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Old December 30th, 2004, 08:58 AM   #1
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night(mare)-for-day

i recently came on as d.p. for a low-budget, semi-professional short video that i am shooting with my xl2. i went with the director to scout the first set we would be using; an average town-house where we would be shooting a thanksgiving dinner scene. the catch: half the footage would be shot on a tuesday afternoon, the rest of the footage (to be intercut) would be shot the following saturday NIGHT. there are two average-sized windows and a set of glass french doors. my first recommendation (insistance, really) was that we eliminate the french doors. i don't care what the production designer puts in front of them, as long as they are no longer part of the set. that leaves two windows. here are my brainstorms, and i was hoping i could get some feedback:

1. there will be curtains on the windows. so i slap some optically clear nd filters on the back of the glass to cut the amount of sunlight down to a reproduceable level. take a color meter reading of the light coming through the curtains. when i go back at night, throw broad, indirect light at the window to simulate sunlight at the same level, then use color correction gels to match the temperature.

...or...

2. use a home-made fluorescent light grid we have with daylight timed bulbs. put it outside the windows, then drop a big black tarp behind it so no natural daylight gets in at all. we'll essentially have a closed set at that point, and we'll be able to reproduce identical if artificial daylight on both shoots.

in the end, the position of the windows means that i won't be using any light they let in: this set will be light artificially. if daylight does get through, i'd rather gel it down to tungsten than make the rest of my fixtures read daylight. at the same time, this also means the windows aren't important to the action happening in scene; really, their only purpose is establishing that it is, in fact, daytime outside.
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Old December 30th, 2004, 10:37 AM   #2
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I think you've already got your solution with #2.

The problem with trying to match any kind of real daylight is that not only are you taking about a huge amount of light, but that light will change throughout the shoot. The direction and intensity will be different at the start and end of your shoot. And unless you have a large array of HMI's at your disposal, you can never be sure to replicate the day shoot with any degree of accuracy. Why take the chance?

It seems like you can get away with faking the whole thing. That way, you might as well be shooting on a stage, as you'll have perfectly controllable light for the duration. As long as you're thinking of this like a studio shoot, have you considered putting some painted flats outside the windows with a daytime background on them? That way, you could actually see something outside the windows instead of just blowing out to white, or having the curtains completely shut.

Backdrops typically do not need to be super-accurate, especially if they are partially obscurred by window dressing. If you can find someone with a large-format printer for cheap, you can even take digital still photos, blur them out a bit in Photoshop, mount them on large flats, then place them 4-6 feet away from the windows and presto - perfectly exposed, depth of field-blurred views out the window. Light them to overexpose by 2 stops, and you'll probably be able to sell the effect. Heck, you might even be able to bring back that dreaded french door.
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Old December 30th, 2004, 12:45 PM   #3
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thanks for the advice, scott. incredibly valuable. now, even if i weren't to use a backdrop, might it make sense to throw strong light away from the window, into a reflector pointed back at the window in order to get that broad, even daylight effect? of course, the window would have to be blocked in such a manner that we couldn't see this contraption outside, but it is an idea that didn't occur to me until i saw your backdrop suggestion.
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Old December 30th, 2004, 12:53 PM   #4
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Christopher:

Without actually seeing the room in question, my first reaction is: what do you see outside the windows/french doors? Do they give the visual some needed depth, which would be potentially welcome in a scene with people sitting around a table, or are they just a problem to be dealt with?

Actually, before even that, I'm sort of wondering about the bigger picture; what time of day is this Thanksgiving dinner taking place? I would have thought that for most it is late afternoon at best, probably dusk, and maybe even after the sun has gone down. Is it then easier just to treat it as a night scene and simply black (or preferably tent) the french doors, and obviously shoot the second half night for night? I would say so, especially if you can build a tent and place some lit greens etc. within it.

As Scott pointed out, it's going to be tougher to regulate the practical daylight level even with gels for a day look as the sun moves. You would need to flag off the direct sun from the glass if applicable, which could potentially take a serious amount of grip gear (did this a few weeks ago, and it required a 20x20 solid on a frame and two mambo stands that reached probably 25 feet in the air; better hope it's not windy).

I would also recommend working out your coverage so that the French doors are featured during the shoot period that presents them in their natural state, and hopefully avoids them in the other shoot period. In other words, if you are forced to shoot in daylight and plan to gel the windows so that they can be photographed, shoot the setups that look towards the doors on the Tuesday afternoon.

So my questions would be: what exactly do you see outside the French doors? Are they in the same room, or are they a full room away (I'm wondering based on your note that they aren't affecting the light in the dining room). How much of a budget do you have for grip gear, personnel, expendables etc.? I assume not much from what you have said.

My vote so far is to tent the windows and play it for night. Cheaper and easier.
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Old December 30th, 2004, 01:46 PM   #5
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if only i could, charles. unfortunately, this scene has to take place in the afternoon: we are cutting outside to kids playing a football game, so it has been established that the sun is, indeed, up.

the room is large and invisibly divided into a dining room and a living room. the table is about as far away from the windows as is possible to be in this space: probably 50 feet. in bright, broad daylight, obviously the sun would be a major source of illumination for this set. outside the windows is a series of rather unsightly objects: air-conditioning systems, the backs of other townhouses, etc. the french doors lead to an awkward and rather unsightly porch. thankfully, the football game is taking place on the other side of the house; when we finally see the game through the window, we are in a room upstairs, facing the other direction, with far fewer complications. because the windows are so far in the background, and because a character won't come within 15 feet of them, i want to downplay them and their impact on the scene. i, more or less, want to suggest daylight without capitalizing on its presence.
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Old January 2nd, 2005, 12:06 PM   #6
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Perfect. It sounds like your original plan B is a good one, then. If the production designer can't block the doors convincingly, I'm sure he could mount plywood to the back side to make them appear solid (stained to match the frames if necessary). And gelling the windows for tungsten (or partially corrected) is a good idea if your additional sources are tungsten.

Good luck with the shoot!
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