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The Bad Son

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Tomorrow, I start shooting a movie called 'The Bad Son'. It's a supernatural thriller about a couple who lose their young son in a tragic accident, and then meet a mysterious stranger who tells them he can bring him back. We're shooting in and around LA, some days in downtown, some days on a movie ranch, and on locations in Glendale and Altadena. The director has asked me for a more stylized look than some of my recent work, with lots of haze and smoke, hot back lights and a strong color scheme. I'm excited to be doing something a little different, while at the same time integrating my own taste. We're shooting with a two camera Alexa package, Zeiss super speeds and Angenieux and Fuji zooms.


We have some great locations, which I am looking forward to lighting even though they present a lot of problems on the budget we have. We are also doing most of our effects practically instead of cgi, so I have a number of stunts and explosions in the schedule, as well as a good amount of green screen work.


Time (and production) allowing, I'll post some stills and some notes as we go.

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We've just completed out first week of shooting on 'The Bad Son'. We've been at an abandoned house in Altadena most of the week. The house is playing as a family home, where the main characters move to start new lives. The location was only locked two days before we started shooting, so I had very little time for planning, but as the house is unoccupied, it's very much a blank canvas for us to work with. The main problem for me was that we had a lot of night interiors which had to be shot during the day for schedule reason. We weren't able to tent the windows, only black them out, meaning I couldn't light through them.


The director had asked me to use a lot of atmosphere in the movie as a whole, and as I haven't really hazed a lot since shooting Blood River 7 years ago, I was happy to oblige. We started with some day interiors.







I had intended to light this scene with a 4kw HMI fresnel from outside the window, and a Joker 800 bounced from the ceiling for fill, but when I started to add the haze, it lowered the contrast enough that I felt I really didn't need the fill. Just before we started rolling, the sun came out, from exactly the same angle as my HMI, so we panned the fresnel off, and used the sun instead. I then added an M18 to rake the left side wall of the kitchen. The only fill I used on the entire scene was from a white bounce card to provide some uplight on our male lead's face in the tighter shot.


After the kitchen, we moved into the the living room for a scene where the father watches his son playing and starts to realize all is not well with the child.









I put an M18 through the main window of the room, which had sheers on it, and another M18 through the window of the front door, which opened into the lobby behind him in the first picture. I then softened the upper part of his key light with a 4x4 frame of opal. The fill on the camera right side of his face is just the bounce from where the key light was hitting a wall just out of frame. In the wide of the child, it's just one M18, diffused by the sheers on the window, and the haze. The two shot, which is in another room adjoining the front room, I had a 4kw HMI raking the back wall, and a kinoflo through a frame of 250 as his key.

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Towards the middle of the week, we got into our night interior scenes. I had the grips black out the windows with duvetyne and flags. It meant I couldn't light through the windows, but we didn't have the time or resources to tent them.


The director and I had discussed using frames within frames as a motif on this movie, so where we can we are shooting through doorways, or arches or windows. We'd also discussed colors, and so I had decided to use a strongly saturated blue/green as moonlight, as a more theatrical look than I would usually go for.




This was a scene where the couple discuss their new life together and the marital problems. I've started using Photoflex Starlites a lot for tungsten balanced scenes. They're quick and easy to set up, and the soft boxes give a lovely quality of light. There were two in this shot, one down low on a beaver board hidden behind the bed on camera left, and another back in the corner of the room camera right. Both were dimmed down to about 30%, to better match the practicals in the scene. The blue glow around the doorframe was from a 300w fresnel with double CTB and 1/4 plus green.




I was rating the Alexas at 400ISO, and lighting to around t2.8 to accommodate our B camera which is using a Fuji Cabrio zoom which only opens up t2.9.


We also had a night scene to shoot in the kitchen. I knew the angles we wanted would mean shooting towards the windows, and I was keen to get some light through them, even though we were shooting during the day. The scene was scheduled for the end of our day, by which time that side of the house was in shade. I had the grips put up a 12x12 solid about 6 feet back from the window, and then put an 8x8 solid flat above the window as an eyebrow, the idea being to cut down the ambient light getting into the room, and block the view through the windows. Between the two solids was just enough space to poke an M18.




The M18 had 1/4 plus green on it, and we were balanced for tungsten. We added a few practicals to lend a color contrast to green/blue moonlight.




When we came around to shoot closeups, I softened the light from the HMI with a 4x4 opal. In this shot there is some subtle fill from a small bounce card camera left.


