View Full Version : shooting drama in a night club - advice please

Richard Gooderick
December 17th, 2011, 10:26 AM
Would really appreciate any thoughts from people with experience in this area.

I am shooting a low budget drama. It's set in a night club. It's a gangster story combined with a comedy night that goes wrong.

I took my 5D along to get some footage which you can see in the link below.

The lighting changes a lot. From very dark corners to the bar area with good light levels to private areas which are well lit to private areas with very low lighting levels.

I want to enhance the existing lighting to give as much variety as possible. In order to use the mood of the lighting to help tell the story.

Many of the existing lights are coloured and many of them are downlighters so the light is coming from above.

Around the bar area there are higher light levels.

The private areas are like stalls with low walls around them and no local lighting. I am planning to use a soft light source on the tables in these dark private areas.

There will be a stage area with spotlights etc

And there are the lavatories and corridor areas which will have more industrial even lighting. Rather hard looking.

I am going to try to get the budget to use a Canon C300 for this shoot.

Partly because we have a lot to get through in two days so I want the peaking to help with focus.

It also seems possible that I could shoot most of it with the 24-105mm F4 lens that I bought with the 5D. Because the C300 is so much more sensitive to light I am hoping to be able to shoot with a higher ISO so that I don't have to use fast lenses with very shallow depth of field. I don't want the DOF to be too shallow.

Am also thinking that this lens will let me set shots up and get through the work more quickly and therefore give me more time to concentrate on lighting.

What I would like to do is change the mood to suit the action. So I am wondering how I could add to the existing light by perhaps using some kind of light source in a pole that would look like spilled light from another area. And combine that with the existing overhead lights as appropriate.

As you can see from the test footage the lighting levels in the bar area are fine.

The levels in the main part of the club are too low.

The downlighters give some really nice effects.

If anyone has any thoughts about how to enhance the lighting and about my proposed strategy to use the C300 with the 24-105 F4 lens I would love to hear them. Thank you.

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Ken Diewert
December 21st, 2011, 03:05 PM
Hey Richard,

what were your settings for the test? ISO and aperture... It does look like a cool place to shoot. Personally I'd soften the overhead lights with a little diffusion if you can make up some opal screens for the lights. And do you not want shallow dof for the look, or for the focus hassle? As long as your talent are pretty disciplined about head movements (maintaining distance to focal plane), you should be ok on focus, but you will need a follow system with a dedicated puller. It's just too dark, unless you shoot the whole thing wide... which would suck.

Even at f4 or f5.6 you won't have a lot of dof at even 85mm. At 10 feet distance, with a focal length of 85mm, you'd have about a foot of dof at f4 on the 5D2. Focal length is a huge variable.

I use this calculator all the time. Online Depth of Field Calculator (

Richard Gooderick
December 29th, 2011, 08:15 AM
Hi Ken

Thanks for your post. I am sorry for the delay in replying. I have only just seen it.

Events have intervened. There was a death in the family. It was a peaceful end to a good life and therefore not at all tragic. However I have cancelled my involvement in this project as I have to travel abroad to assist an ageing relative.

The aperture was F1.4. The ISO setting was 1250.

I was not wanting the DoF to be shallow all the time because of the need to work quickly and the problems of keeping focus. But also because it looks a bit cliched when DoF is shallow all the time. It seems preferable to be able to choose when you want shallow DoF rather than having it dictated by the camera and available light.

I was thinking that maybe by using the Canon C300 I could close the aperture even further and increase the Dof. I have heard that you can use an ISO of up to 4,000 with this camera without noticeable degradation of the image.

Thanks for the link to the online DoF calculator. I should have said that I use pCam on my iPod. But as the C300 is only just coming onto the market it is too early for it to be listed on these DoF calculators.

Charles Papert
December 29th, 2011, 10:40 AM
Just dial up any camera with a similar chip on pCam, such as the F3, F35 etc. They will be close enough.

