When director Rob Cohen asked me to collaborate on an HBO film called the The Rat Pack, I was excited and scared senseless at the same time. This was to be my first narrative work. Music videos and commercials had gotten me to this point, and it was a music video that attracted Rob to me.
We sat down after reading through the script several times, and he asked me what I thought the visual language of the film should be. My gut reaction was that their whole life was a stage performance and that they were movie stars when movie stars had clout. They were untouchable, not hounded by paparazzi or TMZ; they had elegance. Let’s shoot the film in a way that they will look and feel like they are always on stage, in a subtle way of course. Always the perfect back light, the perfect key light, etc.
I brought out books by Hurrell, who was an amazing movie star photographer who started back in the late 1920s. He used a high key where he spotted lights on the star’s faces and used overexposure. He also used this amazing process where when he printed his black and white poses, Hurrell would vibrate the printing paper, which was his style of diffusion. That vibration would soften his very harsh lighting, because there wasn’t any 216 or gridcloth. This process was brilliant. They looked so glamorous and stunning.
Our interpretation of this process was to use a brand of women’s stockings from Paris, along with overexposing the faces 2.5 stops to get this mood, feel and stylized look. The Fogal net was different than all the other stockings that we researched. There was not a pattern per se. It was more random, with these beautiful little black burs that were stitched into the stocking. This particular stocking glows highlights beautifully, pearls a woman’s face and softens the image slightly. Rob and I thought that would be perfect for this period film.
Let’s Get Techie about Stockings
The stocking goes onto the back element of your glass. You apply it with 3M snot tape, industry term for double stick ATG tape. 1/4″ or 1/2″ wide can be used. Basically, you strip the tape off and wrap it around the circumference of the rear element.
Once that is secure, you use only the leg portion of the stocking. Now this is where it gets really creative and magical. The diffused effect that you get depends on how much you stretch the stocking, aka net, across the element. You can get more of a diffused effect with a light stretch, or a less diffused look if you stretch it tighter.
On The Rat Pack, I had only one guy stretch my stockings. That sounds a little bizarre, but you want consistency. Once you see something you like, you go with it. The director and I loved what my 1st A.C. Gary Hatfield had done in the test. He called it a medium stretch.
You lose anywhere from 1/3 to a 1/2 stop with the net on. When you net longer lenses, you give them a tighter stretch because the longer lens compresses the pattern and increases the level of diffusion. This is why there are different levels of glass diffusion. On wide lenses, you shoot with a three, and on tight lenses, you shoot with a one. It is the same with stockings. We actually found a cheaper stocking that was good for going over 135mm. This looked great because it was thinner.
The Stockings Test
I wanted to show you some examples of the net on and then off on the C300 PL. Elite team member Derek Johnson will be heading this test up and take you through it.
For this test, we used the Canon C300 PL and two Zeiss Master Primes 25mm and 75mm. We used ATG or “Snot” tape and carefully (emphasis on carefully) placed it around the rear element of the lens. Then we did a tight stretch with the netting around the rear element and cut it into place. We setup a variety of sources: fluorescent, tungsten and halogen at varying wattages for a strong backlight to see how they reacted to the Netting behind the rear element. It created a dreamy glow around sources and very cool looking dichroic aberrations from pin point sources. Actress Jannese Davidson was our model to show how this technique creates a very pleasing look for females on camera.
The Rat Pack
Let’s go through a few scenes from The Rat Pack that really showcase the unique organic abilities of the Fogal net. I remember the glow that was created when I hit them on stage with the bright follow spots. Their tuxedo shirts exploded; their faces glowed; the lights in the background had a halo around them. It just looked sexy; they looked handsome; they looked like movie stars.
After the success of The Rat Pack, Rob Cohen got another film produced by Neil Moritz in Toronto called The Skulls. It was a thriller set at Yale University, behind the illustrious doors of the Skull and Bones secret society. Rob wanted the same look as Rat Pack. It was my first studio feature, and it was comforting to do something that I had already cracked because I knew there would be many more hurdles to jump. The added diffusion gave the film a very different look from all the other teen beat thrillers that had come out. It was so fun bringing this world to life — secret rooms, catacombs, power, intrigue and greed.
When Joshua Jackson’s friend, played by Hill Harper, is killed, the entire cast of characters attend the funeral. This was a monster to light. The ambient levels were constantly changing as the clouds moved across the sun. I brought in two LRX light trucks to blast sunlight through the golden stained glass windows at each end of the church, along with 15-18K’s to glow the windows on the left side. I loved the look of this cathedral. It was so majestic. Notice how their faces glow as the rich warm light hits their faces. I overexposed their faces 2.5 stops and also used a Tiffen Antique Suede number 3 filter to add that golden look.
What kind of stockings do you use?
What ways do you use diffusion?