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.

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