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"First" film shot at night (not day for night)?

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doug eklund
"First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 20, 2011 at 7:20:58 pm

I would appreciate the earliest examples you all might know of where the cinematography is "true" night shooting, not artificially created? Thanks in advance.


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Tim Wilson
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:35:11 pm

I went to look this up, and just a few hours after this post, "first film shot at night" is already the #2 return at Google. Just a reminder for anyone who has any second thoughts about their posts being in the public domain, searchable forever.

Anyway, back to my digging....

No, wait, back to work! Well, we'll see....


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Scott Roberts
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 20, 2011 at 11:50:55 pm

I'm guessing they weren't the first (in fact I almost guarantee it), but unless I'm completely missing something, wasn't night-for-night shooting popularized (not invented) in the late 30s and 40s in the film noir genre. I mean I know I've seen/read about (back in film school) night-for-night shooting as being somewhat innovative in a bunch of noir pictures from that era. So if you dig around and read some articles on classic 40s noir, I'm sure some specific titles will show up, or get you in the ballpark.

But if you're talking before the 40s, as in 1910's kind of films, like who was the absolute first person to do it, I have no idea...!


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Mike Cohen
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:34:10 am

When I see questions like this, I feel like we are being asked to help someone with a school assignment. This seems to be the first and only post from this user.

That being said, what better way to find a difficult to find answer than by posting in a forum frequented by folks who know a lot about movies. Good job.

However we don't seem to have an answer yet!

The answer may lie in a book. I have a few lighting books at the office and will look.

Mike Cohen


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doug eklund
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 21, 2011 at 2:20:31 pm

Well, not exactly. I am a curator at the Metropolitan Museum helping a colleague who is doing a show of night photography...it's peripheral to what she is doing but I was curious as well. I should have added not to go looking, just if anyone knew anything off the top of their heads. Sorry for the confusion, and thanks very much.
Doug Eklund


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Mike Cohen
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 21, 2011 at 4:47:21 pm

Here is a nice article on the history of film lighting.

http://www.mole.com/aboutus/history/smpte/1967-07p671.html

And here is a timeline of significant events in film history. I would image night filming was tried early on.

http://www.filmsite.org/milestonespre1900s.html

The first night shoot I did was quite a learning experience. We were shooting at the Dean's house just off campus. Of course we had extension cords running into the house through open windows, with 4 Omni's, a few Totas and one big tungsten softlight going. We blew many fuses. Using a 3-tube Hitachi Z1C all the light in the world would not have helped. We still got a grainy picture. Day for night would have been better.

Mike Cohen


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Tim Wilson
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 21, 2011 at 5:35:45 pm

I especially like that SMPTE article, which illustrates the difficulty of this research, Doug. The vast majority of experimentation took place in studios, where it is easier to control all the variables. I would imagine that most of them took place in the day, using lights, and lack of lights, to simulate night indoors.

This is actually one of the most interesting questions I've come across in years, and is going to be one of the toughest to track down I think. Bonus points for me would be which movies were first to use available light for night shooting....and even natural light. I know that we're now at the point where digital film cameras can use the moon as enough light for a scene (rather than just a nature shot), but I still don't know the extent to which film emulsions are there.

I LOVE this question!!!

If nobody here knows the answer, and you find it elsewhere, please let us know!

Best,

Tim

Tim Wilson
Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine

My Blog: "Is this thing on? Oh it's on!"

Don't forget to rate your favorite posts!


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Adrian Jans
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 22, 2011 at 7:53:51 pm

I don't know how much of the film was shot at night, but I'm pretty sure the Stanley Kubrick film "Barry Lyndon" was shot primarily with natural lighting.


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Tim Wilson
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 22, 2011 at 8:10:19 pm

[Adrian Jans] ""Barry Lyndon" was shot primarily with natural lighting."

Not as much as you'd think, although even the conventional lighting was rigged to look as natural as possible - quite underlit in fact, in a beautiful way that others would later copy.

That said, there are some famous scenes that are definitely available light, including some marvelous stuff with candlelight, shot with lenses that Zeiss developed for NASA to use on the moon!



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Adrian Jans
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 22, 2011 at 8:48:47 pm

Well they certainly did an excellent job making the lighting look natural and seamless throughout, although I guess it explains why certain shots look so damn good despite presumed circumstances (but then again Kubrick was just a magician for making everything look beautiful).

I would love to know what shots were natural, available or studio lit; that probably isn't easy to come by info though.

I would also love to see the topic of this thread get picked apart thoroughly, seems like theres a lot of great stuff to learn here.


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doug eklund
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 22, 2011 at 10:20:04 pm

Thanks so much, all. I really appreciate it. Haven't read the links you all provided, but I am guessing too like someone above that early noir was probably the first time where you had people shooting outdoors at night (in the city) using available light


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Tim Wilson
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 23, 2011 at 2:21:54 am

Adrian, you're right about Kubrick on both counts. He was all about beautiful looks, but at least from Space Odyssey forward, it seems like he was explicitly pushing at least one boundary on every movie. There's no doubt that he wanted to go as far as he could with natural light on Barry Lyndon.

The thing is, though, we're generally talking about shooting without adding any lighting fixtures, but it's worth noting the difference between natural light and available light.

