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David Mullen ASC

"Hollywood Lighting" by Patrick Keating

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Kind of hard not to use language when writing a book...

 

No one will argue about that. But some will argue about how language is used when writing a book. So what is the value in saying that?

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"To be fair, when I read someone who I instinctively believe, say Tarkovsky (I don't read much), I read innocently, without any defences."

 

​It sounds as if you "instinctively" mistrust Keating because he is discussing something that you don't like or that doesn't interest you (Hollywood Lighting), as opposed to, say Tarkovsky, whom you "instinctively" read without defenses because you like his work.

 

​If you're not interested in a subject why would you want to read a book about it? And if you are interested in a subject, why judge the writing style and have defenses about it before you've even read it?

 

"the sense of skeptical wonder and mistrust about the use of language"

 

Skeptical wonder and mistrust??

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Hi Anna,

 

Boy, I go off and teach a class and all these conversations happen. i feel so left out.

 

To the point about Columbo and my judgement call about the lighting. When a character walks through a hallway and has three shadows, one on each wall and one on the floor, its really not very good lighting. I wasn't talking about darkness, but rather angle and texture of the lighting. The production company was moving fast and shooting on sets and locations. And here's the interesting part. Most of the time when they shot on location, the lighting was pretty good. It was when they were shooting on the sets that it was overlit. Which brings us back to what David was saying - that the producers were worried that it had to be extra bright to be able to be broadcast. I remember in the late 70s I lit something for TV and the engineer wanted the faces to all be at 80% on the waveform. That's where the face would read at high noon under direct sun outside. That isn't where the human face should read inside, even during the day. In the 90s engineers I worked with wanted the face to be in the 40-60% range. They had a better understanding of what is more realistic and logical. But they also were working with an end product that wasn't going to broadcast over the airwaves.

 

TV has come a long way in what has become acceptable and its tended to move more towards the realism and/or the glamour lighting of feature films. That's a good thing. Richard Walter, the head of the screenwriting program at UCLA's graduate school, said that when we write a movie we are asking people to give up two hours of their life - two hours they will never get back. We better give them something worth watching , something they can't get for free by just walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant. That's the power of the moving image - the ability to allow the viewer to experience something they very well might never experience in their limited lifespan. Monsters, criminals, exotic romances, action adventures and super heroes are all things most of us will most likely never experience - except through the movies. There is nothing wrong with striving to give them visuals that they can't easily get for free as well. Why do people go to art galleries?

Edited by David Landau

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.....

​It sounds as if you "instinctively" mistrust Keating because he is discussing something that you don't like or that doesn't interest you ....

 

​If you're not interested in a subject why would you want to read a book about it.....

 

Whether I am mistrustful or not is unimportant. If I am, it's not particularly of Keating. I haven't read him. Am I the only one with some restraint here?

 

I may mistrust the way writers use words, but this is not particular to Keating at all. Drop that.

 

The other thoughts are interesting. What is the subject, or rather, what might be the object of ones interest in a read? Keating's title, or how writers use words, frame concepts...Take a more expanded view, and the motivation for reading may be easier to find.

 

All humans have defensive filters against the incoming information. The fragility that one might expose to the impact of a great poem is protected when reading a text on film theory. Unless of course, the author is a great poet, or a great, poetic, visionary theorist.

 

EDIT: bad spelling

Edited by Gregg MacPherson

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@ David Landau:

 

I never noticed any triple shadows on the walls with Columbo! But then again, I'm not a DP; I watch actors, not walls. Which is why I still think it can be considered good lighting even with multiple shadows. Because if the atmosphere is right, if we can get into it visually, then no one (except a cinematographer) is going to notice things like double or triple shadows. (Besides which, there are situations in life where light is coming from several directions). But your points are well taken. The only reason I objected to your comments about the lighting in Columbo is because I've been studying that series lately, and I particularly noted that I liked the way the sets were dressed and I liked the lighting. I think that was a pretty excellent series. The best things about it were the acting and the writing, but it all an all-around good and professional series and I have a feeling that the way it was lit was purely intentional and not compromised because they couldn't do better.

