To be continued…

All right, sorry for our absence. Here’s the deal.

As we begin developing the expanded website, I had intended to keep this blog going. But that has turned out to be less than feasible. Liz is on set in Ohio. Our other contributors have day jobs. And I’m trying to start a couple different companies in addition to laying the foundations for NUAT.

Therefore, we’ll be putting this blog on hold. We won’t take the site down, but don’t expect any more updates on this site.

When we come back, the site is going to be insane, I promise you. All the content you see here will be on the new site but in a streamlined form, and there will be plenty of new material for you.

If you have anything specific you’d like to see on the new site, let us know! We’re still listening, so feel free to leave comments here, on our Facebook, or on Twitter.

Thanks for all your support in these early stages of “The NUAT Experiment.” We promise that when we come back, we’ll be able to serve you even better by providing the absolute best in online film reference and education.

But until then…


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Keeping It All Straight: The Script Supervisor

[Ah, finally a new topic! (Yes, I know my voice is beautiful, but you’ll enjoy this too.) Mackenzie Storhaug is going to be discussing the deceptively simple, and extremely demanding, role of Script Supervisor. Tidbit: Before the modern era of unnecessary political correctness, this job was often called “Script Girl.” So, why’d they change this title and not “Best Boy?” Hmm? I ask you this. –BB]

Greetings, Readers! My name is Mackenzie, and I’ll be working as the Script Supervisor, or “Scripty,” on the set of “Now Upon A Time”. While the title “Script Supervisor” may not be the most sought after, it is without a doubt one of the key positions on set, for it ultimately connects the director’s decisions on set to the Editors’ edit off set. In this blog entry, I will give you an overview of the tasks required of the Script Supervisor.

The Scripty can be found on set right in the middle of all the action. They are responsible for making sure the film can be cut together smoothly. To do this, they must be taking notes of director’s changes or ideas, notes from the director of photography about any mistakes or shot changes throughout the day, and sometimes even notes from the sound department such as “MOS” (Mute Out Sound) or telling if the sound in each shot was good or bad. Because the editor is most likely not on set, he or she needs detailed notes from what occurs on set so the edit can be cut together correctly and efficiently.

A Script Supervisor's Notes

The Scripty will draw and label verticle lines on each page of the script to tell the editor how much of the dialogue and action was covered in each camera angle. If the line is straight, that means all of the dialogue was covered. If the line is squiggly, then not all of the dialogue was covered. The Scripty may write notes on the script itself or write the notes in a box designated for action, duration, lens, etc. on a separate page.

The Scripty is also there for the actors. If an actor forgets a line, the scripty is there, ready to feed a line whenever needed.

In addition to noting department heads’ changes and mistakes, the Script Supervisor is also in charge of continuity. Continuity is consistency of a character’s action, the plot, and objects and places seen by the viewer. This also includes the type of lens being used for each shot and the duration of each shot. Since a script is rarely shot chronologically from beginning to end, it’s important to have continuity notes to look back on to see how a certain scene or character looked and moved. For example, if a character has a line, and then lifts his hand to scratch his face, the Scripty will note when the actor does that. For the next shot from a different angle, the Scripty will tell the actor when it was he lifted his hand so that it will match the timing of the last shot.


At the end of the shooting process, the Editor has two things: 1) a whole lot of footage, and 2) notes telling him or her exactly which shot contains what material and the quality of that material. Without these notes, not only would the Editor’s job be more time consuming, but he or she might end up with something the Director wasn’t wanting.

[The Scripty is also invaluable in making sure that everything that needs to be shot, actually gets shot. If she notices that a line of dialogue was only captured in one angle (or not at all), she’ll bring this to the director to make sure he doesn’t want more coverage. In other words: She’s a lifesaver.]

I hope this blog was helpful in giving you an overview look at the job of a Script Supervisor! Thanks for reading!


This week’s lesson:
The Scripty is responsible for making sure
what happens on set translates to the editing room.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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What do YOU think? (New Site)

As we develop our new website, we want it to be what YOU want it to be. And since we can’t read your minds (yes, it’s true), we need you to tell us what you want to see!

The new site is not going to be the linear blog that this…blog…has been. It’s going to be a portal. You’ll still be able to access all the blog entries we’ve already done but in a simpler way. You want to know about Cinematography? There will be an entire section devoted to the subject that you can visit instead of weeding through the seemingly endless feed on the home page of this blog (for which I apologize; haven’t been able to figure out how to clean that up).

But what else do you want to see? What features would benefit YOU most? We’ll be continuing the blog, like I said, but what else? Glossaries? Videos? Let us know!

Also, there are so many subjects and skills we need to learn as filmmakers that are NOT film related that I often find myself reeling as I realize any Communications or Business major would know this stuff, but I, who studied film, haven’t the slightest clue. So, what are those NON-filmmaking subjects would you like to learn more about in a filmmaking context?

Help us help you. We want this to be THE BEST site for independent film education, but we can’t do that without your help. So, tell us what you think! You can leave comments here on the site or on our Facebook or Twitter.

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Liz’s Cinematography 101: Measuring Light

Light must be measured.

Film can only handle a limited range of tones. Therefore we must have a way to measure the light so we know how it needs to be manipulated to get the desired results and fall within the parameters our film stock/sensor.

