Any examples of Mainstream Movies filmed/shot entirely with natural/ambient lighting? at DVinfo.net

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Old May 10th, 2005, 08:22 PM   #1
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Any examples of Mainstream Movies filmed/shot entirely with natural/ambient lighting?

Hi Folks,

I am curious if there are any films out there released in the mainstream that aren't documentaries, but were filmed entirely with natural lighting and ambient room lighting with nothing added? Is it even possible? If there are movies where this has been done, I am curious to check them out to see how they pulled it off.

Thanks,

Brian
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Old May 10th, 2005, 08:59 PM   #2
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"Mainstream" as in mainstream theatrical narratives? I doubt it. Light always has to be manipulated over the course of the take, even when shooting with the sun - You have to use fill and bounce. I know that some SCENES are shot with natural light... but I doubt entire movies would be.

I recall the candlelight in "Barry Lyndon" was all natural, impressive stuff.

I suppose the Dogme fills would be all natural, but I hardly consider those mainstream.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 09:12 PM   #3
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Thanks Richard,

I figured there are either none or perhaps just a well known few. Is it because a camera simply can't capture and reproduce what the eye can naturally see, or is it more complicated than that?

I am sure there are myriads of indie films shot in all natural light simply out of cost/resources. That's why I asked about mainstream (i.e. a filmmaker who could afford lighting, but artistically chose not to use any artificial lighting).

Maybe it's never been well done (i.e. well enough to be released to movie screens in shopping malls). Maybe it's a challenge for a creative filmmaker out there.

Brian
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:24 PM   #4
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I have worked on some films where this has happened to a certain degree. "American History X" was probably the simplest lit film I've been on; I don't think we ever used any supplemental lighting or bounce/fill for day exteriors, and absolute minimum for interiors. Often there would be a single light bounced off the ceiling, and the windows would just blow out.

It's not that uncommon for day exteriors to be shot au natural. Twice I've operated Steadicam for the legendary Roger Deakins, and both times not a single piece of gear was used for supplemental lighting. He did have very specific times of day chosen to shoot those scenes, though.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:29 PM   #5
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Charles...not to make this thread all about your experience, but what about a film like Session 9? Was that lit very heavily?

I thought it had a good natural look to it (considering it was on HD at what I can only assume was a modest budget)

Just curious.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:51 PM   #6
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Southern Comfort

I have read Andrew Laszlo's book, "Every Frame a Rembrandt" and he says that the majority of the swamp scenes in "Southern Comfort" are done with existing light and reflectors. He is available on a web site I frequent and I asked him about this....

His response:

"Basically, the purpose of not using lights in the swamp was to make the film more believable. If the shots, particularly the close-ups were photographed with studio lighting techniques, all the film would have ended up looking like a studio photographed film. This is not to say that I did not use a bit of help by adding light here and there. The guide was to use minimal amount of lighting, and keep it at a level wher it would not be noticeable. My credo as applied to lighting and special effects was always that "it was good if you didn't see it."
"
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Old May 11th, 2005, 12:29 AM   #7
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Great responses guys! Kudo's to the folks here who have obviously made this such a top notch community. We have a busy music site and I know how hard it is to keep things intelligent and productive.

Charles: I'll check that out and see how it came out.

Scott: Tell Andrew thanks for this thoughts! Very interesting.

Anyone else have interesting examples?

Brian

PS: Charles, a direct question: Is it impossible for a camera to reproduce what the eye sees or can it be done with enough skill? If I am in a dimly lit house, is there any way a camera can see it the same way my naked eye does? I am sure that's an obvious question for all you guys, but I wonder if technology will produce gear that can eventually do that so that massive lighting may not be as neccessary in the future?
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Old May 11th, 2005, 06:49 AM   #8
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I believe all "Dogme" films are 100% natural. I'm not to knowledgeable about them, but I read an article recently and the basis for "Dogme" was to strip away the conventions of filmmaking to its purest form. I believe natural lighting is a requirement?

EDIT:
http://www.dogme95.dk/the_vow/vow.html
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Old May 11th, 2005, 08:14 AM   #9
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Chris,

Yeah, that's my understanding too, regarding the dogme films.

Brian, neither video nor film has the same built in responsiveness and immediate 'color correcting' features as the combination human eye/brain. Remember when you are talking about 'what the eye sees' you are really talking about what the 'brain processes'.

