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Marcos Cooper

Hard Light, Women, And Brian DePalma

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How do you make women look beautiful with hard light in the Steve Burum/John Alonzo/Brian DePalma style? Watching movies like Scarface, the shadows are incredibly hard when they appear but the women look like goddesses. What technique is being used. 

DePalma.jpg.ca50f4a32d74d28b8792b797c9730305.jpg

On the Alec Baldwin podcast Brian DePalma was complaining that no one lights women properly and then he said this: 

"What I think is terrible now with all these streaming movies where they all shoot digitally where it's all with this bounced light and everybody looks like, excuse the expression, (a word that rhymes with quit), it's very dispiriting."

So I'm tossing all my silks and muslin and scrimmery but what do I do now? 

 

Edited by Marcos Cooper
taking out "poop"

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To begin with, hire extraordinarily beautiful people to be in front of the lens. Hire the best hair and makeup artists. Use softer lenses and lens diffusion filters as needed. 

Keep the key light high and frontal to emphasize the cheekbones, minimize the shape of the nose, and define the shape of the jaw. Fill the eyes as needed to add sparkle and fill in any under-eye shadows. Don’t use too much fill, or you’ll flatten out the contrast too much. 

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Also, lighting to a higher overall light level will help the subject’s eye pupils close down if you want to see more color in the iris. Just be careful not to use so much light that the actor is forced to squint, some actors with light eyes are very sensitive to this. Models on the other hand are usually used to it.

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The important thing is the angle of light, less about whether it is hard or soft -- the most common "glamour" angle is frontal just a bit higher than the lens / eyes so that there is a shadow under the nose and chin.  But if the face has baggy eyes then the light has to be lower.

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And if your cast doesn't have the microscopically flawless skin of Samantha Robinson?

She's only 28 now, that was four years ago, and even the standard, poorly-done Wikipedia headshot, with lots of frontal flash, is moderately flattering!

Samantha_Robinson_2019_by_Glenn_Francis.

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You'll be amazed by just how awfully you can light a truly beautiful woman and get away with it!

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When I filmed Beyonce .. (doc about Destinys Child last concert which was in Tokyo ).. they made me light her badly .. !!  totally flat and looked like crap .. after the 20 flunkies around the monitors had all put their 2 cents in and decided it looked great .. 

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3 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

When I filmed Beyonce .. (doc about Destinys Child last concert which was in Tokyo ).. they made me light her badly .. !!  totally flat and looked like crap .. after the 20 flunkies around the monitors had all put their 2 cents in and decided it looked great .. 

See, if you only shot on film with an old B&W video tap, no one would have bothered you until after the check cleared. 😁

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The practice of lighting Men and Women different in the same scene seems like a disservice to creating a full and realized world on screen, atleast in most cases. Of course there are commercial concerns and fashion/beauty work—But in a film, I think,  the idea is to create as immersive a world on screen as you can. The Hollywood glam style prioritizes making actors look beautiful above creating more realistic lighting (and don't forget this style is largely influenced by commercial means...IE actors are a commodity and the studios always wanted to make sure they looked their very best). I think the contemporary style is moving away from that for good reason.  Take a look at a Safdie's brothers movie for an example of this - Look at Robert Paterson in "Good Time" or for for an example from De Palmas period try a Cassavette's film. De Palma's quote seems a bit like a cranky old man...I wonder how he feels about Gordon Willis or Harris Savides who often put actors in what would be deemed less beautiful lighting. 

Hard frontal light is super flat....I mean it can look great at times, David Mullen's love witch work proves that. But theoretically it is lacking in contrast and depth since it creates a uniform tone over a majority of a face and it also less than realistic as very rarely in the world would lighting like that ever occur. 

This all said I think hard light is coming back in style already and its not just for reasons of beauty, it can look great. 

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Fantastic info. And thanks for sharing the shot from "The Love Witch." Beautiful work. 

Given that it was the 80s, what lighting instruments would they have used as key lights for their stars? (And what was used on "Love Witch"?)

A closeup of Michelle Pfeiffer, for instance. Would she be with something like a single fresnel? For reference, "Scarface" was shot on Eastman 250T 5293, according to IMDB.   

And can we assume that the makeup was chosen to eliminate shine? 

 

 

 

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Probably large tungsten fresnels, but David can tell you for sure.

Actually for beauty, a lot of times shine is added to skin makeup to get a moisturized look. You don’t want a dull matte pancake look, you want the skin to glow and look alive. It goes without saying that the subject needs to have great skin to pull it off. 

I shot one indie web series project where we had a very long layoff. After coming back to continue shooting, the main actress had major skin troubles after getting a bad spa treatment. We ended up using very matte makeup and lighting her very flatly to help as much as we could. I don’t think we were as successful as we would have liked, unfortunately. The series was all shot on practical locations in a doc style, so ‘the fix’ didn’t fit what we were doing at all. 

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Also, part of using a hard-ish key light is that you will get more specular reflection in the skin. That’s why lights like the Briese are so popular for fashion shooting.

These lights are like circular soft boxes, but they are intended to be used without the white diffusion in front. So you get a small hard source in the middle that is also spread out by the large silvered reflector material around it to wrap around the subject more than a pinpoint source would. K5600 make accessory attachments for their Joker lights called the Kurve which are similar to the Briese and cheaper.

