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Old March 1st, 2004, 12:12 PM   #1
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Lighting setups in old movies

Every old movie Iíve ever seen about the film industry shows the production crews lighting the sets with enormous fresnels, some of them like three or four feet across. I know film stocks werenít all that fast back then, and they needed lots of light, but jeez, to be surrounded by banks of 5,000 watt lights just 20 or so feet away? It must have looked like the surface of the sun on those old shoots. Or were they using fairly small lamps, and just needed the big lenses because nobody had invented the softbox yet? Anybody know about this? Itís always struck me as curious.
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Old March 1st, 2004, 02:37 PM   #2
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They needed all those lights. Back in the old days (30s and 40s) the senstivity of film was very low. The ASA ratings were between 10 and 25. They were all excited when they got ASA 50. By today's standards we have 500 and 800 ASA films.

For a great book on lighting check out "Reflections" offered by the American Society of Cinematographers (www.theasc.com). It's $90, but worth every penny in the info it gives on cinematographers and their work. It has phenominal examples and demos.

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Old March 1st, 2004, 05:33 PM   #3
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The staple of the "old school" DP was the Carbon Arc. These also sported a Fresnel lens.

Again, due to the low film speeds in the past, allot of light was a necessity. I've worked with many a DP that liked to light in a style that I un-affectionatley refer to as "Grenade Lighting" or lighting with a "FlameThrower". Lot's of Arcs and 9-lights...extremely hot!

There are many one-liners heard on every set, on every shoot, every day, such as:

Check the Gate.

End Sticks.

Kill the Baby, etc.

One of the lost lines is "Trim the Arc!"

Arcs create light by basically creating a "spark" between two carbon rods that are automatically fed by a motor. As the carbons burn off they become smaller, making the distance between the two shorter and creating a flicker. This is where the DP calls for "Trim the Arcs!"

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Old March 1st, 2004, 09:38 PM   #4
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Innovation and time

I love the old films
It is strange.. shadows don't bother you when you watch the films.
The lighting is mostly hard off axis and low for the ladies
It is the script and the actors that draw us.
Soft light was an innovation and it has it's place
But the power of the focused light is the artists tool
If you want to be old and new at the same time
Take your subject to a dark room
Take
2 Dedo 650's
1 1k Fressy
1 Chimera 8000 w/ grids
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Old March 1st, 2004, 10:50 PM   #5
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Iíve been watching "FACES" from John Cassavetes and one of the things that strike me is the overexposed effect use of lights. I have watched some of the scenes very carefully trying to figure out the placement of the light sources. In some of the scenes there are table lamps in every corner of the room and the light source seems to come from them. However, sometimes there are shadows suggesting the light comes from other points. Here are some aspects I noticed about the lighting.

1- Women are usually lighted frontally with a slight shadow.

2- Men are lighted to create more facial shadows.

3- On one scene where the drunk "older, uglier" woman seems to fall in love with the dancer and confesses to her friend how boring her husband is. She is lighted in a way that shadows fall down below her lips (close up). I think to suggest her unattractiveness.
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Old March 2nd, 2004, 10:24 AM   #6
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Good observation

I have not seen that film but I will but it on my netflix list.. thanks
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Old March 2nd, 2004, 11:53 AM   #7
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In fact- I have a copy of Leonard Maltin's "The ARt Of The Cinematographer" sitting beside me.
Its an older book (copyright 1978).

Arthur Miller, one of the great, old, cinematographers spoke about the start of technicolor and the need for 1000 foot candles on a set! Yikes!It was new technology back then. I guess when they had to do a film with a young Shirley Temple (The Little Princess), he approached the director and producers and asked to cut the light down to 600 foot candles. ouch. Very controversial at the time, but they made it work. Yup- they used the old carbon arcs.


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Old March 2nd, 2004, 10:35 PM   #8
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I like learning about old setups and techniques. I think it's a good way to understand this art inside out. I'm particularly interested in those old European films, such as the ones made during the Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave. Considering that they believed in filming at location rather than studios and sometimes using natural light sources, with all this they still managed to create beautiful pictures. On the other hand the main page for Info.net has an article that deals with the "three point lighting" which is referred as obsolete at least in some situations. I agree, since most setups are much more complicated than that.

My next film/light-self-education period will include 1940 and 50s Hollywood films. I'll throw a few Shirley Temple in there too. :)

Richard, you will love "FACES". Please let us know of any particular insight about the lighting after you watch it.

Thanks
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