Incident Meter

An incident meter measures the light falling on the scene. The white plastic hemispherical dome serves to diffuse and average the light that is falling on it. It will provide a reasonable average of all the light sources falling on the subject.

Typically, you point the hemisphere directly at the lens from the subject’s position (some cinematographers say they aim the hemisphere always directly at the light from the subject’s position). Many prefer to shield the meter from the backlights. Because often the backlight is desired to be brighter than the key light, you want to prevent its value from being averaged. The reading that the meter reads out is the ‘averaged’ reading of all of the light sources falling on the subject (unless you have chosen to shield any sources, backlight, etc). This averaged reading will usually determine the aperture setting on the lens.

Another common use of the incident meter is to measure the output of individual light sources (key, fill, side lights, backlights) – in order to determine the lighting ratio.

In order for a meter to give you accurate results, you need to set it for the film speed (or ISO) and shutter speed that you are using. Then, the meter will read out the appropriate f/numbers. Some meters can also read out in footcandles. This is a great feature if you want to know the actual output of a light source (ie: 150fc). [A “footcandle” is the amount of light generated by a single candle at one foot away.]

Reflectance Meter

A reflectance meter measures the luminance of the subject – the light it is reflecting. Different objects will have different reflectivity. For example, you will notice a difference in your comfort when wearing a black t-shirt on a bright, sunny day versus wearing a white shirt. Objects that are black will absorb light…and with it, heat. Objects that are white will reflect more of the light that hits it instead of absorbing it. So, yes, wear lighter colored shirts on those hot, sunny days.

A spot meter is a specialized type of reflectance meter, the most common to be seen on set. This is because they have a smaller acceptance angle (5-10 degrees), and this will allow you to take more precise readings than a regular reflective meter.

Incident meters are pretty straight forward – they give absolute readings. Reflective meters give readings that require interpretation. Typically, you will not set your aperture according to the readout from the spot meter. It is reading reflectivity of an object, but you, the cinematographer, can decide how reflective you want that object to be by interpreting the reading and adjusting your settings accordingly. How does one go about interpreting this reading? Read on.

The Zone System

Reflectance meters are calibrated to give readouts (usually in f/numbers) that will render the subject as an 18% grey tone…aka “middle grey”. For example, say you aim a spot meter at a black backdrop and get a reading of f/5.6. If you set your aperture to f/5.6, then that black backdrop will be rendered as … 18% grey, middle grey, or “Zone V”. Sometimes you will want this effect, but what if you want black to be black? Examine the scale below – this is The Zone System:

The scale gets closer to black three steps – or STOPS – above Zone V. This means if we close down our aperture at least three stops, our black wall will now look black. So, our lens aperture should be set to f/16.

The Zone System is not only intended for black and white photography as the scale may make it appear. It is a way of thinking in tones. It takes practice to look at a colorful world and equate those with the tones on the scale. If you are an aspiring cinematographer, I would encourage you to practice this. Look at the scale again, it provides some common examples you can refer to. Learn to associate these subjects with their zone numbers.

By using this technique, you can control the tonality of your scene, and that is a very powerful tool! Someone told me that this is where you are ‘painting with light’. The incident meter gives you the information to make the broad strokes, and the spot meter gives you further information to make the fine lines.

Remember, everything a spot meter reads will render as grey! Incident meters give absolute readouts of the light falling on the subject.

There is much more to be said about this subject, so for a more in-depth explanation, I highly recommend Cinematography: Theory and Practice by Blaine Brown.

Waveform Monitor

I have heard it said that waveform monitors are the light meters of video. While this is accurate, it does not mean that the traditional light meter is not an effective tool in the video realm. There are certain applications where a waveform monitor will be more practical. One example, a live multi-camera situation.

I agree, it looks awful – so much so that you want to stop reading this – but don’t! Let’s simplify this:

The waveform monitor is an oscilloscope, aka: a device for viewing oscillations of electrical voltage or current. The vertical axis represents the voltage of the video signal. The higher the voltage, the brighter the picture. The horizontal axis represents a sort of timeline of the scene. As the video sensor keeps ‘scanning the scene’ the waveform monitor will update its values to reflect the brightness levels within that scene. It is essentially the same as having a series of spot meters scanning an entire scene and drawing those values on a graph.

The screen is divided into 140 IRE units (Institute of Radio Engineers). A video signal will fall within the range of 0 to 100 IRE units. 100 IRE represents pure white, and 7.5 IRE represents the minimum black level. If a signal exceeds 100 IRE, this means it is overloaded and it will be ‘blown out’. It is good practice to keep your brightest signals under 100 IRE.

If you are interested in unlocking more secrets of the mysterious waveform monitor, pick up a copy of Motion Picture and Video Lighting by Blaine Brown.

Both light meters and waveform monitors are useful tools in measuring light, and in understanding one you can more easily interpret the other.


Liz’s Lesson:
To effectively “paint with light,” you must
know exactly how much light to use.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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The Story X-Ray: Breaking down your favorite movies

As I [Ben] have said before, a Story or Screenplay is like a human body, and the Structure of that story is like the body’s Skeleton. But how do we examine the skeleton of a living person? We can’t see the bones themselves in a living person (hopefully), but there is technology to examine the skeleton indirectly: the X-Ray. By taking X-Ray pictures, we can examine the human skeleton, see how it works, and find the flaws.


