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shooting in the dark for horror style

John Hale

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Hello everyone,

I'm shooting a horror feature soon and a lot of the scenes take place in an abandoned asylum that we will be creating with fake walls in a warehouse. In the script the asylum is underground in the basement of a building so technically the space should be pitch dark. In a couple scenes the actors drop or damage their flashlight leaving them in the dark. We want to see in the darkness around them as they move through the space...

So.. my basic approach was to rig some soft top lights through out the set (will be easy with our fake walls, we have 10 ft or more of space above the set in the warehouse we are shooting). daylight Kenos probably with some green and heavy diffusion at low output (maybe just a bulb or two) to give a basic cyan tinted non directional fill. Then I wanted to try using some tungsten lekos rigged up high replicated small hot shafts of sunlight when needed,

balance the camera to 3600K or so, throw in a bit of smoke and let the flashlights do the rest.

- Is this a good starting point?

- How underexposed should I lets the cool fill go? I'll be shooting on a C300 and using C-LOG for most DR.

- what are some good flashlights to get? maybe a lantern as well? would like to have different types as there will be 4 kids all holding flashlights they grabbed from home. I'd also like them to be cooler, which makes me think... The scene takes place in the late nineties, where most flashlights that you would see around the house and garage in that time tungsten/halogen style?

Thanks for the read any advice/comments would be appreciated

Edited by John Hale
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There are some very bright flashlights out there based on LEDs, but I don't think that'd sell in the 90s.

I'd get some long maglites, some of the big 12V battery flash lights, the usual.

You could even try to re-globe the flash lights with higher output lights and larger batteries, or run a cord up the actor's sleeve (maybe not best idea with kids). I'd talk to art and your gaffer and brainstorm some ideas.

I think the overall approach works well. I may want to middle road more, at say 4000K or 4500: but you can clean that up a lot in color correction to really finish off the look.


Also, rig up white cards all around, so as the kids swing their flash-lights they can get some bounce-back on them.


Another trick I did was to take small white cards and make a checkard board grid with 1" black tape, like a silver and gold lame bounce, for when the white cards (on the cinema2.5K camera) were too bright


Lanterns work as well. Those Coleman types go green-- but in a good way for a horror film.


You can also put peanut bulbs in them and run cord and then do wire removal (as done in Children of Men)

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Thanks Adrian for the response!


Love all your ideas especially the checkard bounce board as that was one of my concerns as well with too much bounce.


There's a bunch of scenes that take place in a long hallway in a basement that leads to an opening where the kids climb up a latter to get in and out of the basement. The idea is that the basement is hell or a demonic place with the outside being a warm heavenly place (if that makes sense...) so I was hoping to rig some tungsten lights to act as the warm sunlight shining into the hole to the basement as the kids climb down the ladder. I don't think it has to be a direct beam of light, more like soft ambient daylight. My big concern is output. To make the light feel like natural daylight it will have to be coming from a big source (maybe a big bounce or chimera) I'll be using f2.8 lenses on a c300 and know I can push the ISO as I don't mind a bit of noise for this style. What type of tungsten units and or rigs do you think will do the job of creating a bright warm sunlight effect thats close to blowing out.


My first thoughts were to rent a bunch of par cans (cause they are cheap) and just blast a 6 or 8 by unltra bounce hung abover the opening as high as possible so there's not too much fall off as the actors move up and down the ladder. budget is super tight so cheap tricks is the name of the game for this shoot :)


any thoughts?

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Pars work. Hell I have a few PAR 64 and 56s you can nab from me if you need 'em.

I would maybe, instead of using an UB, throw them through Lite Grid on an 8x8 so it's "soft" but still more direct than the soft ambiance in the basement. Also a bit of haze in the set will help sell the beam.

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