Our last day took us to a new location, also in Altadena. This was the family's first home. It was mostly day scenes, but with another moonlit kitchen scene at the end of the day. I had planned to tent the window, but by the time we got to the scene it was actually dark, which made things much easier, as we'd also planned rain effects for this scene.




The room was lit with a Joker 800 with a Leko lens on it, and full CTB and 1/4 plus green. I was using the Leko rather than a fresnel because I wanted the water on the window to cast hard shadows on the actors faces. In the wide shot, the rain was created with my homemade rain bar, and wasn't actually hitting the window. When we came into closeups, the effects team had water running directly down the glass, giving a lovely shifting pattern on the actor's faces.




The effect barely shows in stills, but looks great when moving. The only other light in the room was from some LED strips which were under the cupboards. There were part of the house, and although they were on dimmers, they started to flicker noticeably when dimmed, so we left them on full, and taped N.6 gel over them. That left just enough level for a super subtle fill on the shadow side of faces. The jpeg compression on this still has crushed the blacks a little. There is a lot more detail in our footage.


Next week takes us onto a movie ranch in Santa Clarita for some big exterior action scenes, which will be quite a change of pace from these small intimate interiors we have been doing.

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Week 2. We started the week at Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita. The ranch is owned by Disney, and has been home to many movies over the years, as well as featuring in TV shows like Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy. We were using an exterior of one of the houses on it's suburban street back lot. We had a number of establishing shots to do, both day and night, and one big sequence which started in a moving car on the street and ended on the porch of the house. The first part of the scene, when the car was moving was to be shot with the car stationary, and green screen outside the windows. Later, when the car was supposed to be stopped we shot practically. The scene continued with our leads getting out of the car into the street, and then finally meeting a stranger on their own porch. This entire scene is supposed to take a matter of minutes, but we were scheduled to start shooting in mid afternoon, and I knew that that, combined with the geography of the backlot would mean that we would lose the sun well before we finished the scene. To complicate matters further, the scene was set in the rain, so we had rain towers and hoses to deal with as well.


My main concern was how the rain effects would look given that we were almost guaranteed to be shooting in bright sunshine. It was something I had raised in prep, but there was no way to schedule such a long sequence entirely at dusk, when I felt we could sell overcast a lot easier. The green screen portion was no problem, obviously. I put an 8x8 solid up over the car to block any direct sun, and then keyed with very soft sources. The rain effects were being done digitally for this part of the scene, so I had no problems with the solid blocking the rain..


When we came to shoot the car stationary, we managed to find a large patch of shade to put the car. We were only shooting close-ups through the side windows. In one shot, the background was in shade, in the other in sun, but both were mostly obscured by the rain effects. Then we came to getting the actors out into the street. This was a rare occasion where being behind schedule actually helped us out. By the time we got to this part of the sequence, the sun had gone behind a large hill near the lot, so we were now shooting in open shade. It was great for selling the rain effects, but it also meant it was a race against time to get the scene in the can before it got dark.


Camera wise, I had been white balancing at 4300k and underexposing by 1.5 stops to help sell a cold gloomy look.




Finally, we got to the last part of the sequence, on the porch.




By this point, the light was dropping fast, changing even during the takes.. by the time we came to the last setup, it was almost completely dark.






This shot of the stranger in the hat was from just before it got dark. The reverse angle, above, was lit. I bounced an M18 off an 8x8 griffolyn, and then broke it with another light diffusion, either Opal or 1/2 soft frost. I would have liked more time to get it right, but I think I can balance out the differences when we color time.


Our second day at Golden Oak was on their city street backlot. We were shooting an extremely heavy VFX sequence involving a lot of cgi elements. Day 3, this time at Balboa park in Encino was another VFX sequence. Both days were very tiring and frustrating. I always find it a grind to be setting up shots where at least 50% of the final shot isn't there.

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Day 4 took us to Concord college in North Hollywood. It's a medical college, which often doubles for real hospitals. We had one short day scene to shoot, and then a number of night scenes in the corridors. Knowing that most of our work was going to be in the corridors, I decided to use the existing lighting, which was fluorescent overhead fittings. They all had cool white tubes in them, and as we wanted the hospital to have a sinister feel to it, we left them uncorrected for a blue/green look. I had the grips skirt each fitting with 6" of duvetyne to keep the light off the walls and create pools of light. There were a few internal windows in the corridor, so I placed kinoflos with daylight tubes and 1/4 plus green on them as a soft side light.






Our last scene there was a short scene where the Stranger encounters another bereaved young couple. They are staring through a window into the neonatal unit, where their baby has just died. We wanted some of the scene to play in the reflections in the glass, but once we had shot the master, we decided to let the whole thing be in the reflections.






