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Flashlights 101

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Michael Neel
Flashlights 101
on Jun 16, 2008 at 7:08:19 pm

Hi everyone

I have a shoot in a few weeks where many scenes will be lit using only flashlights. I have never shot this way before, and I was wondering what models/brands/etc people could recommend.

We are shooting on 500ASA 16mm film, and since this is a horror film we can get by with minimal/harsh/high contrast lighting. In fact, if we do it right this kind of look could be scarier than blasting lights everywhere.

Any thoughts?


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Rick Wise
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 16, 2008 at 8:38:56 pm

Are you using Kodak 7218 or 7219, or a Fuji stock? The Kodak '19 will give you a little more reach into the shadows than the '18. I have not yet shot any 500 Fuji.

As for brands of flashlight, I can't help you. I'd suggest you get a few different ones to try out in the dark. Use your light meter and your eye to evaluate, if you can't shoot tests. A relatively recent option is LED flashlights. I suspect they are much closer to daylight than tungsten, which may make them too blue.

You don't mention whether or not you are shooting in exteriors or interiors. If the latter, you might want to add a hit of ambient light by bouncing one or more small units off the ceiling/foamcore/muslin, or, on the contrary, bouncing off of the floor. Other options include having hot windows/doorways etc. to justify a little ambient light and/or give a reference white. Don't want no ambient? Go for the gusto!

Let us know ho it turns out, preferably with a segment on the net or YouTube for us to see.



Rick Wise
director of photography
Oakland, CA
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Michael Neel
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 16, 2008 at 10:17:41 pm

Thanks for the advice, guys. We will be shooting on Kodak '18 or '19, we haven't picked one yet.

The scenes will be outdoors, in the woods. We thought about using some kind of backlight/moonlight but decided to embrace our limitations and have as much of the frame in blackness as possible. This is a horror movie, after all, and what could be hiding in the shadows can be the scariest thing in the film (plus good sound, of course).

I'm off to do some lighting tests! Thanks again for the help, this forum is great.




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john sharaf
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 16, 2008 at 9:28:17 pm

Michael,

The thing I would keep in mind is that the flashlight is one thing and that which it illuminates is another. This thinking might require special flashlights that are underpowered as you look into them and overpowered as they point away from the camera. In the movies they often create prop lights that do both these things.

JS



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Rick Wise
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 17, 2008 at 5:59:04 pm

A couple of more thoughts:

Kodak offers a free quarterly subscription to its movie rag, "In Camera". The April issue includes a DVD on Vision3 stock showing the distinct differences between 7218 and 7219, as well as 5218 and '19. The '19 has a pronounced deeper reach into the shadows, and also handles "overexposed" areas much better. I suggest you get a copy to see for yourself. You can sign up for a free subscription at: http://tinyurl.com/542h6a. They don't seem to have the DVD posted as a Flash movie. If you're in a hurry, maybe you can phone them up and request a copy pronto.

Fog/smoke. Fog/smoke is difficult to control, especially outdoors. But it might add quite a bit to your flashlights.

How will the film end up? Blown up to 35mm for theatrical distribution? On DVD? Will you have a DI? Whatever your final outcome, it would be wise to run a test all the way through the ENTIRE process to the end. Which means, make close contact with all post elements including labs, post houses, etc. If you are printing to 35mm, there are a couple of stock options, and your lab should be willing to print up some tests. If everything will be on DVD, the post house should likewise be willing to run a short test to demo your possibilities.

Rick Wise
director of photography
Oakland, CA
http://www.RickWiseDP.com
email: Rick@RickWiseDP.com


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Michael Neel
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 23, 2008 at 6:02:45 pm

Thanks a lot, Rick and Bill, for your thoughtful comments. I'll try to respond to all of them.