A story is no different. To understand structure, we must examine structure. Why does this story work? Why doesn’t that one? It’s often hard to see the structure of a story on the surface (even though we certainly feel its presence), so how do we examine it? Through a simple technique: The Story Breakdown.

By going through your favorite movies or stories and breaking them down, beat for beat or scene for scene, you can see how those stories are structured, begin to understand them, and then apply them to your own work.

But what does a Story Breakdown look like? Here’s an example from one of the best movies from last year that also carries some similar subject matter to that of “NOW UPON A TIME.”

(and go see it for goodness sakes, sheesh!) 

  1. Prologue
    1. How I died
    2. The sun, flower
    3. Gothel finds flower
    4. Kingdom grows, King and Queen
    5. Queen sick, search begins
    6. Gothel’s song
    7. Flower found
    8. Queen healed, Rapunzel born
    9. Lantern
    10. Gothel clips hair, steals Rapunzel
    11. Tower, Rapunzel singing, can’t go outside
    12. Birthday lanterns
  2. Hide-N-Go-Seek with Pascal, no going outside (5:15)
  3. SONG: “When Will My Life Begin,” Boredom, Lights, Wish (6:00)
  4. Flynn stealing crown, escaping w/Brothers (8:22)
  5. Gothel arrives, Rapunzel sings, asks to see the lights, denied (9:28)
  6. SONG: “Mother Knows Best” World is scary, stay inside (12:55)
  7. Flynn finds wanted posters, Guards start chasing, betrays Brothers, steals Maximus, Max for crown, FALL, separate (15:45)
  8. Flynn finds tower, climbs (19:10)
  9. Rapunzel captures Flynn, he’s cute, struggles, hides him (19:35)
  10. “Person in my closet!” crown?
  11. Gothel arrives, Rapunzel tries asking again, “Ever!” shells/ploy, Gothel leaves (22:15)
  12. Gets Flynn out (24:40)
  13. Pascal wakes Flynn up, PROPOSITION, Deal (25:10)
  14. SONG: “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise)” Going outside (30:10)
  15. Conflicted – montage (32:05)
  16. Flynn trying reverse psychology, failing, Rabbit, Flynn’s idea (32:40)
  17. Max finds Wanted Poster, surprises Gothel, Gothel freaks (34:40)
  18. Gothel runs back, finds Tower empty, finds crown/poster, takes knife (35:30)
  19. Arriving at the Snuggly Duckling, THUGS!, grabbing Flynn, “Dream?” (36:52)
  20. SONG: “I’ve Got A Dream” Softies, Gothel finds them (39:15)
  21. Guards arrive, Thugs help escape, Max finds passage, Brothers escape, Gothel learns (42:30)
  22. Flynn / Rapunzel “No backstory” CHASE, FIGHT, FLOOD (44:30)
  23. CAVE, confessions, Rapunzel sings, escape (48:00)
  24. “We’re alive!” “It doesn’t just glow.” (50:27)
  25. Brothers alive, Gothel’s proposition (50:55)
  26. Rapunzel sings, heals Flynn’s hand, Backstories (52:15)
  27. Gothel arrives, challenges Rapunzel – SONG: “Mother Knows Best (Reprise)” crown (56:15)
  28. Rapunzel hides crown from Flynn, Gothel tells Brothers to wait (58:30)
  29. Max wakes them up, Rapunzel convinces him to not arrest Flynn (59:18)
  30. Entering City Montage – Braids, DANCE, Attraction, Portrait, Sun (1:01:30)
  31. Boat for best view, end of dream? (1:04:15)
  32. King & Queen cry, light first lantern, LANTERNS! (1:05:40)
  33. SONG: “I See The Light” Rapunzel gives Flynn crown, Almost kiss, Brothers (1:07:05)
  34. Flynn goes to give crown to Bros, captured, Brothers chase Rap, Gothel saves her (1:10:55)
  35. Flynn grabbed by guards, Max figures it out (1:14:35)
  36. Flynn taken from cell (1:14:50)
  37. Rapunzel sad in tower, Sun EVERYWHERE!, Flashback (1:15:15)
  38. Flynn gets story from Brothers (1:17:15)
  39. “I’m the lost Princess!” “All you!” “I’m the bad guy.” (1:17:40)
  40. Flynn freed by Thugs, escapes w/Max, to Tower! (1:19:25)
  41. Flynn arrives at Tower, hair (1:21:50)
  42. Flynn stabbed, Pascal kicked, “Never stop fighting!” “Let me save him” (1:22:15)
  43. Flynn cuts hair, Gothel dies, Flynn dies, Rapunzel cries, Flynn lives (1:23:40)
  44. Reunited with Family (1:28:15)
  45. Epilogue: “Dreams came true all over the place.” (1:29:35)
  46. CREDITS (1:31:20)

As you can see, by breaking down the story, in this case beat for beat, we can see exactly what happens when in the story and how much time is spent on each beat. This is important for pacing. And like I said, this is a beat for beat breakdown rather than a scene for scene breakdown. In animation, the scenes are often longer and squeezed for every last drop of story they can manage, which means you get more beats per scene (as in beats 26-28, which are all one scene), OR you get several very short scenes for one beat (as in beat 17, which is actually several short scenes put together to service one story beat, otherwise known as a sequence).

You can also do a scene for scene breakdown as in this case from the greatest American romantic comedy ever made (no arguments).

(and if you haven’t, for shame!)