Day 5 took us to a gas station in Reseda for a night scene where the couple's car catches fire, and then explodes. Much of the scene will be filmed later, as there are practical fire effects and green screen elements to incorporate.


The gas station had a canopy over the pumps, and the forecourt was lit with large LED light panels. They looked cold, and slightly green. I gelled up a couple of daylight kinoflos with 1/4 CTO and 1/4 plus green and matched them by eye. I really liked the color of the LEDs on camera, and the toplight they provided, so I really only used the kinos as an edge, or to extend the overhead light into the car.






I was happy to use the practical lighting for most of the scene, but for the very end, after the explosion, we needed to add a fire gag, so I had a couple of 300w fresnels and 650w fresnels with full CTO and Full CTS on flicker boxes.




Anyway, apologies for the long post. Next week takes us into some huge interiors for the finale of the movie.


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Sadly no, David. It's intended to be a TV movie, so we're shooting ProRes 444 HD to avoid any downscaling issues. This also means it's most likely a 16:9 movie. The 2.40 crop is largely for my own enjoyment, although I do have a 1/4 offset frame guide on the Alexa which I keep in mind. We're hoping to convince the producers to let us crop to 2.40

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I like all the images, and the ones that I like the most are the last ones that you posted, especially the ones in the gas station.


They have that gritty and urban look that is so in fashion nowadays and the colours look fantastic too. I'm pretty sure that if you want to you can have a lot of fun when grading them!


The one in the car amazes me a lot because it is always very difficult to get that kind of penumbra on a face without super underexposing, at least it is for me.


Do you mind if I ask you what values are your faces at usually when looking through the false color?

And another question regarding the practicals, what kind of lamps is your gaffer using for them? It is always tricky to find the right one!


Thanks again! :)

Have a good day!

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The shot in the car was lit with a 4ft kinoflo with daylight tubes. It was partially corrected with 1/4 CTO and then I added 1/4 plus green to match the existing lighting on the forecourt. In the wider shots, where we were using just the overheads, I'd noticed that the top of the windshield was casting a soft shadow on their faces, so when we shot the close-ups, I used a meat-ax (a long, thin flag) to shade the top of their faces. There was another 2ft kino shining through the rear window, but the window tinting on the car was knocking 3 stops out of the level, so it was really just a dim glow.


I've no idea what values their faces were at. I don't use false color, and for this scene I was lighting by eye rather than using my meter. We were at a t2, 400ISO with an N.3 in the matte box. His face was probably around 1.5 stops under, and I have further darkened it in post.


We're just using regular tungsten lightbulbs for our practicals, but they are always on dimmers.

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Week 3. We started the week with a long dialogue scene in a diner in Sun Valley. Michael, the boy's father confronts a priest who has been tailing him, and learns the truth about his son. The director had asked me what I thought of using dutch angles for this scene. I told him I wasn't a big fan, but that we would come up with something better, and more subtle, to help convey the drama in the scene.






These two low angles, which tracked inwards through out the scene, helped lend a sense of strangeness to the scene without being as obvious as a dutched camera. Another angles on the scene, a profile two-shot inadvertently exposed the differences between our Zeiss Superspeeds and the modern Fuji Cabrio zoom. I used a 35mm super speed wide open to try to isolate the two characters in the booth. it worked but the wide open stop showed just how much sharper and more clinical the Fuji lens is.




You can also see how much cooler in the shadow areas the super speed is. To be fair, shooting them wide open exposes all of their flaws, and they are 30 year old lenses. I actually prefer this look to the sharp and clinical modern lenses, but it just wouldn't be fair to my 1st AC to shoot this whole movie at t1.3


Day 2 took us to the Park Plaza hotel in downtown LA. This is a disused hotel with a huge and very grand entrance lobby, ballrooms and a derelict underground swimming pool. We were using it for a number of different locations, mainly as the headquarters of a religious cult, the Discipula. We started in the lobby, for two scenes of characters entering the building.




The lobby had a huge glass window over the main door at one side, and a smaller window at the top of the long stairs on the other side. Overhead there were two large, ornate chandeliers. Knowing that i didn't have anything like enough time, manpower or lamps to light the lobby, I decided to simply backlight the characters as they walked through the room. We got lucky on the day, as it was overcast, and so I didn't have to contend with direct sunlight. I put an M18 up on our Avenger Supercrank so that we could get some good height on the lamp. Even though the lamp was fairly close to the windows, we still managed to get some lovely hard shadows on the floor. We were using haze, and this, combined with some kinos, provided all this fill I needed. In the back of the shot above, you can just barely see a water ripple effect that we created with a Jo-Leko and a couple of pans of water.


