This short film rivals the viking short epic Ulfberht in budget. But a lot of that money was spent paying our pretty famous norwegian actors Krisoffer Joner and Vebjørn Enger so I had a loss less lighting equipment. It's also the first film I've made with the studet run production company "Prosjektor Filmproduksjon". I was gaffer on 3 out of 4 days of the production. The day I wasn't there I was gaffing for Helmet on a music video.
DoP: Ole Kollstrøm Heilevang, Director: Martin Adam, Producers: Arild Loar Glemminge & Vidar T. Aune, Makeup: Cathrine Aaser
A few thoughts on working with professional actors
I must say I was a bit intimidated before the shoot. What if Joner, who has been acting for most of his life, saw my rookie mistakes and called me out on it? Did he have a particular way he liked to be lit? I've heard some actresses have certain camera filters bound in their contracts. Well turns out there wasn't any problem at all! Once my initial starstruckness faded away after an hour on set, it became like any other shoot. I kept my distance from the actors like a gaffer should do and just did my job. Didn't ask if he had a favorite light as we were going for a realistic look anyway. Oh and one big difference, professional actors can get into a really intense mindset in less than 15 seconds, and it's amazingly impressive.
Day 1: The house
The film was shot on a Red Epic and some pretty beefy Zeiss Primes. The concept was for it to look very realistic and unlit, using mostly natural light, like many scandinavian dramas. The framing is also pretty off sometimes, but those are deliberate choices. We borrowed a crew member's house to shoot a flashbach sequence and some other shots for the film. Note: None of these screencaps are graded, unless stated otherwise. What looks good now will look really good once that's done. But it's nice to see what you get straight out of the camera too.
A big issue with this shot was that the sunlight was coming from the wrong direction. It came directly from camera right, and would move further towards the camera as the day progressed. I didn't have any HMI lights, but rather two 2Ks. So I put them to work. No use gelling them as they were too weak. But that was actually good as the indoor lights were very warm and setting the camera white balance between tungsten and daylight produced a pretty nice colour contrast between indoor light and morning sunlight.
To solve the sunlight problem I covered the windows with the one big flag I had and a big piece of molton held up by two C-stands. Then I set up my two diffusion frames and blasted the 2Ks through them. It was important to make sure that no sunlight got around the flags as it would make really weird light streaks inside. The diff frames also cought the natural ambient skylight and the mix of skylight and tungsten worked well. The lights were raised higher and titled downwards for the actual shot.
Setting up all this stuff quickly was only possible with the help from my two light assistants Kjetil Sole and Eivind Bjørnø. It's the first time I've used hand signals on set so I made some up and it worked great when we had to communicate through windows. Eivind also had a walkie talkie which helped a great deal.
Eivind spotting a 300W we used for the mother's hairlight. Since we wanted it to be subtle I think I ended up putting a piece of ND filter over it to bring it down. (Didn't have scrims) Also put some 1/2 diffusion on it (no idea what type). But didn't want it spilling over to anything else than her hair. Kristoffer Joner got natural hairlight from the practicals in the roof.
Day 2: The forest, Part one
This day started out quite boringly for a gaffer. Just actors running around the forest in natural light. Tried to sneak in a bounce or flag from time to time, but it didn't look consistent with the moving shots. In stead I enlisted myself as Kristoffer Joner's professional chair carrier, and spent the day laying cables all around the forest and testing the generator.
Our 5000W generator. Thanks to BAS Utleie for loaning it to us for free! Trying to figure out what line loss and power factor correction was, turned out to be quite the timesink in pre-production. It did however make me understand why our 2nd HMI wouldn't spark on "The One". Our staging area was pretty compact! I'm sure there are better ways to organise it, but at least I got to have the lighting equipment closest to set, and ready for use.
Below is my favorite shot from the entire film. Vebjørn Enger is a great actor and I think that ads a lot. When I was scrolling through the ungraded movie I noticed this and asked the DoP if we had just had natural light for this one? I was busy setting up the HMI moonlight or something when the shot was taken, although we had talked about adding an artificial rim or kick to him. Turns out the kicker isn't a weak sun, but rather a handheld Aputure 3200K-5600K battery powered LED-light set pretty warm back to the left. It's a very simple setup but I think it works really well.
