Welcome to our first Artist Spotlight of our Filmmakers Academy (formerly Inner Circle) Members! Our members are what make Filmmakers Academy the best filmmaking community YOU should be a part of, and we want to celebrate their stories with this Spotlight Series by sharing them with the world! Our members are so inspiring and I am in awe every day of how dedicated each member is to this craft, which only fuels the drive behind creating the best content from my decades of experience on set for Filmmakers Academy. Read on, be inspired, and join us on the inside so you can take your own work further. First up is Don McVey.
By Filmmakers Academy member: Don McVey
I was asked by Stada Media to DP a TV commercial for Blinds Direct. My first thoughts were that it would be relatively a straightforward thing to light. I’ve done a fair amount of work where I have to simulate natural lighting with a commercial look. However, I soon realized that this would be a bit tricky, as we were pointing straight into windows in almost every shot.
Here’s how the commercial turned out:
Normally, the best way to light a room is to come in through the windows. I still wanted to do this, but I was limited by the angle. I also had to be mindful that the product is on the actual window and would be going from closed to open in many shots. Initially, I planned on frosting all the windows, but this would be very time-consuming and after speaking with the director Danny Lacey, we agreed that it would be good to see outside.
I couldn’t recce beforehand as I was in London and the shoot was near Leeds. But Saxon Rix at Stada sent me some great recce photos and overhead of the property with window locations:
With this and Suncalc I was able to put together a rough plan of where I was going to fire through the main light (Arri M90). This plan actually ended up being very close to what we did on the day. Who needs recces! :)
We had a lot to get through, I was working with a new gaffer Finn Varney and the lighting budget was tight. So I wanted to keep every setup as simple as possible. So we ended up keeping the lighting lean:
- Arri M90
- Arri M18
- Arri Skypanel
- Cineo HS
- LiteMat 2
- Litemat 2L
My basic plan was a big soft key with the M90. Shafts or details with the M18. Skypanel, Cineo, and Panels in the room to key, fill, bring up room, etc. Just to get it out the way, I know many will be thinking I should have ND’ed or netted the windows on some of these to make lighting easier. We didn’t have the time, and probably not the money to ND. Netting them would have just presented more problems, hiding stands and looking straight into the nets. So those ideas went… out the window :D
I’m not a fan of High-Key lighting. It’s used a lot in certain types of commercials, and I find it usually produces a very flat, somewhat cheap look. It seems a throwback to crappy video cameras with low dynamic range but has clung on as a commercial style. Thankfully director Danny Lacey was in agreement with me and wanted to keep it looking natural. Of course, I was aware that it still had to have that commercial cleanness- and we needed to see the actual product!
We shot on the Arri Amira with Zeiss Superspeeds M2s.
The first thing we shot was our important end shot. It was a very overcast day, and even with the big windows of the Orangery, it was dull and dark in there. Luckily we brought our own little sun :)
We hit that in through some light diffusion, which backlit the blinds and filled the space. We then placed a Skypanel with a softbox screen right to edge her face and some neg fill (floppy flag) above her and down her back to darken the hair.
I really like lighting a kitchen – honest! You can get a really nice clean look, but you have to be careful of all that light bouncing around. Very easy for it to all just flatten out. The tricky thing with this shot was lighting 4 actors, trying to keep the light ‘downside’ and allowing for the blind to be opened.
To keep the outside M90 well and truly hidden, we hit it across the window and bounced it into a 6×6 ultrabounce. This did a nice broad stroke and brought the levels up on the sink area and Mum. Dad’s face was too dark as the light was being blocked by the blind and central column, so my gaffer Finn rigged a Litemat 2L across the top with a C Stand. Then we had a Skypanel with softbox and eggcrate as a backlight/key when Mum turns, and finished it off by hitting an M18 into the Orangery through some light haze.
This one ended up being quite tricky. The room was very dark, as it was overcast. We had to light the ‘Nana’ and the kids outside, without getting reflections. This is close to what we did with the M90 and M18, but we pulled the M90 back behind the kids so as not to sandwich them with light. This also came directly through the window and keyed the Nana.
You can see the shiny board with the M18 hitting into it, to rim light the kids. Skypanel behind going through the rear window. Inside the room, we did a similar trick with the Litemat 2L and backlit the Nana with a Litemat 2, which we flagged off the wall. We also brought the room light up just a little by bouncing the Cineo HS off the opposite wall.
Another tricky one, as we needed to make it look like nighttime, in the daytime. I decided to tent it. In hindsight, would I like to go back and perhaps try heavy ND and color correction on the windows, so that we can see some detail outside? Yes. Was it possible to try both methods on the day? No. So I went with tenting as a ‘safe’ option that I knew would work.
Skypanel (with snoot grid) was hitting straight in, as far back as we could get it, and dimmed right down. Basically, all it was doing was showing that light was coming from outside and that the blind was cutting that out. We then put the practical on a dimmer and pretended that was the source by booming in a LiteMat 2L. Another LiteMat provided a soft backlight on the Dad. Colour temp-wise, we had the camera at 3400K, Skypanel at 5500K with 1/4 CTO, the LM 2L at 3200K, and the LM 2 at 4300k (ish).
I wanted golden rays beaming in through the blinds, and ironically that’s exactly what we had when we came to shoot this scene. The sun was PERFECT. But heart-breakingly, it only stayed that way for 20 minutes. So by the time we were ready to turn over it was just smashing straight down the lens. So we found ourselves waiting on the sun to go behind the trees!
So a hard M90 became the sun, through a 1/2 CTS. We only just got the light high enough to go through a 3rd floor window! We hazed up the room to get that steamy vibe and hit it through. Job done :)
This was a morning shot, done in the early evening. The sun was now on the opposite side of the house and smashing into the trees outside. The room was in complete shadow. We had to really play with the angle of the M90 through the 6×6 grid to get it into the room and onto dad. We also did a soft rim light with a LiteMat 2.
Mum was still in complete shadow, and my plan was to bring the M18 in hard. But on the day, it was going to be a real challenge to get that angle working, plus I was more mindful of it than just smashing into dad. So in the end, we boomed over the LiteMat 2L, which I warmed up a tad. It’s worth mentioning at this point just how incredibly useful these ultra-lightweight LED mats are. In the past, this would have been something like a Diva, and there’s no way I could have double-armed it over as we did here!
Last scene of a very long day and thankfully it was an easy one. The office was tiny, so we pretty much had one choice of angle. We hit the M90 through the 6×6, which made it very film noir :) So to bring up Dad’s level, we put a Litemat 2 directly behind him, then bounced that off a polly board in front.
Overall, I’m very happy with what we got done in one day with a small crew. As always, there are things I’d like to go back and do a bit differently, but if there wasn’t, I’d be worried! The client was very happy and that’s about the best you can hope for really! Hopefully, this post has been useful to you if you are approaching a similar shoot.
Thank you to Don McVey and all of the members for making our filmmakers’ community a place of growth. If you’re not a member, I invite you to step inside the Filmmakers Academy and see what we can do for you.