Sorry to hear about your loss and having to drop the project. However I'm sure others will be tackling similar projects. Rather than shut down this thread, Richard, ok with you if we transition it to a more general discussion of working with existing lighting and use the video as a discussion point?

The new cameras that can crank up the sensitivity create the possibility of shooting in light levels that were impossible prior to this and it requires a different approach. As noted, it becomes more of a function of balancing existing light than starting from scratch.

Come armed with a supply of different size and wattage light bulbs and lamp dimmers so that you can modify free-standing units. One great weapon is this tsotchke ( that gives you dimming functionality of hardwired sockets. Fortunately a lot of times bars will have their lighting on wall dimmers, so they can turn it up bright at last call. Learning where those controls are on the scout will pay dividends!

As Ken noted, softening the effect of the units directly above the actors will make them a bit more palatable. If accessible, make a diffusion "pillow" around bare or ceiling mounted bulbs by taping the diffusion so that it has sag in the middle, which turns it into a much softer source (like a little softbox). Great technique also with overhead fluorescents by the way, on a hallway walk and talk where the action stops under a particular bank of flos with the others visible in the background. If you can't get to the light source itself, a 4x4 frame of diffusion above the actor on a c-stand will really soften things up--sometimes too much and at the cost of too much level, so you need a selection of light diffusion from opal on down to Hampshire frost to do this right. And of course if the actor moves around a lot, you'll see them go in and out of the frame. Sometimes it's just simply better to turn off or block the practical light above the actors and rebuild it with a more controllable source.

Where the back walls fall into black too much of the time, additional lighting will be called for. The less ideal way to do this is with the head near the axis of camera pointing back at the wall, because that just looks flat. Raking from at least 45 degrees in any direction is more interesting. Setting the light close to the ground shooting up or rigging from above shooting down is generally even more "nightclub-like" than having it at eye height. While I'm on the subject--many forget that light stands have the ability to raise and lower and that the height of a given light source is just as important as its left-right position. Anyway--a wall that has multiple returns (i.e. not flat) is often best lit from almost from the side, to create a lot of variation in light levels across its surface. Textured walls, like a deep stucco, look great if lit directly perpendicular, skimming the surface.

The general idea then is to balance between light and dark, to keep the feel of a nightclub but limiting the contrast. Compositionally, one should always be looking at the background and including that in the choices camera and actor placement. Too often novice filmmakers will put the actors in the space and then just move the camera around to shoot their coverage without taking the opportunity to treat each setup as its own entity. I will routinely "clock" the entire action through as much as 45 degrees as I work around the coverage to deliver the best looking background as required (i.e., move the off-camera actors around to retain the proper eyeline). The audience generally "understands" the geography of a scene when you get into coverage via the actor's eyelines, so the background becomes quite pliable. In this instance, I would always be looking at the various hot practicals, lining up a shot that frames them in a way I like, and moving the actor's mark into that space (and adjusting the eyelines as required). In this current era of fascination with shallow depth of field, most backgrounds turn into mush so this is less relevant, but there are times when the environment is a major component of a scene and even the stalwart F1.2 fans will have to acquiesce and allow the background to look like itself, which does require a lot more attention and discipline.

Ken Diewert
December 29th, 2011, 12:59 PM
Hey Charles,

I'm glad that you jumped in, and Richard; sorry to hear about your loss and that you won't be working on the project. I was looking forward to seeing the progression.

Charles, those are great tips. I appreciate the fact that you're so generous in sharing your experience.

I'll have to track down the socket dimmer in Canada. I'm still working on a low budget feature here and yesterday we shot a few scenes while our veteran DP, and key grip were away and had limited gear for a scene. We are shooting on an Epic M at 800 ISO (exclusively), and at 5600k, which seems pretty crazy for an indoor night scene. We were on location in a waterfront home and trying not to be too intrusive. We had a daylight softbox, a couple of 250 watt peppers, a couple of c-stands, a single diffusion flag, and a christmas tree. We had much more stuff that we could have brought but...

