master shot is completed, individual, over-the-shoulder (OTS) close-ups will be shot. Figure 5.8 shows the camera placements. Note that our key lights are already in good positions to light the faces. We might bring in a backlight to keep a rim on the non-key sides of the faces.
The discussion thus far has dealt with lighting a stationary group of actors and a stationary camera. Very few movies, however, are about people who never move. We apply the same basic mental process that we have been discussing to concoct a strategy for lighting a complex shot. When the actors move to multiple marks and the camera moves to view the scene from different angles the variables increase; however, we can usually break down the scene into a series of key positions. We can choose to light each of these key positions individually, or we can take a more general approach to the lighting, and employ larger key, fill, and backlight sources to illuminate a larger area. If a light that plays in one part of the scene is too much or too little for another part, perhaps it can be adjusted imperceptibly on a dimmer, or using a handheld net during the action. This is where the problem solving abilities of the DP, the gaffer, and the key grip
come to bear.
LIGHTING THE SPACE AND THE BACKGROUND
In addition to lighting the acting positions, we want to consider the lighting in the overall composition: the furniture and surfaces, the walls and architecture, the wall art and set dressing, and the exterior visible through windows buildings, trees, or backdrops. In a small set, the key lights may illuminate the set and very little further treatment may be needed. If you are trying to preserve nice contrast in the shot, it is often best to be selective when adding light to the background. Light tends to build up on backgrounds and can start to flatten everything out. The gaffer looks for ways to break up the background or create variation, gradation, or specific highlights. If a scene takes place in a set with lots of windows, it is natural to scrape a slash of sunlight across the far wall, and across the furnishings. Large Fresnels or PARs are commonly placed outside windows for this purpose. Alternatively, the light from the windows might be made to emulate soft skylight, using large diffusion frames or bounces. At night, window light might be amber sodium vapor streetlight, or blue moonlight.Another treatment of the background is to create pools of light throughout a set. The background may be lit with practicals. In a set with lots of desks or a restaurant full of tables, each table might get its own top light (from an ellipsoidal spotlight
hung overhead for example). If there is art on the walls, the gaffer might highlight each piece with a “special.” If the walls are painted a dark color, the gaffer might wash light either upward from the bottom or down from above to create pools or scallops of light.Ambience
Ambience is general fill throughout the set (as opposed to the fill specifically for the actors’ faces). All the light aimed into the set bounces around to some extent to create a level of ambient light. But sometimes the setting requires a higher, more even level of ambient light. This is commonly accomplished with overhead soft lights such as coops, space lights, or large fluorescent fixtures hung above set. For a living room set, one overhead fixture is more than enough; for larger sets, it is common to hang rows of spacelights. Any large public space, like a courtroom, corporate office, or a classroom might need to be treated in this way. Exterior portions of sets (that are built on a sound stage) often require a significant amount of ambient light to emulate skylight. Wherever it is used, it is important to be able to adjust the brightness of the ambient light, so these lights are typically controlled remotely either on dimmer, or by having separate control of the circuits each light fixture. On smaller sets, it may be helpful to fit the fixtures with lower wattage lamps (500 W instead of 1000 W, for example) to get an appropriate range of output for the small space. Ambiance for a small set can also be created using china balls or by simply bouncing light into the ceiling, or into a large frame of white griffolyn.Backdrops
A translight is essentially a gigantic photograph. On a sound stage, the scene outside the windows is very often a translight or scenic backing (painted backdrop). Day and night translights are commonly used depicting a backyard, the view from a high-rise office building, or what have you. The backing is usually backlit or frontlit with sky pans on 8-ft. centers. The main objective when lighting backings is to make the light even from one side to another. Backings are often hung from track, so the backing can be moved back and forth depending on the camera angle. The lights have to extend the length of the track. Often the gaffer will set some special lights on the backing to help bring it to life. For example, a night backing often shows buildings with lit windows. These can be made to look like an undulating television glow by isolating the window and hitting it with a blue-gelled light connected to a flicker generator. A translight that shows a body of water can be made to shimmer using rotating gobos or moving lights effects.