Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Tip #44: Use everyday props

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer)

Ambleton Delight is mostly contemporary so it is no surprise us recommending choosing a contemporary setting when it comes to thinking about costume and props!

1. Keep the story as contemporary as possible.
Obviously, if the budget is limited it's a lot easier to make it a modern story rather than a period drama.

2. Use what's available
In almost every case we were using real "live" locations and so used the props that were already there, such as working restaurants and kitchens. It is amazing how much this can bring to the production design.

3. Research
All of us in the production team, especially Sinéad who worked as the production designer, spent a lot of time researching to make the props and costumes as convincing as possible.

4. Ask for advise for accuracy
Our film did involve flashbacks taking place in 80's London and none of us in the production team were familiar with this setting. So we asked Ben Rhode, one of the writers who lived during this time period in London to help us to make wardrobe and props look as authentic as possible. Also on the very first day of principal photography, Ed, one of the restaurant managers helped me to present 'Ambleton Delight' in a realistic and good looking way as a restaurant would (refer to photo above left).

5. Be creative
There is a flashback scene where a person is carried on a stretcher in a hospital and a doctor and nurses are looking into the patient. First I thought, "At least a couple of uniforms and white gown, oh and we've got to hire a stretcher... how much is it going to be?" But Dan came up with this idea in which we only used white shirts, a mask and a borrowed supermarket trolley. We didn't have to spend any extra money!

6. Be organised
Ensure all important props are clearly marked in the script (production software such as Celtx can do this for you) and in the shooting schedule, so you don't have to hunt around for it on set! Then keep an inventory of props and a photographic record of how they were used on set in case of later continuity issues.

Above: Without-a-doubt the heaviest prop -the restaurant piano,
here being painfully gutted by Dan and Kieron

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

'Dark arts?': The Great DoP Debate

By Dan Parkes (Director)

'What debate?' you may ask. And I agree. There isn't one. In my opinion, No DoP (Director of Photography) = No film. However, when I released "Tip #42: Simple and effective lighting equipment" (http://bit.ly/bwtl2w) the number of hits on the blog skyrocketed. Not only that, but I suddenly started receiving increasingly unpleasant comments and e-mails including those recommending me to "keep it to yourself," saying that I think of myself as "God" and that I have been "disloyal," "unappreciative" and even 'abusive,' making a "huge public gaff," a "massive fool" with a "high bizarre value". Ultimately, it has been labeled the "Ambleton Delight Debacle" by none other than blogger Ben Blaine, called a "DP bashing" by others and a widespread call for me to delete the blog and publicly apologise.

So what was the source of all of this offence? Was it the 'magic' reference at the beginning? The blog was about only the kit (part two being about the techniques: http://bit.ly/ag5NKO) so was there something incorrect in the list? Well yes, I wrote "diffuse" instead of diffusion. And somebody pointed out I could have included "black foil, colour meters and light meters". But still not enough to justify the vitriol, surely?

Brilliant cinematographer Jack Cardiff

I was determined to track it down and found it led to a post on cinematography.com in which a certain Karel Bata created a thread entitled "Blog on why you don't always need a DP on a feature -Unbelievable". This had a link to tip #42, but no normal link -it had been cleverly renamed "NoDphere". The thread of course resoundly condemns the alleged 'no DP' blog and it is finally all dismissed as not even worthy of attention and goes on to discuss the more important issues of using the terms "camerawoman" and "cinematographer".

So was there really no DoP on the feature Ambleton Delight? Far from it! As the blog and elsewhere clearly states, we had a dedicated DoP for all the major scenes, with supplementary material being DPed by me with assistance from the camera team and assistant director -two of us are jobbing lighting cameraman, so this was never going to be a huge issue. I believe it is essential to 'paint with light' on a film -as a child the very first word I ever uttered was not "mummy" but according to my father I said 'light,' so it was clearly important from a young age! Not to mention the initials of my name happen to spell "D.P."...

British DP Roger Deakins

Is the fact that there was more than one DoP on the film the issue? A high level example of how this should not be an issue is the fact that Stephen Daldry's recent film "The Reader" had two DPs (Roger Deakins and Chris Menges) due to scheduling. Of course we are in no way comparing ourselves to such well respected professionals, but it shows that continuity can be maintained with more than one DP.

