This week I’ve been in St. Petersburg, Russia because this is the home of Rembrandt’s paiting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. We have been shooting a documentary about Henri Nouwen and his very interesting relationship with this painting. We were granted the rare opportunity to shoot the actual painting as it hangs in the Hermitage Museum. It’s really amazing to stand in front of it, even more so to work “with” it. As with many of my projects recently, we shot it with the Canon 5D Mark II. It was a very overcast day so we didn’t have much light coming from the windows, nor are the gallery lights very bright. We brought in a small light kit to supplement the exposure a little, but I found myself having to have to use a higher ISO than I wanted. At 1250 ISO, the images were a bit noisy, but not too bad. For some shots that didn’t require much movement, I went down to 640 ISO and dragged my shutter a bit down to 1/30th of a sec.
I’m currently in Philadelphia working on a documentary project where Rembrandt’s work holds an important role in the storyline. We thought it would be a good idea to move a little away from how we’ve been normally shooting talking-head interviews and try to go for a more… Rembrandt feel. Now, “Rembrandt lighting” is a pretty standard and classic lighting approach when it comes to lighting people but I tend to always light from the opposite side of the face that the camera is favoring. As I studied Rembrandt’s portraits more closely, I noticed that he almost always lights his subjects from the same side as the viewer (er… camera?). So it was a bit of a change for me, but that’s what is called for. I also tend to use a varying amount of back light or edge light on my interviews, but again, Rembrandt almost always has a lack of this. His backgrounds are also very often a nondescript texture rather than a specific location or domestic backdrop. His paintings tend to lean towards the warm side of the palette as well.
A couple of weeks ago I got to shoot a music video for a super talented up-and-coming artist, Nik Day. My friend, Tucker Dansie, directed. I had agreed (insisted) to shoot the video for him and then looked up Nik Day online and became an instant fan of his music. I became really excited to work with them on this project after that.
Last week I had an opportunity to shoot an infomercial for a good friend of mine who I’d never been able to collaborate with before until now. We were shooting some scenes in a domestic environment where the product could be used. About halfway through the first day of the shoot he said to me, “Does this whole thing look too… cinematic?” I retorted, “Is that a problem?” (playful sarcasm runs deeply in our relationship). I suppose I could’ve made it look like an infomercial, but where’s the fun in that? We decided to keep going with it.
This scene in New York Doll always gets one of the biggest laughs… and to think I almost missed it! Back in 2004, I was shooting the first documentary I had ever worked on called New York Doll. I did it as a favor for a colleague and friend, Greg Whiteley. Little did I know at the time that it was going to be a bit of a big deal. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check it out. It’s available on Netflix. So there is this scene in the movie where Arthur is getting ready for the concert at Royal Festival Hall in London. We see him previously talking about what he might wear to the show and then we see him emerge from the hotel lobby elevator with the above pictured “puffy shirt.” (I actually, only now, looked up a photo from the Seinfeld “puffy shirt” episode and never realized how close to the shirt this actually was.)
It’s always interesting to look at a photograph or a scene in a movie and then look beyond the frame that’s been given. What you see is usually surrounded by a bunch of junk—equipment needed to make the image look the way it does. Take a look at these two shots from today, followed by a corresponding image taken from my camera phone while I was shooting. Yeah, yeah, I know.
On the particular Red One camera that we are renting, there is a knob on the back that keeps falling off. About every other day, it unloosens itself and decides to play hide-and-go-seek with us like an ejected hard contact lens of old. “Where’s that knob now?” is the scene as one, two or even three of us at times crawl on the ground looking for the blasted knob. We usually find it pretty quickly, and thankfully. This time, I didn’t know it was missing until our key grip, Evan, called and told me he happened upon it while cleaning out the bed of his truck. It was amazing that he even noticed it drop as he shook out a furniture pad. Saturday was Evan’s last day on the shoot but he graciously volunteered to bring us the knob to tonight’s shoot. The awesome part is that we needed to rent some last-minute grip equipment anyway and he was able to bring it to us because he was already coming down to drop off the knob. It couldn’t have happened a better way! Thanks, Evan!
Saturday, we were shooting on a road out in the boonies that the producer found where we could shoot a scene that was a bit more complicated than any other scene in the movie. He told us that “nobody EVER comes out here.” Well, maybe on any day except this one. Hahaha. It still makes me laugh as I’m writing this. To his defense, there’s no way he could’ve known—at least in the timetable we had to find a location and shoot. So after finally finding the location, we did a quick scout of the road. Three or four trucks drove by in our two minutes out on the road. As the rest of the crew showed up, we figured all would be well—a couple of passers by we could deal with. While we’re setting up the camera rig on the pickup truck, a couple of random cars came by into the parking lot we had setup as base camp (it was an old military camp cemetery). Okay, no big deal. We think, “Nobody ever comes out here, huh?” Little chuckles.
On Thursday, our “day” started at 6pm and we ended up wrapping around 4:30am—not bad, actually, considering we couldn’t start shooting until 7:30 at our first location and we even had to do a company move at midnight. Regardless, after midnight, there was a lot of napping and yawning going on by the crew. Not by be, of course. Well, maybe a little bit of yawning. LOL Our first location was a bike shop. We got there at 6pm but couldn’t shoot until the store closed at 7:30. Even then, we couldn’t really shoot until the last customer left the store. In the meantime, we prepared for the first shot which was looking out the windows at the front entrance. Everything was fine; we had our 1200W HMI setup inside for fill through our 4×4 216 frame, the outside was perfectly overexposed and balanced well with our fill. Sunset was at 8:30 so we had until then to get the shot. So I thought. Then our light started going away… FAST. A huge dark cloud decided to roll through our sunlight. I told everyone we have to go NOW or else this is going to be a night scene. We …