Production Journal, Low Budget- James Brown "OFF"


Agenda Productions


I thought I would post some stills from a short we a are filming ‘OFF’ This is as low budget as low budget gets, all the equipment is from school and director didn’t want to by any extra gels or diffusion and didn’t feel the need for the hiring of any lights.

Despite the limitations I thought I would show you the set-ups that we did with very limited time with very limited resources. I really would love to hear some comments on how you would have done these set-ups, I am in second year of studies but seem to be trying to self teach myself the art of cinematography as our school doesn’t focus on it anywhere near enough.

Our lighting kit was Blondie 2k, 3x1k’s, Dido150watta (all 3200K) CTO & CTB gels, spun and a reflector. The camera was JVC DV500

Our first set up was the worst thing I have ever lit and hopefully will never have to shoot in such an ugly location in my career. We were plagued by 360 degree complete shinny metal, fluorescents all over the roof (that we couldn’t turn off), very limiting time restraints and a restless crew. Luckily I did not take any photo’s of our set-up as I would not be welcome in this forum any longer.

This morning we shot at a really classy restaurant and we were restricted by only allowing four crew members and the two actors because of the owners. We had two hours to set-up shoot 4 set-ups pack up and leave, easy? First of all I set up two redheads with CTO gels to give it some overall warm ambience. With those two in place I got another 1k diffused it and bounced it off the gold side of a reflector just above there heads, this looked nice and to add I got the 150watt double diffused to put some fill on the actress face.
The digi-shots make it look very bright but it was quite dark, im not actually sure what stop we had it at.

(The sound guy posing for a shot of the set-up)

This was all good when we were doing over the shoulder’s and CU’s but when we went to the two shot I was a 150watt short, so just turned off the light above there heads and got the two 1K’s filling both of them diffused. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do but it was the only thing that would work and looked consistent with what we had shot.

After that we had to go to my house to shoot a night scene with ELI, the protagonist, making a phone call. This is where the arguments started, I set up this beautiful night set-up through the window, cutting through the blinds. I had the 2k & 1k, with CTB gels coming in with really uneven light over the room. The director loved it but demanded that when ELI comes in the house he turns on a lamp to make a phone call. This completely ruined the night feel by blasting yellow light up the wall and on his face, it looked really ugly but he wanted it that way. What can you do? Ill try and get some before and after screen captures off him, but heres the set-up

Today we had a scene on top of a backpackers hostel. It was a very simple lighting set-up but was probably my favourite looking on a monitor so far. The shot was handheld of the couple running up the stairs and half making out before entering the roof top. The camera had about a 270 degree rotation so lighting options was limited. I put a 1k double spun through the stairs. I tried with a blue gel (because the practicality of a window being there) but it didn’t give the warmth for the scene and un-gelled it was, (now I think about it, I really should of left the blue gel) another 1K bounced off the roof just above the stairs to give it some overall ambience. Simple but the look was so Harris Savides from Elephant, nicely exposed faces and then blown out blue natural light when they walked out the door. We lit the interior to about F3-3.4. Looked great and everyone was happy.

Today we shot a robbery scene in a Chinese restaurant, it was a two hour shoot, 30 mins to set up all the lights and off we went. It was all handheld so set-ups were easy but just the lighting was a little tedious. With the aperture wide open the restaurant was just light enough to make out there faces, so this in mind we thought we would light the scene to 2.8, utilize the practical lights and go from there. My digi camera seems to make everything so bright but you get an idea.

I put a 2k from a very high angle, open barn doors, hard, directed at the floor to give it a very blown out kitchen look. It looked bad to the eye but at 2.8 looked great.

This caused some spill onto the actors faces which also gave me justification to use the small 150 watta on the wine bottles to give the scene some depth, I had it hard light in flood mode from a very high angle.

The overall scene was too dark so I put a 1k with three pieces of spun (we don’t have different grades) from the other side of the restaurant to give it some overall fill, this caused some grief for the always moving cameraman and the shadow situation but we worked around it.
Overall the scene looked really good due to some great handheld camera work and some outstanding performances.

Today was an absolute killer, we started at my house 9am until about 1:30 am with a lot of disorganized direction. We had a very experienced armourer doing two separate shooting scenes, he was here for about 8 hours and did very well to put up with the state of affairs that the shoot was in.

The first setup was in the girl’s bedroom, I wanted a very soft morning with sun hitting her on the face through the window. The same bedroom needed to be used for a fight with her dad later in the day so I wanted the two scenes contrasted very differently.

The first set-up we tried from both angles

I achieved this with 2k & 1k hard from high angles, we had some natural light coming in but not enough to cause problems, it was a very simple set-up (like all of the previous) but achieved the desired look.

For the rest of the day I couldn’t get any stills as I was on a second camera (XL1) for all the weapons scenes. All the lighting set-ups were very simple and we were plagued with complete white walls, the scenes were pretty ugly besides the squibs on the body blowing blood all over my walls.

Overall I think the shoot was ok but could’ve been a lot better with more organization. I’m not sure if im doing things right I’m just doing it.

In three weeks I’m shooting a great short film scheduled for 5 days by a great young Columbian director. The script is really good and she has a great eye for the visual aspect of films. Hopefully I can get some extra lights and will post some nice set-up’s, but until then.

Regards James