  1. Credits: CHICAGO!
  2. Flashback: “With my dad,” “First time,” “Will speak” (2:21)
  3. Pulling tree up, slip (4:28)
  4. Gift to Landlord, Joe Jr. (This is my fam / prospects) (4:55)
  5. Hot dog, unknown usual, Boss asks her to work Christmas, no family (6:05)
  6. Decorating tree alone (7:25)
  7. Christmas working, Peter says “hi”, mugged, TRACKS! (8:00)
  8. Hospital: “Family only”, Misunderstanding “Going to marry him” (10:05)
  9. Shone to room, FAMILY!, FIANCE!? (10:40)
  10. Clarifies to Nurse, “Saved the whole family” (13:30)
  11. Waiting room, “How you met,” Other girl? (14:25)
  12. Joe Jr. asks Lucy out (16:00)
  13. Can’t sleep / To the hospital… (16:16)
  14. Confessions, “Confusing a man in a coma,” Saul hears (16:55)
  15. Waking up in Hospital, invited to Christmas, “You haven’t met Jack!” (20:35)    –ACT II
  16. “Husband’s things,” Basketball accident teased (22:11)
  17. Boss’s advice: go along with it, “Just mustard!” (22:59)
  18. TV dinner w/cat, business card (23:40)
  19. Arrives at Callahans’, bonding with Saul, “Part of the family”, invited in (24:13)
  20. Photo album, invited into family photo (27:13)
  21. Christmas with “family” (27:40)
  22. Ashley’s first message: “Will marry you.” (29:12)
  23. Jack pulls up (29:33)
  24. Jack sneaks in, caught by Mary, “Who’s Lucy?” (29:46)
  25. Bike crash (30:39)
  26. Lucy tries to sneak out, caught by Jack, “Welcome to the family” (30:51)
  27. Mass: Jack’s doubts, work frustration (32:01)
  28. Lucy goes through Peter’s stuff, finds cat food, panics (33:24)
  29. Lucy sneaks past Joe Jr., Jack pulls up, “Know her? I’m dating her.” (34:00)
  30. Lucy sneaks past doorman (35:00)
  31. Lucy enters Peter’s apartment, looks for cat, hurts Jack, “No cat,” Cat!, Hospital calls (35:10)
  32. “Peter’s car?” (37:49)
  33. Giving blood, Jack’s interrogation (38:13)
  34. Jack tests Lucy, “Prove it,” “One testicle” basketball story (38:47)
  35. “More room in his jocky shorts.” (41:03)
  36. Lucy gets home, Joe Jr. confronts Lucy, hide Joe Jr., Saul enters/leaves, Jack comes, both leave (41:21)
  37. Arriving at Peter’s, “Parked too close,” Rocking chair, love seat, Jack can’t quit job (44:41)
  38. Confronted by Doorman, who is she?, fiance, “She’s scary” (46:12)
  39. Forcing love seat into Peter’s apartment, carpet! (47:05)
  40. Truck blocked in!, “Walk you home” (47:58)
  41. Getting to know you: Passport, Dad (48:41)
  42. Ice, near kiss, SLIP!, “Wait till you get inside” (50:58)
  43. Joe Jr. “Me or him!” (53:16)
  44. Lucy watches Jack walk away (53:30)                  –MIDPOINT
  45. “Affair!”, Boss’s advice: “Pull the plug.” (53:52)
  46. Poker w/Peter, Jack likes Lucy (54:43)
  47. Dinner w/ “family,” Find a girl for Jack?, Types (56:13)
  48. Lucy leaving, w/Jack under mistletoe, Kiss, Jack watches her go (57:31)
  49. Mary & Beth visit Lucy, Celeste learns, Pregnancy misunderstanding (58:12)
  50. Ashley’s second message: Haven’t heard, want to see cat (59:21)
  51. New Year’s Eve, Mary: “Lucy’s pregnant!”, Jack leaves (59:36)
  52. Joe Jr. w/flowers, denied again, Jack sees the “lean” (1:00:11)
  53. Meets Jack outside, offers to drive her (1:01:25)
  54. Party! Jack mistaken for Peter (1:02:59)
  55. Explain to Boss…kinda, Jack blurts “BABY!” (1:02:21)
  56. Jack tries to explain, “Leaning,” “Who’s type am I?”, “I don’t have anybody.” (1:03:05)
  57. Peter wakes up (1:06:46)             –ACT III
  58. Lucy arrives, “He’s awake!” (1:07:07)
  59. Peter sees family, Lucy, “Who are you?” “AMNESIA!” (1:07:23)
  60. Explanation of Amnesia, Lucy trying to confess, cut off, Jack arrives, Saul offers to handle it, then disappears (1:08:24)
  61. Family tries to help Peter remember Lucy, “Do I like jello?” Lucy calls Saul out (1:09:14)
  62. Jack drives Lucy home, “Really good friend,” Jack: “Terrific couple.” Alone… (1:10:33)
  63. Jack says he wants to leave biz, Ox accepts (1:13:13)
  64. Peter’s memory, Saul tries to confess, fails, says to take Lucy (1:15:48)
  65. Lucy returns Peter’s stuff, first conversation (1:18:37)
  66. Ashley stopped by Doorman, “Not fiance.” “Huh?” (1:20:42)
  67. Peter being moved, Peter confesses flaws, expresses desire for Lucy (1:21:10)
  68. Saul hasn’t told, “Fired!”, Ashley and Lucy enter (1:23:31)
  69. Elevator: Ashley knows Peter was moved, Lucy doesn’t (1:24:05)
  70. Ashley confronts Peter (1:24:21)
  71. “Been moved!” / Peter proposes (1:25:46)
  72. Joe Jr. with New Girl (1:26:50)
  73. Lucy trying on dress, Jack’s snow globe gift, “No reason to not marry Peter” (1:27:16)
  74. Lucy gives invite to Boss, calls her out, “He didn’t want me.” (1:29:59)
  75. Wedding: Objects, Confesses everything, Ashley bursts in (1:31:03)
  76. Taking down decorations, Joe Jr. comforting/heartbroken (1:35:55)
  77. Lucy’s last day, Jack/Family propose, “‘Kay” (1:37:33)
  78. Epilogue: Married, “While you were sleeping.” (1:39:25)
  79. CREDITS (1:40:05)