So may be the issue is that the director, in this case myself, was also DPing? Is this normal or evidence of an ego trip? Again, without ever wanting to compare myself to such luminaries of the film world but rather wanting to be inspired by them, here is a list of directors who have or continue to simultaneously direct and DP:
  • Steven Soderbergh (pseudonym Peter Andrews)
  • Peter Hyams
  • Robert Rodriguez
  • Doug Liman
  • David Lynch
  • Nicolas Roeg
  • Lars von Trier
  • Quentin Tarantino (in Death Proof)
  • Christopher Doyle (in A Way with Words)
  • Josef von Sternberg
  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder
  • Gaspar Noé
  • Ermanno Olmi
  • Mario Bava
  • Philippe Grandrieux
  • Shinya Tsukamoto
Director/Cinematographer Robert Rodriguez

Stanley Kubrick also, according to rumour, DPed his films, with the credited DP complaining he ended up just the gaffer. Other directors such as James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Steven Speilberg and John Cassavetes have also been known to camera operate. There is of course the issue of being distracted from their role as director. However, if this causes such an outcry, one wonders why the acting community is not more vociferous when directors also act in their films, as surely this is an equal if not worse crime. But few seem to criticise Clint Eastwood or Woody Allen for also acting in their films, attribute it to ego or feel that by doing so reduces their efficiency as a director. Why is DPing any different?

Director James Cameron with his 3D camera

My personal take on this is that I often end up lighting and camera operating on small interview and corporate shoots and I enjoy it immensely. However for a feature I would much rather have a dedicated DoP so I do not compromise what is expected of a director on set -especially when it comes to working with actors. I also believe other DPs are more likely to do a better job!

In the case of Ambleton Delight we had extensive rehearsals with the actors so there was not a huge amount of ground to cover on set. Also the scenes in which I was both director and DP were much smaller -often 'two-handers'. And in some cases the lighting design had already been previously set by the dedicated DoP and so was just a case of replicating it. And the final product speaks for itself. There is no obvious differences between shots lit by the dedicated DP and when I was DPing. I challenge anyone to be able to point it out.

DP Christopher Doyle

But to finish, here is a most interesting point: This was tip #42. Previously we have discussed location scouting, production design, script writing, catering and many other departments. Professionals in each respective area could well have taken equal offence because we did not have dedicated crew for the entire shoot or possibly overlooked some minor detail in their role. But we have only received support and encouragement. However, as soon as we list some lighting equipment and mention there was only a dedicated DoP for key scenes we are inundated with complaints. It makes you wonder if that 'magicians code' quip was somehow correct after all. Are DPs really the "luvvies" of the crew department, needing constant reassuring of their necessity on set and determined to keep their profession a 'dark art' to ensure this? I would never have thought so, but it seems such a shame that some are intent on giving that impression.

Some useful links:

Cinematography For Directors (book):
Great Director-DoP relationships:
Also: http://www.dailyfilmdose.com/2007/06/great-cinematographer-director.html
Casting cinematographers:
British DP Roger Deakins website forum:

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Tip #43: Simple and effective lighting techniques

By Dan Parkes (Director)

Film is all about 'painting with light', so understanding these simple starting tips can really help your film look great.

1. Key light. Your first objective is to establish where your key light is coming from. The key light is the brightest light source. Outdoors this would be the sun. Inside it might be a window, or a 'practical' such as a desk lamp or candle. Once you have established the source of the key light you will then likely have to create it or possibly increase it for effect. In some cases you can completely invent the source of the key light such as when filming on a set. But you have to remember for continuity where it is, especially when shooting reversals or different angles.

2. Ambient or fill light. Once you have your key light sorted the next step is to create ambient light. For example, for an interior of someone standing by a window, the key light would be the sunlight coming in through the window. But you will also need some interior light to illuminate the other side of the person. The trick is to keep this as reduced as possible so that it does not fight with the key light. Often bouncing it off white card or a reflector can ensure it is a more natural fill light.

3. Rim or back light. To help separate a subject from the background a good device is to use rim or back light which can be achieved by placing a light directly behind (but obviously concealed) the subject with the light towards the camera but directed onto the subject. The effect is a line of light around the profile of the person that separates them from the background.

Above: When the key light, ambient/fill light
and back light are combined it can create
what is known as a '3 point light setup' which is
ideal but not always practical for every scene.

4. Colour temperature. You will notice that your lights probably came with blue and orange plastic sheets or 'gels'. This is to change the colour temperature of the lights. Light from the sun is blue (5600K or "daylight") while light from a standard bulb is orange (3200K or "tungsten"). The Arri fresnels we used are tungsten lamps so if we wanted to use them to create sunlight coming through a window for example we would then put the blue plastic gel over them. If you have a light that is daylight-balanced then you may need to use the orange gel to create tungsten for interior lighting.

5. Diffusion. Most lights cast a harsh light or create harsh shadows but if you need to soften it, especially if the light is falling onto someone's face, then you can use diffusion paper that likely came with the lights if you hired them.

6. Practicals. You can use practicals such as wall lights and desk lamps to help light a scene and make it realistic. If you need them to cast more light then check what bulbs they use and their wattage and see if you can safely change them for something brighter.

7. Reflector/bounce can help if you find your are running out of lights or the light is too harsh.

Above: Lighting the restaurant pianist,
with lots of diffusion on the lamps.