Personally, for the last few years, I've been shooting one-man, run-n-gun stuff almost exclusively, and it's been years since I've shot with a crew. But in the last 2 years, I've started working on shorts and now this feature and another one next year, with another planned to follow that. And I really do enjoy the process. On this project, I'm principally pulling focus, but when you have a 4-person crew on a set, you end up doing a little of everything.

This is a 34mm two-shot and I found it to be a little flat and muddy for my taste. Looking at the frame grab, damn... it looks under-exposed. But I'm told that with the Epics R3D files, we can correct exposure, color temp, etc. I would have liked to light the background a little more. On the closeups we did a better job or rimming the left side of her face and creating separation.

I've got a few months to plan the next project, which I'll probably end up DP'ing, so I'm gleaning all the extra knowledge I can get. I'm storing a truckload worth of grip and lighting gear, in exchange for being able to use it when I need it. which is pretty cool.

Richard Gooderick
December 30th, 2011, 07:59 AM
Hi Charles and Ken

Thank you both for leaping in.

I hope this won't be my last chance to shoot in a location and as you say there must be other DV Info readers who will be facing similar challenges. Especially in relation to the C300 etc.

There are large areas in the club with very low light levels. It would have been useful to be able to shoot in these too, rather than restrict shooting to the areas that are already lit.

The existing 'downlighters' (the spots in the ceiling shining directly downwards) are effective (I appreciate the suggestion that some diffusion would help) and I was thinking of replicating their effect when shooting in the darker areas of the club.

Ideally something battery-operated that could be fixed to the end of some kind of pole. And coloured as appropriate.

Any suggestions for a suitable rig?

Charles, thank you for your thoughts about keeping the background in mind when composing shots and keeping the contrast within limits. I found that very helpful.

And that dimmer fitting looks like a 'must have'!

Charles Papert
December 31st, 2011, 11:15 AM
A"classic" approach to a portable overhead setup would be a china ball, which is revered for having a 360 degree spread and a softening effect vs bare bulb. Not an easy setup to gel, however, so colored bulbs will be the easier way to go. One way to simplify the gelling process is to use a spot-style bulb (think of those used in recessed lighting cans or outdoor area lights) which are nearly flat and easier to rig gel to directly.

China balls are quite light and thus easy to rig to a boompole style setup. Always a good idea to add a dimmer to the end of the cable.

If you must go battery-powered, you could use an inexpensive onboard LED type light--these are lightweight as well so would work with a boom. However they don't tend to have a lot of punch, so once gelled with a deep color, you might not be left with much. You can probably lower them to just out of frame to help with the intensity, but they will also become more directional when you do so.

Richard Gooderick
January 1st, 2012, 06:51 AM
Many thanks Charles. It sounds like a China Ball would be the best way to go then. Nice to hear that a low tech solution is probably the best. I have read that there is a danger of fire risk when using them but presumably with such sensitive cameras it isn't necessary to use such a high powered bulb so the rig is a lot safer.

Using battery power sounds like it would create more problems than is solves as there is plenty of mains power available.

Charles Papert
January 7th, 2012, 10:38 AM
As long as you keep the wattage within the stated limits you'll be safe. If in doubt, use a larger size ball. There are pro versions of this concept that are designed to use much higher wattage and have integrated skirts for cutting light, so many advantages except in the area of price!

Richard Gooderick
January 8th, 2012, 02:18 AM
Great. Many thanks Charles

The producers have postponed the shoot until February. I am back on board as DoP so this thread will no longer be academic.

I have been promised a C300 for a 5 day shoot and a second one for one day. It's a no budget drama. I have no idea how good it will be but I will of course do my best to ensure that camerawork and lighting is as good as it can be.

It should be an interesting learning experience. Will ask more questions and feed back lessons learned as and when.

Richard Gooderick
January 24th, 2012, 04:31 AM

Unfortunately we are not going to be using the C300.

We were told January but it is looking more like mid February before these cameras are delivered.

Too late for this shoot.