Now I think it's important to show the bad shots as well as the good shots, because it's those I personally learn the most from. You know, mistakes. At one point we were losing sun, and I was thinking, maybe I can quickly add some sunset-sunlight to Joner's face with one of the LED-lights. Well I really don't like the result. The pic on the left is from a bit earlier in the day, but we did the same thing here. As you can see below I am holding a 1/2 diffusion frame to soften it out and make the light less obvious. But it still doesn't look good. It's flat, and it's boring, and it doesn't look like sunset through a forest. Now if it was the real sun it would have been flat from this angle too, but at least we would have had some more interesting shapes. If I were to do it again, I would have had a stand with some branches clamped on, to break up the light and give it more of a pattern. That way it would have looked more like the natural sunlight in the forest. But alas, as you can see from the background getting really dark, we were behind schedule. The yellow can be graded away easily if they decide they don't want it.
We had a pretty big problem at one point. We wanted Kristoffer Joner to look into the sunrise (actually sunset) for an emotional moment. Well with the camera in front of him, the lower the sun got, the bigger the camera-shadow on his body and eventually face! We should have anticipated this... But I got an idea. While DoP Ole switched lenses to be able to stand further away, I built a sun-blocker out of small branches we had cut earlier and gaffa-taped it together. Then I held this over DoP Ole's head, blocking his shadow and replacing it with a tree-branch-and-leaves shadow. Where there previously would have been a hard camera-shaped shadow, there was now a smooth transition from branch/leaves to full sunlight, covering the camera shadow. Sadly by the time the actors were brought in and we were ready to shoot the sun had already set behind the mountain.
Now from this point on it's impossible for me to show screenshots and setups without spoiling the movie. So the night shoot will have to wait until another post down the line.
Day 3: The Hospital
We started the day outside. There is limited sunlight in the norwegian fall so as soon as the sun rose we were getting ready to shoot. Now a big mistake was not deciding EXACTLY where the car would be in pre-prod. In the shot our lead actor is sitting in the car preparing himself before going to visit his son in the hospital. The car got moved around for like an hour at the start of the day before we started shooting. This made it pretty difficult to rig lighting. When the DoP and director had set the frame, the sun rose, and hit the actor right in the side of the face facing the camera in the flattest most amateur way possible. And just totally the wrong mood. This was one of the first shots in the film, it couldn't look like that!
In pre-prod we had decided to use the sunlight as the far side key on his face, possibly helping with a light if needed. Now obviously that wasn't going to work any more.
I had power laid out beforehand just in case, but I didn't know if the circuit could could handle adding the 2kW tungsten fresnel. So I plugged in the 4-bay daylight balanced kino-flo to be sure I didn't trip a breaker inside the hospital that we didn't have access to. Well as you can see the amount of light it gave is minimal. The kino is just out of frame to the right, on an arm behind the car, as close as I could get it. The sun is blasting the background. I put up a floppy flag behind the camera to block the sunlight hitting our actor. I don't know if it's the sun or the camera that moved, but you can see some sunlight sneaking in top right. The DoP thought it looked too dark inside, so I snuck in a LED-panel on a C-stand arm through the side window to lift the exposure on the side of his face facing us. Dimmed down a lot. You can see it in the hair.
For the scene below the framing really tells a lot of the story and I applaud DoP Ole here. I suggested we turn off the roof lights and let the doctor get a bit underexposed. We aren't supposed to be sympathising with him, but rather with the father. Now I really like lighting far side key, it just makes things look cinematic. So I jammed a double-diffused 300w fresnel to the right between them. It's a really small space but it worked out. It's supposed to be mimicing a wall light like the one I put on the right here:
I just turned the lamp depending on which way we were shooting. It's not perfectly consistent colour wise, but easy fix in grade. If there is one thing I would have done different it would have been putting up a net to decrease the exposure on the doctor's shoulder when he leans forward. It takes too much attention. Sadly I wasn't in the room to see it happen, and now that I think about it, I didn't have any nets. I guess a flag some distance away would have done the same job.
So for the last shot of this blog post I was allowed to add a bit of hairlight for a change! It's a dream sequence, so I've added a slight bloom effect in paint.NET for this one only. Aputure LED set to 3200K, and boomed from a C-stand with a C-stand arm over and behind Kristoffer Joner's back. For the key light the DoP and I just worked with what was in the room. I suggested Vebjørn Enger in the bed be lit brighter than Joner, almost angel-like. The sunlight coming in was hitting them both very harsly, so I put up the 1/2 diffusion frame. It was still harsh and burning out the pillow. So I did something I've never done before. I took a piece of diffusion gel, folded it in two, and taped it with paper-tape to the diffusion frame, right where the sun hitting Vebjørn was passing through. Then I added the flag to lower the exposure on Kristoffer Joner, and then black wrap on the LED-light to keep the spill off the back wall. This is probably my 2nd favorite shot in this film.
I'm a freelance gaffer. I also do basic grip work.