For a couple reasons, it being live-action and this being a scene for scene breakdown, there are nearly TWICE as many bullet points in this breakdown. You’ll also notice the scenes are MUCH shorter even though both movies are very close together in length. Live-action movies tend to have shorter scenes than animation, but it is fascinating to note just HOW short some of these scenes, many of them some of the greatest scenes in film history, actually are.

In this breakdown, I also marked where I believe the act transitions and midpoint are in the story. Some may argue with my choices here, but it will give you an idea of what these points actually are in practical application.

I’ve been doing breakdowns like these in an attempt to understand my favorite movies for years, and they have been of IMMENSE help. I highly suggest doing them yourself, however, as opposed to finding someone else’s (like my own), because breaking them down yourself will give you a much greater understanding of what you’re trying to see.

This week’s lesson:
By breaking down our favorite stories,
we better understand how they function.


Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Liz’s Cinematography 101: COLOR!

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at the American Cinematheque where the panel consisted of Oscar-nominated production designers and art directors. I wasn’t sure how interesting it would be, since I don’t consider myself the ‘artsy-type’. However, I was blown away by how much I learned just listening to these individuals talk about each film’s color palette. It opened my mind up to think more about COLOR as a powerful tool in the cinematographer’s toolbox.

Jess Gonchor, production designer for True Grit, shared a story where he gathered paint cards of each color in the film’s color palette. He distributed these to his PAs and told them to call him immediately if they saw anything on the sets that was not in that palette!

The job of the cinematographer is to support the creative vision of the director, even as it is implemented by the production designer. When you know what the vision is, there are many opportunities to explore.

The color palette chosen for the film can convey a feeling that will stick with the viewer even after the credits have rolled. It is a way to either subtly or blatantly enhance the emotions of the story. The cinematographer needs to know how to capture this palette effectively.

With color palette you want to have some idea where you’re going. Otherwise the production designer may make the sets a different color than you and the director were expecting, and they wouldn’t necessarily react the way you may like on film. That goes for costumes as well. I find it a bit odd sometimes that so much testing is done on costumes and wallpaper and paints and stuff. You can stand and look at it, and that’s what it’s going to look like. There’s no great magic; it’s what your eye sees, basically. Film stocks these days are balanced to give you what your eyes see. It’s not like the old days when the film stocks, even the black-and-white stocks, didn’t truly reflect what was in the frame and it was a really big issue. These days a black-blue suit may look slightly more bluish, but that’s a minor thing. Now when you see someone standing there with the makeup and wardrobe on, that’s the way it’s going to look on film. The only way it’s going  to vary is if you are changing the color temperature lighting to something much warmer at night with candles, but someone standing outside in normal daylight, there is no need to test that, it’s going to look the way your eye sees it.

(Roger Deakins, ASC, Frost interview, November 2007)

Color is another way to create contrast and draw attention to a particular element in the frame.

The Patriot

Blue, green, and violet are considered ‘cool colors’. In general, cooler colors convey feelings of tranquility and detachedness. Warmer colors, like red, yellow, and orange, are more stimulating and aggressive colors. They will tend to pop out in a frame, whereas cooler colors recede into the image. When you know the color palette the story calls for, you can support it through your lighting techniques.

There is no doubt that every color is a specific wavelength of energy that can represent or symbolize a specific time of life…the meanings of colors are universal, even if they have different cultures. Even if the audience doesn’t see the meanings of different colors, they can feel them.

(Vittorio Storaro, ASC, American Cinematographer, September 2007, 56)

Color Balance

This is a hefty topic, and I will try not to bore you tremendously! We will just touch the surface of the subject.

Film (or imaging sensors), unlike our eyes, cannot reproduce colors accurately under all kinds of lighting. Yes, light varies in color, but unless you are looking for it, you will probably not realize it. Our brains communicate with our eyes to adapt to each lighting situation. Film does not have that brain power behind it. We need to realize its limitations and work with it accordingly.

If you have chosen to shoot with a daylight film stock (or your white balance is set to 5600K), you will usually be pleased with the results you get shooting outdoors. Skin tones will look natural and flattering, and grass will be green. However, if you take that same film stock (or white balance setting) and shoot indoors where the illumination comes from practical light sources, you will be not get flattering results. Those lamps, that appear to have white light (to your eye) will produce a ghastly orange glow. Skin tones will also be rendered with with a red cast.