*We are definitely using 7219. You convinced me Rick

*We have thought about using smoke/fog (we have used it in other scenes, it is a horror film), but decided against it for power/time reasons (we will be in the woods and on a short schedule)

*The film will end up on DVD -- I mean, I guess we *could* have it shown theatrically but I think the odds of that are very small. We are targeting the DVD horror market, and almost all of those films only have a life on DVD. We aren't having a DI - we are editing in Final Cut Pro and I will be using their color correction filters. I've used them on a few feature documentaries so I'm pretty familiar with what we can do

*Thanks for the tip on the Coleman lantern, Bill. We have two in the script already, I might add another one. And thanks for your suggestion of adding frost, I hadn't thought of that.

*I'm not sure if I was as clear about the look of the film as I could have been. This is a short film, one story in a horror anthology (in the vein of Creepshow), and won't run more than 20 mins long. We have decided to embrace seeing almost nothing in our night-for-night, flashlight/lantern shoots -- keeping the shots wide and most of the frame engulfed in complete darkness. In these scenes, the characters are being hunted by a stealthy, primal killer, who uses the shadows to hide and stalk his prey. If we do it right, the audience will be looking in the shadows, waiting for him to attack. And of course we will let these scenes play out with minimal or no cuts, to let the tension build until the killer attacks.

Anyway, I really appreciate your responses, and I love this forum. Lots of great information and ideas.

Thanks
Michael





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Bill Davis
Re: Flashlights 101
on Jun 21, 2008 at 7:37:27 pm

Wow, you're brave.

This is going to be VERY difficult to pull off IMO.

First off, most flashlights put out a VERY uneven light. The typical flashlight reflector design puts out a center hot spot with voids nearby. An LED model might be better, but again, depending on the reflector design, you might have similar problems. You could diffuse the flashlight with some frost or tough spun, but then you'd get a GLOW, rather than a recognizable flashlight look.

But the pattern isn't the largest issue in my view. That's the ANGLE you could expect. Flashlights are handheld devices. So if you believe in naturally motivated lighting, virtually everything you shoot would naturally be UPLIT. That puts you in the realm of VERY unflattering light. Conan Obrien "In the year 5000" unflatering. Selling the idea that all your actors need to look ghastly through the whole piece is gonna be a little tough.

Then there's the issue of shape. Simply pointing a flashlight at a subject creates a very FLAT look. What gives characters and scenes dimension is modeling shape with the judicious addition of side or backlight to a key. A flashlight beam makes a VERY poor backlight since it's no where near broad enough to outline enough shape to separate anything more than a tight headshot out of the darkness. You typically need a broader source for that.

So solutions?

I'd do two things. First, I'd explore having your characters leave the flashlights behind and see if the script will support characters with those headband mounted camping lights. Right there you raise the light source to eye level and softening these with frost or something similar won't bother the audience since few people understand how the beam of these look. Right there your characters faces will look a WHOLE lot better.

Next, I'd try to motivate a Coleman style propane lantern into the scenes. Then work really hard with your blocking to keep it behind characters or settings such that it motivates a backlight.

That's where I"d start at least. As I said, you've set yourself a pretty tough task to make people look good and keep the scenes working if all you have are folks carrying flashlights around in the dark.

Some ideas to consider at least.






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Michael Neel
Re: Flashlights 101
on Sep 4, 2008 at 5:58:51 pm

Howdy!

A few of you wanted to know how this footage would turn out...well, we filmed it over a month ago and I have a clip. We cheated a bit in this sequence, as there is a Day for Nite shot to make this particular sequence work better out of context. In the actual film, this DFN clip is not there. Also, the entire sequence is much longer and more drawn out, with less edits, and we used only flashlights/lanterns (except for a few closeups, where we used 650s bounced off of a moving reflector board to create the illusion of lanterns).

Anyway, here is the clip:

Clip from Drive-In Horrorshow

And if you want to check out the trailer for the film, here it is:

Drive-In Horrorshow Trailer

Thanks again to everyone who responded! This is a great forum.

Michael



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