For example, noir is all about using shadows to paint a scene, which means that controlling light is of paramount importance. My own theory is that this is the LAST genre that would try to shoot outside using only available light. Those filmmakers needed control of every possible element...and frankly, as mostly B-movies, were shooting on small enough budgets that shooting outdoors was out of the question.

But if they did, they would definitely be taking advantage of streetlights, car lights, etc. Perfect example: Michael Mann's Miami Vice with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. I really, really like this movie, and the look is dynamite. Definitely shot making heavy use of available light, and while Mann chose digital cameras to push it as far as he could, he also embraced the noise and smushed (that's a word, right?) details from going juuuuust below the threshhold of the camera's sensor. I actually think it does a great job of mimmicking the eye in similar situations, but even where artificial, it's a wonderful part of the aesthetic. I think he gets this kind of thing right far more than Kubrick did...admittedly with a few more tools at his disposal, but still, I consistently prefer Mann's visual flair.

Natural light, nothing of the sort. Available light, yes yes yes.

Thinking about this some more, I came to another of the master visualists (that's a word, right?), Terence Malick. He went with ALL available light for The New World, and the vast majority of it was natural. Some remarkable stuff with fire, though, which very much fit the story of John Smith and the English settlers/invaders of the 17th century. Malick wrote it, too, as he did Thin Red Line (screenplay only) and Days of Heaven (story and screenplay). New World is some heartbreaking stuff: "I beg you, let not America go wrong in her first hour."

You'll get the point in the short version, but the long version is pretty remarkable.

Short:




Long:




Amazing.


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Mike Cohen
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 24, 2011 at 2:09:44 pm

[Tim Wilson] "Terence Malick"

I have an appreciation for Terrence Malick's work that equals Kubrick and classic Spielberg in my book. My wife begged me to delete "The New World" from our DVR after about a year. I must have watched it 20 times. And don't get me started on the Thin Red Line. His films are poetry come to life. If you don't want to be a filmmaker after watching one of his masterpieces then you may have an unknown medical condition.

His similarities to Kubrick include the use of strong cinematography to enhance the story, stark images and the fact that he has directed relatively few films over 30 years - but they are all good ones.

Check out the trailer for his next movie - looks like a keeper:







Mike Cohen


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Scott Sheriff
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Jan 23, 2011 at 4:32:25 am

So you have 'day for night', actually shooting at night with lights, and shooting with available light, or at least very minimal lighting.

For shooting with available light, it's probably going to be a B&W film that will be the first. They had to poor huge amounts of light on color sets. Most of the color stock was just too slow until the 60's-70's(?) to shoot usable available light night shots.

Probably not the first, but a notable milestone.
Back in the 80's it was a huge deal for Miami Vice to successfully pull off 'usable' available (street light) light night shots. Was a big deal in all the trade mags (Shoot, Post, etc) of the day as it really hadn't been done before. At least not the quantity and quality of footage they were putting out. Most prior night shots were either lit, or pushed hard and very grainy (or both) and didn't even come close to matching the rest of the footage, or have a natural light feel, so they were used sparingly.

Scott Sheriff
Director
SST Digital Media
http://www.sstdigitalmedia.com


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Noemi Figueroa
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Feb 11, 2011 at 8:51:08 pm

This might answer your question. I was reading Lillian Gish's autobiography titled "Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me" wherein she states that during filming of "The Birth of a Nation" the director D.W. Griffith filmed a battle scene into the night. Here is an excerpt: "When daylight disappeared, Mr. Griffith would order bonfires lit and film some amazing night scenes. Billy (his cameraman) was pessimistic about the results; he kept insisting they would be unsuccessful. But Mr. Griffith persisted. One big battle scene was filmed at night. The subtitle was to read 'It went on into the night.' Nothing like it had ever been seen before."


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Mike Cohen
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Feb 11, 2011 at 9:35:10 pm

While certainly not the first, the filming of American Graffiti in the early 70's had some serious night filming issues. Much of the material shot on the first try was pitch black once developed. Lucas hired Haskell Wexler as special consultant for the film in order to accomplish the night shots which were 99% of the movie.

Speaking of Wexler, there is an interesting doc about him made by his son, and a doc made by Wexler himself about reducing the length of shooting days during film productions. Somewhat unrelated but having to do with night.

Mike Cohen


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Scott Sheriff
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Feb 15, 2011 at 7:21:16 am

I think Noemi has got it with Birth of a Nation, but I agree with Mike that American Graffiti deserves mention.
Perhaps another might be Marty. I caught it the other day on TMC, and noticed a lot of available light shots.

Scott Sheriff
Director
http://www.sstdigitalmedia.com

I have a system, it has stuff in it, and stuff hooked to it. I have a camera, it can record stuff. I read the manuals, and know how to use this stuff and lots of other stuff too.
You should be suitably impressed...


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Tim Wilson
Re: "First" film shot at night (not day for night)?
on Feb 11, 2011 at 10:07:41 pm

[Noemi Figueroa] " I was reading Lillian Gish's autobiography titled "Movies, Mr. Griffith and Me" wherein she states that during filming of "The Birth of a Nation" the director D.W. Griffith filmed a battle scene into the night."

I believe we have a winner!

Given everything else he pioneered on that picture alone, I should have guessed it was Griffith. Lillian Gish most definitely counts as a reliable witness, too.

Great catch, Noemi. Thanks for passing this along!

Tim


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