In the two images above, the color balance is off. It creates odd skin tones that are not explained by light source in the frame. Colors do not look natural. Areas we expect to be white are either blue or orange. The image on the left was shot outdoors and so to produce colors accurately the film (or white balance) should have been 5600K. Likewise, the image on the right was shot indoors mostly likely under incandescent light (approx 2900K). Both of these images can be corrected in post production of course, but it is best to get closest to the desired results from the get-go.

What you need to be aware of is that different sources of light have different color temperatures. These sources are measured in degrees Kelvin. Refer to the chart below to get a better idea:

You can use this knowledge to your advantage. Depending on the needs of the story, you may want to reproduce that orange glow that I formerly described as ghastly.

The colors in these pictures do not look terrible; they meet expectations. You know that the primary source of light in the frame is candlelight. We expect to see a warm glow with firelight.

Barry Lyndon

True Grit

In addition to color balance, we can utilize gels to either warm up or cool down our light sources. There are color correction gels and also color effects gels.

Color correction gels are used to ‘correct’ the color temperature. For example, if you were shooting indoors under incandescent light and you wanted all of the light to appear white. You would make sure your film (or white balance setting) was 3200K (or possibly 2900K). If there were windows, you could use  Full CTO (color temperature orange) on the windows to negate any blue cast coming from the daylight. This would be a way to match your sources. However, someone else in the same situation may want to keep some color separation apparent in the light sources, since it is natural for our eyes to perceive the light entering the window to be cooler than the warmer incandescent sources. In this case, you could still apply CTO to the windows, but instead of Full CTO you could apply 1/8, 1/4, or 1/2. This is just one method of many.

I will not go into great detail about lens filtration in this entry, except to say that it is a powerful and often overlooked tool. With filters, you can enhance colors, mellow colors, and even lower contrast in bright outdoor scenes. There are also color correction filters that are relied on heavily when shooting specifically with film.

Some directors will assign different color palettes to characters or will even have a color scheme evolve as the character evolves and their journey moves forward. This is utilized quite frequently. Some directors consistently adhere to certain color schemes.

In Babel, the story follows different characters in different parts of the globe. To help drive this separation different colors are relied on.

For example, we decided (with director Alejandro Iñárritu) to have one color in the beginning that unifies the movie, and we would find different characteristics of that color in each place, and that color was red. If you notice in the Moroccan section there is more amber, orange, red color in the production design. In Mexico it is primarily red: her dress, the tarp over the musicians at the wedding, which is red, so the color of the light would be red. In Japan it was a purplish-pink shade of red: I used that on the club as well in terms of lighting, but it was very much in the production design and the costumes. So this is something, in collaboration with Alejandro, that we discussed in the beginning of the movie and followed through again, it’s a funneling of ideas.

(Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, Frost interview, July 2007)


On The Fountain I worked with certain color temperatures and how they render on film stocks. For example, taking a tungsten stock and rendering cool white fluorescents versus warm white fluorescents or something that’s 2500 degrees Kelvin versus something that’s at 5000 degrees Kelvin how they render in the same frame together is important to me. I use a lot of color temperature readings and I use that to render specific colors. Then I’ll shift those colors. If something is 5000 degrees on tungsten film and goes a little blue, it’s also going to render a little magenta, so maybe I’ll add a little green to it, or I’ll put green on the lights and make the kinoflos 5500 degrees. It’s part of the craft, trying to keep that palette as disciplined as possible.

(Matthew Libatique, ASC, Frost interview, September 2007)

Isaac Botkin wrote a fabulous blog entry in regards to this subject. I would not even attempt to summarize it. Included is this chart below, which shows the changing color palette frame-by-frame and how it is directly tied to the story progression in Black Hawk Down.

Film Stocks

A painter has paints, and a cinematographer has film stocks. Yes, let’s forget about digital just for a moment. There are two suppliers of motion picture film: Kodak and Fuji. Each have there own offerings of stocks, and each stock has its own unique characteristics. The cinematographer will choose the stock(s) that will best suit each location, time of day, color saturation desired, and shadow detail.

There negative stocks and reversal stocks. Negative stocks are the most common, plentiful, and practical. Reversal stocks produce a positive image – just like slide film in photography. They are more saturated and contrasty. The two color reversal films in production are both from Kodak: 100D and Ektachrome 64T. The latter being the same Super 8mm stock that has been produced for decades. I have a collection of 8mm Ektachrome my grandfather shot back in the day. Even after DVD transfer, I am amazed at the colors that were rendered. Reversal film is still a popular choice for many photographers. In fact, pick up an old National Geographic and be amazed at the color saturation in the images: reversal film. This famous photography was shot with reversal film (Kodachrome) by Steve McCurry:

Certain film stocks will produce punchier, more saturated colors while others will render colors as more pastel-like. Film stocks can vary in contrast and grain structures.

Many color grading applications have presets that will try to emulate different film stocks.

COLOR. It is an exhaustive subject, and I would recommend further study if you are an aspiring cinematographer. Train your eyes to observe different colors of light sources and the reaction it has on the subjects it illuminates. You need at least a basic understanding of color so you know how to control it and use it to best serve your story.

For further reading I recommend the book:

Motion Picture and Video Lighting by Blaine Brown


Liz’s Lesson:
Understanding color means understanding
the meaning and emotion of your images.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Liz’s Cinematography 101: Quality of Light

Light must be planned.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just skip all of that pre-production madness and figure out the lighting when we get on set? NO, it would be horrible. When it comes to narrative filmmaking, planning is key. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Ideally, you should read the script and communicate heavily with the director in order to understand the needs for the story and also each individual scene. Remember, lighting plays an important role in storytelling.