When we came to look up the stairs, I had another M18 raking through an ornate iron gate that stood at the top of the stairs. It was a totally unmotivated source of light, but it looked great, and in the context of the scenes coming, it was a suitably dramatic touch.





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After finishing in the lobby, we had scenes to shoot in one of the large ballrooms, which we had dressed as the office of the head of the cult




This was another space that I didn't really have the resources to light. It was on the second floor, with big windows along two sides which got the sun almost all day. Once again, we got lucky with the weather, and we had overcast skies. I was able to hide a couple of M18s and the Jo Leko behind the pillars in the room, which gave me some control and direction for the light. I was letting the light from the windows go cold and blue, and the augmenting the light from the chandeliers with my Starlite lamps on a menace arm, to create some color contrast, and to have some 'white' light for skin tones.






The last day at Park Plaza took us down into the the basement for a long fight scene. As the fight was mostly going to be performed by stuntmen, the director wanted to shoot very wide shots, where we could see all of the choreography. He specifically referenced Highlander's fight scenes. The basement was a huge area, lit only by a few mercury vapor overhead fittings.. In order to accommodate the wide shots and give the stuntmen as much of the room as possible, I decided to simply backlight them through the pillars. The moving camera meant that sometime my lamps would be in shot, but I felt that I could justify them as work lights if anyone asked. It was realism giving way to practical considerations. Plus, it looked good...






Week 4 takes us into night shoots for some exteriors in a cemetery, and a big scene in a cathedral that starts the movie.

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We didn't do an explosion gag, as we are going to blow the car up for real. When were at the gas station we shot VFX plates, which will later have the explosion composited into them as well as Green screen material with our actors.

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Week 4. Our final week took us into nights and to Lacy Street Studios, well known as the home of the TV show Cagney & Lacey, and the SAW movies. We had interior and exterior scenes to shoot, and were scheduled to shoot them simultaneously, with my B camera becoming a 2nd unit of sorts. Unfortunately there was no 2nd Unit DP, so I was left to light both the exterior alleyway scenes that we were shooting, at the same time as lighting the interior police station scenes. As the evening wore on, I was also trying to pre-light another scene, set in a seedy motel. Running between three different sets kept me very busy all the way up until lunch.


For the police station, I decided to go with a soft, top lit look, with lots of haze. The Police set at Lacy is vintage looking, with lots of brown and cream tones, so a soft light approach seemed right.






I hung a photoflex starlite with a large soft box over the desk in the office, and added a short duvetyne skirt to keep the light from spilling onto the walls. There were two other starlites with soft boxes lighting the rest of the set, and that was whole setup, except for a 300w fresnel through a frame that gave the detective an edge light as he came through the door to the office. Unfortunately, I don't have a good still of the wide shot which showed the whole room. This scenes was shot on the super speeds at t2, which really helped the retro look I wanted.


Once we were done in the police station, we moved upstairs into another standing set, a hotel hallway and room, where Michael investigates the Priest's lodgings. The hallway is kinda grungy, which was perfect for our needs, and has practical wall sconces built into it. Aside from wiring these to dimmers, I added a lamp outside a window at one end of the hallway, which had full CTB and 1/4 green on it. It was raking the wall by the door to the priest's room, and the rain effects on the window made lovely patterns on the wall




The hotel room was supposed to be very dark, so aside from placing a couple of practical lamps dimmed right down, I lit the room as if from neon and streetlights outside the windows, and let Michael be in silhouette for much of the scene.






As he investigated the room, using his iPhone flashlight, he lit himself with the bounce from the objects he looked at.



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Our last day of 'proper' photography (we had a final day of inserts, green screen and effects) took us to a large church on Wilshire Blvd, for an action scene which will open the movie. It was a huge space, but ended up being very easy to light. The Altar end of the church was lit with par cans which were patched into a dimmer rack that ran all the lighting in the church. I added some pars of my own through frames of 251 from a balcony which overlooked the base of the altar. We also had an M18 at the rear of the church for a strong, blue backlight from that direction.








I'd also had my gaffer place lamps outside on both sides of the church to add a glow to the stained glass windows. It was a mix of M18s and Arri X-Lights. In the end, the glass was too thick and too high up for our lamps to make much difference, but they did stop the windows from going completely dark. In retrospect, we could probably have shot these scenes during the day, when there was daylight to illuminate the windows, because even in full sun the interior of the church was very dark. Unfortunately the schedule would not have allowed it.

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