You can choose some filmstocks, that will see MORE than what the human eye sees... IE:Infrared. You can choose extremely low light filmstocks, that will appear 'grainy' but will 'see' into extreme low light conditions. Likewise, the camera lens has a great deal to do with how much light is collected in a given situation. (Along with the shutter speed of course).

Just as what you see is determined by how sensitive YOUR retina is, how wide YOUR pupil opens, how sharp YOUR lens is, and how well your visual cortex is working... so too, much depends on the filmstock, shutter speed, lens acuity and aperture, etc. (We all know people with great night vision, and poor night vision for example)

But, the answer I think you want to hear, is that generally speaking, film is 'slower' than the human eye/brain. But not always.

To see what I consider a masterly use of natural light (and artificial as well) check out "Girl with a Pearl Earring". Much better on the wide screen of course, but I felt like I was WATCHING a Vermeer painting... fantastic stuff.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 08:36 AM   #10
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Luis:

"Session 9" was lit pretty minimally, not just because of the low budget but partially for the look. The DP wanted to experiment with not "protecting" the HD image; letting backgrounds blow out rather than controlling them. I think it was largely successful.

Brian:

It's getting there, but not there yet, especially when it comes to highlights in digital. Even at the point when the sensitivity of the medium will allow us to shoot in what we consider "dimly lit" by visual standards, the question is: is that effective filmmaking? It may be real, but is it visually captivating, or will it appear flat and muddy? The best way to think of it is with still photography: by increasing the exposure time, you can capture an image in virtually any level of light. However, the results are not necessarily what the eye sees--what starts off as too dark will evolve (as the exposure time is increased) into a "proper" exposure according to the meter, but the resulting image will look brighter than what the eye sees. If one is to then take this image and print it down, it may work OK, or it might lose its snap and look dull (if there are highlights present, i.e. at least one area of good contrast in the frame, you can more easily get away with this).

Interesting discussion!
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:01 AM   #11
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Steven Soderberg shot Full Frontal with only ambient light on Canon XL-2's and it was commercially released.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:02 AM   #12
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Charles, thanks for the insight.

I think part of the allure to shooting with natural light (at least in my low budget world) is the allure of shooting with less gear and hence lower costs. One thing I think is important to stress is that to get good results it seems you're trading the gear for time. As long as you have the luxury of time, that's alright. But often times people think that less gear equals faster shooting.

I handled the post on a feature shot on HDCam a few years ago, and had the good fortune to be on set everyday because the director wanted me there to consult with him on coverage. He shot all the exteriors with natural light, and even though they had a good amount of grip equipment (silks, reflectors, etc), there was still a lot of time spent waiting on clouds, waiting on the sun, etc.

There were also many moments when, while shooting an interior scene, the entire production was moved outside to 'grab' and exterior while the light was right (the DP was always irked by that phrase, as if they were just 'grabbing' a shot with no effort on his part). These sorts of moves took a lot of time.

Reading up some stuff just now on Session 9 it seems that Brad Anderson and the DP spent a lot of preproduction time scouting out the location, taking photographs, and seeing how each location looked at different times of the day to get the look they wanted.

I'm not saying it isn't worth it, and in fact sometimes it's not a choice but a limitation dictated by the budget...but it seems you're trading one hurdle for another. What you gain financially you lose in control and time.

Then again, at the budget level I work at, that's still a good trade off.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:05 AM   #13
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Patrick,

The XL-2 wasn't around for Full Frontal. Must have been Xl 1s.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:09 AM   #14
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Didn't Nestor Almendros rely on natural light for much of his work?
I think I remember reading that Days of Heaven was shot primarily using available light....although I may just be confusing that with the fact that it was shot mostly at 'magic hour.'


OH, and to add to the list, the japanese film "Nobody Knows" was shot primarily with available light on Super 16. There was a short article about it in the February issue of American Cinematographer (not sure if the article in online).
Fittingly, the DP (Yamazaki Yutaka) spent most of his career shooting documenatries. According to the article, he only used lights (40 watt Kinos) for a nightime exterior in an apartment where there wasn't enough available light to get a proper exposure for the 'candlelit' scene they were doing.

Of course, to shoot this way is also an artistic choice which should match the material and subject matter you're covering.
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:23 AM   #15
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That is true it was the XL1s and it was all done in under 2 mill or somthing like that. Crazy, also he did all of the shooting in somthing like 19 days (or around there)
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