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Lighting for a Sitcom

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William KampLighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 18, 2011 at 10:10:52 am

Hello lovely Cows. I have another question for those of you who have a much larger field vocabulary than me.

I am DP'ing a sitcom pilot very soon and would like to hear what some of the equipment I would need to properly rig this room WITHOUT screwing into the walls because my Producers dont want to pay for the insurance or just let me fix it with some simple mud and paint when the shoot was done.

Anyway, the layout of the room first



The cameras will be shooting the room from the bottom of the picture, with the windows at the back. The windows are large floor to ceiling windows with NEVER ANY DIRECT SUNLIGHT at the back of the camera. However, as you can see, I will be needing to backlight the talent, and without being able to screw some spuds into the wall, I'll need something more temporary.

So I was thinking (and i've seen and used these before, but NO idea what they are called) are those wooden 2x4 spreaders that act like a shower rod to span the upper right door enclave. Then using a large clamp like system with a pipe about the size of a grid pipe, to clamp around the large fireplace outcrop. Up there using zip lights to backlight.

For main flat lighting, using 2 30" jem balls (or if you have better suggestions) staged even with the cameras and put on a long boom near the ceiling of 20ft.

Finally, behind cam outside the windows (which I just noticed they arent in the picture. There are two windows at the bottom of the room about 6ft wide, 20ft tall), using a few more zip lights to blast through the windows and use as a good front light. And to fake a window, cover the door on the left with some temp curtains and a large 9 or 12 PAR Maxi Brute.

All lights would be corrected with CTB full to match the windows behind camera and then the BRUTE would be probably 1 1/2 CTB.

Let me know what you guys think.


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Bill DavisRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 7:34:28 am

Weird how the meaning of "DP" seams to have evolved.

One would have traditionally assumed that along the way from 2nd AC, to 1st AC to Operator then finally - after many, many years of dedicated practice and mastery - to DP you might have come across the knowledge to confront many of your questions.

But then, I'm just a "producer." And everyone understands that the term has actually come to mean "related to or sleeping with someone important in the cast or executive group."

SIGH.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 3:21:03 pm

But then what would be the point of having such forums, Bill? I think it's interesting to have someone post their specific challenges out there to the world no matter what level they are. That's why we are all here. As far as the DP terminology, I've struggled with that for years. Even though I've been lighting and shooting for over twenty years, I struggle to give myself the same title as say, a Volmos Zsigmond. But the reality is, like it or not, titles and positions these days are all over the place. Sounds like William (also a Bill?) is facing some kind of lighting challenge alone where he should have at least a crew of helpers - a key grip to worry about mounting the lights, and a gaffer to worry about what lights to mount, each with their own respective team members. But the truth is, some client has asked him to light this room - perhaps alone. And whether he calls himself a DP or videographer, he has a job to do. And it's up to us COW members to help him. So all of that being said, I have no idea how you should mount those back lights to the wall. Ask a grip! :)

Seriously, you might be more concerned with your client's claim of lack of insurance than anything. Mounting the lights to walls might be the way to go if you are using this room over and over again. Otherwise you can use well hidden c-stands. By the way, if you are "DPing" a pilot for a sitcom, why don't you have a crew? Is this a teaser thing where they are asking you to work for free to show a sizzle reel to try to get a pilot sold?

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 3:35:03 pm

Typo - I meant of course Vilmos Zsigmond. I don't know about his brother Volmos...

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:21:07 pm

First. I'm not entirely sure how to respond to Bill. I suppose that yes, you do become an "expert" in whatever field you are in after many many years of doing that particular position and positions relating to it within the department or field. However, I also subscribe to the view that experience does not breed talent, and talent is something that I do possess (I'll play the ego stroking game. Ha.) With these two views, I am aiming to gain experience for my talent by doing something I believe you too still do Bill, and that is asking questions to this very day... In the field and on forums such as this great one.

Now, maybe I am confused as to what a DP does. Both yours and Tom's have given me an identity crisis (Joke :D) Hahaha. Anyway, I have a crew, 3 cameramen, Key Grip, Lead Gaff.... But I am the DP, they are apart of my crew, shouldnt I first have an overall idea of how I'm going to light the room? Shouldnt I pick the equipment used? Isnt that why my title has "Director" in front of it and they are apart of "my" crew? Or Am I being too micromanaging and should only worry about general look and not fuddle with equipment? I thought a DP painted with light, picked the lights, gels, and a Gaffer just worried about actually putting up the lights. I thought the DP had to have an idea of whether or not he could even put lights in that location under the circumstances of the shoot?

Tom you are correct, this is a "free" set, sizzle reel, but I know that this set gets me my next job, and I am sinking some of my own money in this because, if nothing else, it is a reel builder where I dont have to pay any crew and I get to show my talents, so why not pay for some of the equipment I want to use?