For example, a horror movie would be less scary if each scene was lit brightly and evenly. We are afraid of what we cannot see, so the lack of light plays a major role. What is lurking in the darkness waiting to lurch out at any moment? It is a great example of how you can light to help drive the tone of the story. Scene lighting is more involved than simply illuminating a space.

The goal is to bring dimension and texture to a 2 dimensional medium – to make it as life-like (3 dimensional) as possible.

Rembrandt, a 17th century artist, knew a thing or two about adding dimension to his paintings.

You will notice how the use of shading and varying brightness throughout the painting actually serves to give it more dimension and life-like qualities (fancy term for this: chiaroscuro). If an artist can achieve this with a paintbrush, we can also do so with our lighting techniques. Don’t believe me? Look below.

Barry Lyndon

The Passion of the Christ

Low Key Lighting

This term is used to describe a lighting style that utilizes pools of light and shadow, and it has a high contrast ratio.  What is a contrast ratio? It is the comparison of the strength of the key light (main source of light) to the fill light (the light that fills in the shadow areas). The higher this ratio, the higher the contrast. This can also serve to heighten the drama. Recall the pictures from above. To get a chiaroscuro effect, you need to be aware of  how to use contrast ratios. Black & White films relied heavily on this technique. Since ‘color’ wasn’t an option in their toolbox, filmmakers relied on contrast to bring dimension to their images.


The Godfather: Part II

A little more info on contrast ratios:

  1. 1:1 ratio – produces soft, even lighting when the key and fill lights are exactly the same.
  2. 2:1 ratio – The key light is twice as bright as the fill light, 1 stop difference.
  3. 4:1 ratio – more contrast result. There is a 2 stops difference between the key and fill lights.
  4. 8:1 ratio – very contrast lighting. It is a 3 stop difference between the key and fill lights.

a 2:1 contrast ratio a 4:1 contrast ratio

Both of the above images would be considered low key because they have high contrast, but they have different contrast ratios. Notice the different levels of contrast on each subject and how it provides modeling.

High Key Lighting

…..and High Key Lighting does not have a high contrast ratio. Common examples of this are typically comedies and daytime talk shows.

It is a lighting scheme in which the fill light is raised to almost the same level as the key light – it is overall a ‘bright image’ with few dominant shadows. High Key Lighting is more even and flat than Low Key Lighting. Lighting techniques can vary within a movie – it all depends on what the story calls for.


Hard Light

Hard light is very directional; the light rays that reach the subject are nearly parallel. This serves to create harsher edged shadows and modeling. More details, such as wrinkles and blemishes, are revealed when hard light hits the face. Sometimes this is a desired effect, to see more texture. However, in most beauty product commercials or fashion photography, you will notice mostly soft, flattering light illuminating the subject’s face. Using hard light to reveal texture elsewhere within a scene can be a very powerful tool. This is not to say that hard light should never be used to illuminate a face; it is dependent upon the look you are trying to achieve. Lastly, hard light comes from sources that are smaller in relation to the subject.

Hard Light

Soft Light

Soft light tends to wrap around objects and casts shadows with soft edges. It is also used when shadowless light is desired. The rays of soft light are more scattered than the near-parallel rays of hard light. This means that the subject will be illuminated from multiple directions, which creates softer edges.

Soft Light

The softness of light is dependent on two main factors:

1. the distance of the light source to the subject. The closer the source, the softer the light.

2. the size of the source. The larger the source, the softer the light.

“I think that soft lighting is very limiting. There are certain scenes or certain locations that call for that, or certain kinds of moods or atmosphere. I think that soft lighting mainly came as a result of the fact that film reacts a little bit differently than our eye does to light. Soft light was a means of achieving on film what we have a tendency to see with our very own eyes. You rarely see lighting in real life with real strong back light.”  —Caleb Deschanel (from the book Film Lighting: talks with Hollywood’s cinematographers and gaffers)

Soft lighting often appears more natural while some uses of hard light can look very artificial and ‘sourcey’. Soft light has grown in popularity over the years as film stocks and sensors have become more sensitive. Back in the studio days, hard lighting – and lots of it –  delivered the punch needed to achieve proper exposure. This isn’t to say soft lighting was never utilized during that time. Watch many classic films and you will notice hard shadows – sometimes double shadows.

Soft light is much harder to control than hard light. It tends to spill all over, and often very large gobos are needed to cut the light from falling on the walls and direct it only toward the subject (for example).

Soft light and hard light are just tools in the cinematographer’s toolbox. It is possible to mix both styles, no need to choose one and never consider the other – there are uses for both! Always ask yourself, “What are the opportunities and needs for lighting in this scene?”

For more helpful information on the topics briefly covered, I highly recommend the following book: “Film Lighting: Talks with Hollywood’s Cinematographers and Gaffers”

Next time: COLOR!


Liz’s Lesson:
Every decision made about the quality of light
ultimately affects the image and the story.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Filling in the Shadows: Lighting

[And continuing our technical blogs, here’s Gaffer Dylan Borger.]