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In contrast, here's a similar key light position on a different project, but with an ARRI Skypanel:

TOTS_012.thumb.jpg.8a611bc44ea1611bdf2215bd4d93a329.jpg

We put a softbox on to use the silver reflector material, but removed the front diffusion to try and get a similar feel to the Joker Kurve. You can see how much flatter the light feels. More natural looking, perhaps. But also less glamorous, in my opinion.

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1 hour ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Wait, hard frontal high-key glamour lighting on every woman's close-up isn't a realistic way to light movies? I had no idea!

Haha, I'm guessing this was directed toward my comment! 

I don't think the goal is always realism, but it is immersion in a  realized world. Hard frontal lighting brings attention to the fact you are watching a movie....sometimes that can be good or intentional of course. Again I think the Safdies are a good example, because things are often far from realistic, but they aren't going after conventional beauty standards either. 

Also you must agree that you can often make a more interesting picture from a purely aesthetic POV if you don't need to light a face flat and can add more shape/contrast. 

 

 

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Every picture has its own needs, and styles change over time as well.  If a movie becomes more engaging emotionally because of how a face is lit, then perhaps that sometimes outweighs other aesthetic concerns or the need to be visually interesting.  And if a face HAS to be flatly-lit for some other, more mundane, reason, then there are ways to add contrast in the frame around the face.

Sure, ideally every lighting decision would be based on story and aesthetic needs and visual design. But the reality is that sometimes an actor wants to be lit a certain way no matter what is happening in the space around them, and it actually throws off their performance if they perceive they are not being lit a certain way.

On the other hand, I would say that the lighting design of "The Love Witch" is very much about creating a "realized" (but not realistic) world -- and however nicely-lit "Uncut Gems" was, that's not the type of lighting that the director of "The Love Witch" wanted.

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57 minutes ago, David Mullen ASC said:

Every picture has its own needs, and styles change over time as well.  If a movie becomes more engaging emotionally because of how a face is lit, then perhaps that sometimes outweighs other aesthetic concerns or the need to be visually interesting.  And if a face HAS to be flatly-lit for some other, more mundane, reason, then there are ways to add contrast in the frame around the face.

Sure, ideally every lighting decision would be based on story and aesthetic needs and visual design. But the reality is that sometimes an actor wants to be lit a certain way no matter what is happening in the space around them, and it actually throws off their performance if they perceive they are not being lit a certain way.

On the other hand, I would say that the lighting design of "The Love Witch" is very much about creating a "realized" (but not realistic) world -- and however nicely-lit "Uncut Gems" was, that's not the type of lighting that the director of "The Love Witch" wanted.

It’s been interesting watching younger people on YouTube reacting to seeing older movies for the first time during this pandemic. It’s nice to see that films like ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘12 Angry Men’ with such a different photographic aesthetic to our modern tastes can still be just as emotionally engaging for them as they were for us. Audiences are more capable of seeing beyond their habituated experience than we realize sometimes. 

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11 hours ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

See, if you only shot on film with an old B&W video tap, no one would have bothered you until after the check cleared. 😁

haha ! nice one ..  I knew I should have gone with the Canon Scoopic.  

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Ironically in my lowly role of Videographer  Ive ended up having to "light " alot of really big movie stars and musicians, during their promotional tours / film releases, in Japan ..all  interviews of course .. and wow yes some of them have very detailed requirements , a whole bus load of flunkies  giving you monitor grief ..Ive been asked to do really nonsense  things , been jabbed in the ribs by a make up lady with a steel comb, when I disagreed with her saige advice ..  have been blamed for stars having bags under their eyes ! ..and many times I've moved a light about 3 cm,s back or forth .. or actually just pretended to move it, and all of a sudden "ok now it looks great.. thats so much better"..  from the massed lighting experts ,eating all the craft and getting chocolate on the monitors from their fat sticky fingers .. Glen Close was very picky .. holds up here own mirrors , but a nice lady ..  but if you ever get offered a Steven Seagal film...   just run away as fast as you can .. dont stop and dont look back ..

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14 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

Ironically in my lowly role of Videographer  Ive ended up having to "light " alot of really big movie stars and musicians, during their promotional tours / film releases, in Japan ..all  interviews of course .. and wow yes some of them have very detailed requirements , a whole bus load of flunkies  giving you monitor grief ..Ive been asked to do really nonsense  things , been jabbed in the ribs by a make up lady with a steel comb, when I disagreed with her saige advice ..  have been blamed for stars having bags under their eyes ! ..and many times I've moved a light about 3 cm,s back or forth .. or actually just pretended to move it, and all of a sudden "ok now it looks great.. thats so much better"..  from the massed lighting experts ,eating all the craft and getting chocolate on the monitors from their fat sticky fingers .. Glen Close was very picky .. holds up here own mirrors , but a nice lady ..  but if you ever get offered a Steven Seagal film...   just run away as fast as you can .. dont stop and dont look back ..

Back in the silent era, Marlene Dietrich insisted on having her own DP, William Daniels. Claudette Colbert only wanted to be shot from one side of her face. I'm sure some stars called their own lenses, filters, and key lights too. I guess everyone was a DP back then too!

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William Daniels was Garbo's DP... Dietrich had Lee Garmes (and Charles Lang on a few doing something similar), Pickford had Charles Rosher.

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And with the instagram era, people thinking they're the best DP of their own face has exploded exponentially.

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