Anyway I would appreciate your opinion on both you're views of a Cinematographer and how I should light this room.

Much Appreciated and Humbly Yours

Will

P.S. Tom, Did you work on Year of the Quarterback Kick-off special? I worked on there as an AC/Cam Op as well. You're name sounds familiar and I know we filmed Elway for the show.


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:26:22 pm

Yes, indeed I did DP the Elway section of that program. Which part did you work on? Small world!

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:36:47 pm

I worked on Mark Harmon, Snoop Dogg, the USC int and then the ESPN guys stationed here in LA. Did you watch the show? I thought it was pretty good!

Will


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:44:29 pm

Yes, I thought it was very interesting, and well done. I appreciated the challenged of keeping their look consistent with a variety of crews that must of worked on it.

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:42:51 pm

As far as the rest of your email, good for you for defending your position!

Yes, you are indeed a "Director of Photography" if you are in charge of the lighting and the crew. I think that Bill and I both were referring to the union title of "Director of Photography" - the one you acquire after climbing slowly up an apprenticeship ladder. This person would have ASC after his name (if he's from the U.S.).

But I think it's fair to call someone a "Director of Photography" if he or she is in charge of lighting and shooting a scene, or movie, or interview, or whatever.

To me it's much more accurate than "Videographer"- which not only implies a format, but suggests a wedding or event person (not that there is anything wrong with that!)

"Cameraman" is sexist I suppose. "Camera Person" is too politically correct. "Cinematographer" is okay, but suggests that one is shooting on film to me.

The one I hate the most is "Shooter" - which is often thrown around in the news world. First of all a shooter reminds me of someone atop a bell tower killing a bunch of people. I live too close to Columbine for that to be my title. I've also done work with heads of state, and at least one president. I don't want to even connect the word "shoot" with our work there. Not when I have to get screened by the secret service! Also, a "Shooter" to me implies one who uses a shotgun to "spray" his or her shots. I think of what we do as much more selective than that. If you go into shooting, even documentary shooting, with the idea that you are going to "spray" the room without any eye for what you want to shoot - just to fill tape or cards - then I guess you deserve to be called a "shooter."

Anyway, I'm on a rant now. I think I might suggest a column to Ron in the next issue of the COW magazine called "What's in a Name?"

Let me know if anyone has any other anecdotes to add to this, and I'll try to roll it into the column.

Sorry, William, I never really addressed the issues of the room you need to light!

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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Jerry JorgensonRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 4:36:40 pm

Lowel makes a range of portable lighting equipment that doesn't require permanent mounting. So do others, but the ones I've used are from Lowel.


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 6:32:21 pm

Jerry,

Lowel is a little weak for the necessities here. I always like the idea of being able to put Scrims or nets in front of lights to weaken them. Lowell's have an application, but I just dont think its here.

Maybe I am wrong, Ha, its happened before. What does everyone else think?


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 7:00:32 pm

I agree - you need higher quality lights than Lowels.

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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Charles SmithRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:44:04 pm

Gooolllleeee !!! Poor guy asks "what time is it?" and has to defend whether or not he is qualified to ask the question. Ouch!!

Anyways... yeah.. Lowells / Tota-Omni's are good for many things and if you're good at tweaking and supplementing with dimmers, gels, scrims and flags....you can get some good results. However I would also agree that you would be better served considering other options.

But more importantly, I'd look at things first from a show theme POV. As you probably know, most sit-coms have traditionally been shot before studio audience to provide feedback/energy to actors and 3 camera blocking developed by DesiLu ("I Love Lucy") has been the standard approach. With this practical approach, "High Key Lighting" has been the standard (wide spread of softlight, low contrast ratio...no more than 3-1 or 5-1 max.) So softboxes or frames with spun diffusion...or KinoFlo fluorescence heads....there's sooo many ways to go. I saw a low-budge indy set up where they hung Chinese lanterns suspended above set and had backlight redhead & pepperbox kickers for separation. I guess at the end of the day, what look are you going for and should you rent or buy or combo of both.
Taking a look at sit-coms today... everything from "How I Met Your Mother" to "Modern Family" (3-cam vs 1-cam/sorta) you'll see most of the lighting design is High-Key/Low Contrast-Even Spread. Hope I'm not being too obvious with all this but it's like asking about computers... some swear by Mac...others by HP or DIY-workstations... choose the tools that work best for you and ya can'ts go wrong.
My2Cents.
Chas


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Bill DavisRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 4:37:16 am

While I appreciate the outstanding Gomer Pyle impression in your post, I'm still not quite convinced that the wholesale devaluing of skills sweeping our industry isn't at least somewhat linked to the wholesale devaluing of how we allow language to be used to describe the people in it.