Hi readers!  My name’s Dylan and I’ll be filling the role of Gaffer on the set of “Now Upon A Time”.  Most of you have probably heard of the term and may even know what it means but for those of you who have no clue I’ll fill you in on the meaning and a little of what the job is.

Dylan on the set of Relative Situation

While I wish it meant I was the father of Samwise Gamgee in Lord Of The Rings, Gaffer is the title given to the head of the lighting department and more specifically the electric department.  Just because the Gaffer is head of the lighting department, however, doesn’t mean he or she is the one who has final say over the lights. That authority lies in the DP’s (Director of Photography) hands.  The Gaffer’s job is to work with the DP and help carryout his or her vision by being in charge of both the Grip and Electric department.  Once the DP and Gaffer are on the same page, it’s the Gaffer’s responsibility to make sure everything has power then set up lights, all in the most efficient way possible, because quite often the whole set is waiting on lights. A not so easy task at times.

Now I’m sure you have seen a camera and you’ve probably held one in your own hands, and I’m sure when you looked through the eye piece it didn’t take you long to see that what you record doesn’t look at all as good as it does when viewed with your natural eye.  While the cameras you’ve held probably weren’t film cameras, you understand a little of what is the biggest task in my job: trying to shape and point light to make it look like real life.  Don’t worry, I’ll spare you a bunch of boring lighting theory and keep it to the point.  Lighting something may sound as simple as point a couple lights and make sure the fixtures are out of shot, but it gets much more difficult. On a film set, we often have a big space to light, many characters and not much room to put our lights up.  Once we’re done lighting the wide shot or master shot there’s still medium shots, over the shoulders, close ups, etc., all of which we have to adjust lighting and perhaps even move all the lights entirely.  Now in an ideal world, the DP and us lighting guys would have as much time as we want to make everything perfect, but that’s not the case and much of what is accomplished on set is the result of hard work under a major time crunch.  In a nutshell it’s, “Light as awesome and fast as possible, get the shot, then light the next shot as awesome and fast as possible.”  On big budget film sets, there’s tons more to deal with than what I will have to be dealing with on NUAT, but the principles are the same.

How many lights and how much craziness I will be using on this project comes down to a matter of how much gear can we get on a budget. Lights on a film set come in many different kinds and are made for many different purposes (usually the smallest wattage bulb in the light package is bigger than any light bulb you have in your house).  For this reason, lights can get pretty pricy fast.  My job in preproduction has been working with Ben and Liz to figure out what gear we’ll need to survive for the 5 day shoot.  This includes lights, stands, power, a grip truck and much more.

For any of you shooters out there or even those of you who have followed this blog, you’ve probably heard about the RED camera and it’s amazing image possibilities and you’re probably wondering why we even need to light scenes with such an amazing camera.  Well naturally, I disagree, but then again without lighting I wouldn’t be writing this blog now would I?  Regardless that it’s my job, lighting is an extremely important part of visual storytelling and if done wrong or out of place, it can introduce disbelief into the audience very quickly.  Imagine if a car chase scene that takes place at night was lit with only the streetlights in the city.  You wouldn’t even be able to see the characters, let alone the cars racing around.  Now that may be an extreme scenario, lighting can be taken for granted easily with the amazing new technology we’re surrounded with today, when in fact it is a necessity for anyone looking to tell a story visually.

Go, Speed Racer, Go!

I hope that this post has shown you a little of what goes into lighting and maybe even given you a bit more respect for it.  If you really want to check out lighting, next time you watch a movie, look at a couple frames and try to notice the contrast and colors of light you see in them.  Until next time, farewell!


This week’s lesson:
Executing the lighting involves being brilliant,
being fast, and being awesome…all at the same time.

Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Time… : Indie Film Necessary Evil #3

This is the hardest letter, I mean blog, I’ve ever had to write.

Indie film is hard, and the sad truth is that sometimes the timing just doesn’t work out. In the studio world, if the timing of the film isn’t quite right, you can spend more money to make it fit. But in the indie world, money doesn’t exist.

To paraphrase the legendary Bill Cosby, "Ha ha! Indie film. Yer dumb."

It pains me to say that I have decided to POSTPONE the shooting of “Now Upon A Time” until this time next year. I know. It sucks. But things are simply not lining up the way I had hoped, and the way they need to, for our July shoot dates to be viable. (Yes, July. …think I forgot to mention that I’d already pushed it back from May… Oh well. Moot now.)

Now, all that said, this film IS going to get made. Just not this year. And this blog is not only going to stay active; it is going to EXPAND. Significantly. Over the next couple months, we will be converting this blog into a fully formed website with the aim of being THE destination for online film education and reference. I’ll keep you up to date as things develop.

So, while it is disappointing to me to have to abandon our current timetable, it is incredibly exciting to know that, with the extra year of preparation time, this film is going to be all the better for it! In other words, this movie is going to kick aaaaaaaaauuuuuhhhhh…butt.

So stay tuned! We’re not going anywhere. If anything, you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.


We will not go quietly!!!

This week’s lesson:
In the independent film world, timing is
everything. …and it is trying to kill you…


Please: Leave us comments! Let us know what you think about the blog and the project, and tell us what you want to see or hear more about! Like we said in our first blog post, this blog is “about you almost as much as it is about us.” ;)

And don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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New Logo!

Just updated all the artwork here, on Facebook, and on Twitter! What do you guys think!?

New Full Size Title

New square "avatar" logo




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