8. ND -neutral density sheets are good for reducing light, and not necessarily always from an actual light source. For example, a common problem is that sunlight coming through a window is too bright and becomes blown out, reducing everything else inside into darkness if you try to compensate for it with the camera. A solution is to put an ND on the outside of the window that brings the light level down to balance better with your interior lighting, rather than trying to match the exterior light levels inside.

9. Don't overlight a scene. It is sometimes better to use shadows to your advantage and this often means the placing of one or two simple lights in the right place, rather than trying to light the whole area.

Any other tips and corrections etc feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Tip #42: Simple and effective lighting kit

By Dan Parkes (Director)

It sometimes seems the art of 'painting with light' requires membership of a secret circle in which few ever devulge their secrets. Or so I thought after working with several different Directors of Photography who seemed disinclined to describe in simple or practical terms how they light a scene. But I later discovered that it looks far more complex than it is. The actual lighting techniques are usually quite logical; what is often more complex is the different equipment and their various applications -and all important safety considerations!

Because we could not afford to have a DoP on set for the whole of production we only employed one for key shoot dates, and for other sections of the shoot, the assistant director, Kieron James, and myself lit everything ourselves. We were very surprised with how effective our lighting ended up becoming, and so in this and the next blog are some very basic tips we learned along the way.

Since we were using a 35mm adapter which looses at least a stop of light (a 'stop' measures the amount of light that can go through a lens -effectively the more glass the less light gets through), we knew from the outset that we needed a lot of light. So our basic lighting package that we hired from a local company consisted of one powerful light, an Arri 2K (2000w), and then a selection of smaller fresnels, 800w, 650w and 300w. We needed the 2K to light large areas, maybe the background, or to bounce off a ceiling to provide ambient light. And then the smaller lights were used to create mood and atmosphere.

The lights all came along with their relevant stands and leads of course, but make sure you also have gels, diffuse paper and croc clips. We also added a separate stand and reflector which could also double as a flag.

Here is a check list of equipment you may or not need, depending on the type of shoot, courtesy of Promotion Hire who provided our lighting equipment:

HMI light (powerful, high quality lights good
for exterior work, but require ballast)

Kinos or LED softlights (expensive but
good for creating soft bank of light)

2K light (a cheaper option for a
more powerful light)

1K light (also known as a "blonde")

800w light (also known as a "red head")

650w light

300w light

Dedo (smaller and more portable lights
-good for interviews but only 100-150w)

Softbox/Chimera (another more
expensive way of softening the light)


Gels (to correct lights depending
on whether you are filming inside or
outside or to create colour effects)

ND (Neutral density -good for blocking
sunlight coming in through windows)

Diffuse (to soften the lights
to avoid hard shadows)
Clips (to clip gels, diffuse etc to the lights)

Dimmer (to adjust a more powerful light
to a lower wattage -allows more control)

Flag (to block unwanted light
or create shadow)

Super clamp (for attaching
lights to wall fittings etc)

Gaffer tape

Sandbag (for top heavy lights to
ensure they don't tip over)


Extension cord

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Tip #41: Catering is a must!

By Itsuka Yamasaki (Producer)

Before we start, this blog is not to discuss whether you should feed your cast and crew or not. Personally, after not being fed on a couple of shoots I crewed, there is absolutely no way I don't provide food for our cast/crew!

Catering can be costly but you can bring the cost down with a little bit of hard work. For example:
  1. Have a very tight cast/crew on set. Remember another body on set is another person to feed.
  2. Prepare the food yourself (or ask a friend/family to kindly do it for you) rather than buying it.
  3. If possible (i.e. you have access to a kitchen/microwave), provide cooked food (such as stew) rather than sandwiches. Cooked food is more filling and works out cheaper if you organise your catering well enough. With Ambleton Delight we kept it to around 300 pounds for the entire film. Below is what we would have for a typical shoot.
  4. Plenty of water (a must!)
  5. Big bottles of Coca-cola (OK, it's a bit naughty but keeps you going)
  6. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate
  7. Fruit, mainly bananas and apples
  8. A big tin of chocolate (for a quick energy boost)
  9. A large cake (like fruits cake, chocolate cake, banana cake), cut into small pieces
  10. A big pot of stew or curry (I would cook it several hours before the shoot then brought the whole pot to the location)
  11. Rice or bread rolls
  12. Disposable dinnerware
Actress Samantha Bolter enjoying one of
Itsuka's famous stews on the set of Ambleton Delight.

It's important to remember that you are not placing a dinner party for guests, but you are providing fuel for your staff. It's also nice to ask cast/crew members if they have any food allergies and take that into consideration as much as possible.

Finally, a little cooking tip for preparing both meat and veggie stew: I would cook a whole lot of veggie stew first then take a portion aside for veggies, then add separately cooked meat to the meat pot. No hassle in catering for vegetarians.

It's always nice to eat together as a team as well. And trust me, after a decent meal, people are happy and work better!