 

I watch a lot of older cinema, so my eyes are adjusted to brighter lighting of faces. I prefer faces to glow and be brilliant in a comedy for instance, not so much in a more somber genre, but brighter in general than faces are lit today in movies and television. Again, "overlit" is a subjective thing. Almost all of the classic films had the faces really bright, even noir and gangster films. I like my own films lit like that. I would think of a face that looked normal and realistic to someone in the '90s or today as being underlit. In fact that's just about the time when I started to become disappointed with the ways movies look. But that's just me.

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"All humans have defensive filters against the incoming information."

 

Not me. I love to read and learn. And I would never judge something or be mistrustful of it unless I'd actually read it.

 

"I may mistrust the way writers use words..."

 

It's a book on lighting, not a piece of mind control or propaganda!

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@ Greg MacPherson:

 

Why are you so afraid of picking up a book and learning something?

 

You remind me of Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell: "Ignorance is like a delicate, exotic fruit. Pluck it, and the bloom is gone!"

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Plus, we were discussing an excellently researched, scholarly book. Why is this suddenly about whether or not you should read it and your mistrust of words? Ridiculous.

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The assumption that I am afraid to read the book is false. I think you know that already. So the the colorful illustration from Wild is not just an awkward reach. It's deliberately misleading. Goodby Anna.

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@ David Landau:

 

While I'm sure that most people today would agree with you that a show like Columbo was overlit, it might be a stretch to say that the people who shot it would have agreed that it was overlit. In fact probably the studio work was closer to how they wanted the show to look (as opposed to the location work) because they would have had much more control over the lighting in the studio. It was a different era in which people had different tastes and liked things brighter and more colorful than they do today. Most of our eyes have adjusted to darker sets and actors in the last couple of decades, so films and TV from past eras look too bright to us. Even light meters used to be calibrated differently. I had an old Nikon from the '60s and was taking slides with it that were coming out pretty bright. But then the light meter on the camera broke, and I started using my spot meter. Suddenly the photos were about 1 stop darker than the ones taken with the older light meter. I asked around and found out that they started adjusting light meters darker at some point. I preferred the brighter photos, so I adjusted accordingly. Now I try to overexpose everything on my sets by 1 stop to make up for the difference.

 

The other thing I want to mention in general is, artworks have their own intrinsic values. So when I watch a film, I never look at it thinking about how it could be better if it incorporated different technologies or aesthetics. I enjoy it for what it is, for what it's doing. For instance although theatrical lighting is my first love, I also love films that use only natural light, if the lighting is done well and if it's a good film. Some of my favorite films are Italian neorealist films for example, and I also like some modern festival films which use only available light. It would be terrible to impose one kind of lighting on every film. That's why sometimes I'm dismayed at value judgments about one kind of lighting being "better' than another type of lighting, especially if the lighting in both cases is done proficiently and with clear intent. Good lighting is lighting that is appropriate for a scene, a character, a certain moment in a certain script, that clarifies nature, or illuminates it or obscures it or beautifies it or leaves it neutral or attempts to produce emotions or thoughts or empty us out of them according to a specific intent. There is a strong tendency among today's filmmakers to frame the past through a contemporary viewpoint, through contemporary goals. But as Keating explains, the motivations and goals of the cinematographers who shot the classic films were different than the motivations of today. They had different parameters of what was acceptable, what was beautiful, than we do today. And within that system, there was a lot of diversity and innovation.

Edited by Anna Biller

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I just looked up Columbo on IMDB and it seems that some of the cinematographers who shot some of the earlier episodes were real heavyweights in Hollywood. One of them shot Miracle on 34th St., another The Blue Dahlia, another 2001 A Space Odyssey and Cabaret, and yet another Touch of Evil and Imitation of Life.

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Whoa! Russell Metty (who shot 5 episodes of Columbo plus Touch of Evil and Imitation of Life) also shot Douglas Sirk's other Technicolor films, Spartacus, Flower Drum Song, Dance Girl Dance, and Bringing up Baby! Amazing some of the talent that worked on these old TV shows!!

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