But I guess I'll get with the modern process and change my ways.

A Camera OP is anyone with a camera.
The guy who volunteers to bring the 50" 12 guage extension cord and a pair of Halogen shop lights to the set is now officially the Gaffer.
And from this point on, a DP is anyone who's in charge of lighting a video - which, I suppose means that if the Principal at the local grade school asks me to fiddle with the stage lights prior to this year's performance of Chicken Little - BINGO they are now and forever a DP!

BTW, I'm in NO WAY casting any aspersions on the OP.
He's precisely correct that unless you keep asking and keep learning you're dead in the water in this business.

I suppose I'm just tired of showing up on sets lately and learning that the people who are supposed to know how to do things have absolutely NO CLUE how to do them - beyond what they read that very afternoon in a newsgroup like this.

And it's not just in video. I'm seeing the SAME thing in all sorts of industries as business happily guts their staff of anyone who's been around long enought to acquire some actual knowledge, in favor of the CHEAPEST workers they can keep around.

I suppose we'll have to deal even MORE with this in the future, since those very organizations seem to enjoy passing out fancier and fancier titles, in lieu of actually paying people more money.

Sigh.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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Charles SmithRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 5:15:29 am

"While I appreciate the outstanding Gomer Pyle impression in your post, I'm still not quite convinced that the wholesale devaluing of skills sweeping our industry isn't at least somewhat linked to the wholesale devaluing of how we allow language to be used to describe the people in it."

SUH-PRIZE...SUH-PRIZE...SUH-PRIZE!!!

Bill...FWIW...(and it ain't worth much)... I didn't look into William Kamp's original post as deeply as you apparently did. I wasn't compelled to consider his qualifications or background, I only read a post requesting advice or opinions as to "lighting a sitcom set". And so I was a bit surprised at your response, somehow implying that as a "DP" he should know what to do already. You obviously take a lot of pride in your profession and I suppose the DP's you know and work with probably wouldn't have need for such a query. You're one lucky guy. :)

Too bad you didn't have any suggestions you've picked up along the way regarding "how to light a sitcom" so that Mr. Kamp (as well as the rest of us) could benefit from your experience.
Gooollllleeeee! That would've been sumptin' to write back home about. :)


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 6:38:23 am

Is this THE WILLIAM DAVIS from QuantumLeap Productions in Arizona?!?!?! I noticed you still havent upgraded from that Apple G3 and Final Cut 1.0. What sort of articles are you writing over there at VideoMaker Magazine? How to export XML's from FCP 7 compatible with FCP 1.0? Wait, you're explaining the razor tool arent you? The internet is better for your masturbatory rhetoric and you should continue to sit back in your ivory tower and revel in all the experience you are not willing to share with the less fortunate.

In other news... I would like to say I am sorry for my outburst of anger as I've never been so attacked for a simple question....

I hope that there are others out there that may have suggestions... my biggest question is still what are those spreaders called that aren't permanent. I've used them on sets, seen them in lighting breakdowns... but cannot remember their name! hahaha. Any help with all this would be appreciated.

Will


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:54:15 pm

Will, what you might be looking for is a "trombone". Here is the description from the Matthews catalog:

Trombones derive their name from the musical instrument, which also telescopes. Designed to hang on a set wall, the retaining arms adjust to their thickness for security. The arm has a 90-degree offset on it, and telescopes in two sections. A tennis ball slipped over the lowest vertical drop down prevents marring of the set wall. Available in a baby and junior versions.

The Matthews catalog is a great reference for obscure grip items such as "Bull Pricks" and "Butt Plugs" (note that these are different tools), as well as more common definitions. They have a "gripionary" here:http://www.msegrip.com/mse.php?show=griptionary&char=20

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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Thomas MillerRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 1:59:58 pm

Also, as the person who suggested and starting this forum with Ron, I don't want to see it turn into a pissing match between people. I think this ought to be a safe zone here - anyone can ask anything here without it making a statement on their background, experience, or industry cred. If one poses the question, then one obviously doesn't know the answer. Let's just try to answer it without questioning why the person is asking it. I'm guilty in this thread too. Here's a fact - no one knows everything. But together we know a lot more than we each do individually. And I think that's the spirit of the COW. (Fade in some sort of emotional music please.)

Tom Miller
Big Pictures Media
Denver, Colorado

http://www.BigPicturesMedia.com


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 3:36:46 pm

Thank you very much Tom. This is the sorta response I was looking for! I couldn't find it in a google search because I wasn't sure how to look.

Thanks so much.

If anyone else has suggestions, please, let me know.

Also I concur, that's all I was looking for from the beginning. I would like to repeal any disrespectful remarks.


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Charles SmithRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 6:52:40 pm

Well said Tom... couldn't agree more. That's what I like about CreativeCow forums... 99.999% of my experience here has been positive. I've been in "da biz" for 30+ years and I consider myself an old analog dog trying to learn new tricks. I've asked questions on CC that I should know the answers to but I have to admit, despite my experience...there's a lot I still don't know or have a tough time grasping... (and a lot I've forgotten too!). I'm always grateful when someone takes the time to address my posts to lend a hand in learning how to deal with stuff.

And I have to credit the generous spirit of CC members for some of my success in tackling issues. CreativeCow Forums ROCK!!

Thanks everyone!

Chas


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Bill DavisRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:26:04 pm

I am NOT interested in engaging in any form of escalation here, however, since these posts are permanent and indexed by Google, I do feel the need to set the public record straight.

NO, I've never been associated with any firm with the name Quantum, period.

YES, I was associated with Videomaker magazine some years ago. I spent 10 years there first as a general article writer and eventually Contributing Editor responsible for writing the Computer Editing column wherein I attempted to make complex editing and production concepts clear to a general video audience. I'm proud of that work.

As to FCP 1.1, MAYBE. I've owned and operated a FCP suite since April of 1999 - barely 2 months after the program debuted at NAB that year. So at one point, I surely worked with FCP 1.1. But I've grown a bit beyond that. So see my operation and work as it is today, feel free to view my business site at http://www.newvideoaz.com.

Thanks for the opportunity to set the public record straight.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:32:40 pm

I apologize for the mudslinging. I would aslo like to point out my rant was based on little information, and never intended as fact.

I'm sorry Bill.

I feel like we just left kindergarten and can go have recess now.

Best,

Will


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Bill DavisRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 8:12:07 pm

Accepted, appreciated, and happy (particularly after I've made so many, many mistakes in judgement in my own life that people have had to forgive and overlook) to be able to put the acrimony to rest.

Oh, and Manfrotto sells what you're looking for under the label of "autopole" (possibly hyphenated) but I doubt that they have units that span the distance you mentioned in your prior post - which is why I never mentioned them. That's a HUGE span for other than a fully supported TRUSS form.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Conner


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William KampRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 20, 2011 at 8:17:36 pm

Exactly the type of advice I was looking for.

Thank you.


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Charles SmithRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 21, 2011 at 8:20:29 pm

ShaZAAAM!! :)


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Mark SuszkoRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Jan 28, 2011 at 4:14:18 pm

I was also going to suggest Bogen's auto-poles, which can be extended with add-on inserts. The longer you make them, though, the less weight you should hang on them. Lowell fixtures, regardless of what some will say, are at least very light weight, so between Lowels and a bunch of heavier fresnels, you'd get more instruments up there for the same weight, with the Lowels. If you have a lot of lights to hang, you might need to run two parallel auto-poles to create enough truss space for the weight.


Tip about the auto-poles: You can make some extra safety supports out of 2x4 boards with a round or v-notch in them, gaff-taped to the walls, so the auto-pole can rest part of the weight on them. Use real gaffer tape and the wall paint should not get marked up. The bracing boards may need a cut-away at their bases to clear any cove moldings by the floor, allowing full-length contact with the wall. Now, this bracing will lose you the ability to shoot past 180 degrees without seeing a stand, but maybe you can plan around this with the DP so it wouldn't matter. You generally don't want to cross the line of action anyhow, so the braces may not even be a factor for shooting.

I have also seen auto-poles used this way in a too-wide room: set up two poles vertically, floor to ceiling, then hang a third autopole horizontally off them, making what looks like a capital "H" or old fashioned football goalposts. This gives you the overhead truss effect and keeps the amount of stand hardware on the floor down to those two slim poles, which you may be able to dolly around. And the truss section stays shorter and safer with more weight.


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Mike CohenRe: Lighting for a Sitcom
by on Feb 3, 2011 at 3:16:33 am

Bill (original Bill):

Is this an actual location? Sounds like it.

How high are the ceilings? Could you use chinese lanterns?
How many cameras are you shooting with?

How will you control the light from behind the camera as the time of day changes?

Given the shape of the room and the fact that you will lose some of the space with your crew and gear, I would suggest using Kino Flos as high up as you can get perhaps with eggcrate to further diffuse the light - make an arc around the camera - that should give you sitcom light without burning the place down with large tungsten softboxes.

As for backlights, you might use 1x1 Litepanels mounted from the ceiling - surely you could use a few screws into the joists..?? Other way to get small backlights is with pneumatic poles as you suggested, or Bogen mega booms on roller stands - you will need counterweights to offset the length - but extend the stands so the booms are hugging the ceiling. Sandbags galore all around.

Also when actors are facing the windows, watch that they are not squinting.

Can you post some pictures of the location?

Interesting topic.

Mike Cohen


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