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Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.

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Old August 15th, 2008, 11:11 AM   #1
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Green Screen it all?

I'm working on a short film where the last scene is in a diner. I don't have access to a diner. Getting a hold of one, getting everyone's schedule to work, etc would be real chore, if I could do it at all.

I don't have the resources to build any decent set either.

I've been playing with lighting for green screen, and keying in After Effects CS3. I think I can pull a fairly decent key.

That makes me wonder if should just chroma key my diner scene? If I'm going to struggle with this, the chroma key struggle is one I might be able to 'win'.

I don't mind if discerning eyes look at the scene and say 'He used a green screen!'. As long there's nothing so obviously wrong that the audience doesn't look at it say 'What the h*ll?'

I was wondering if other low-budget filmmakers do this - green screen scenes you wouldn't in bigger budget productions. If you're like me, and finding a place besides your buddy's apartment is a real obstacle, why not green screen lots of stuff?

It may not be the ideal situation - but that would be a very large budget, which I don't have. But the alternative may be a very fakey set, or filming very quickly in a crowded restaurant.

Just wondering if anyone has tried this, or thought about, or have some cautionary thoughts.
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Old August 16th, 2008, 10:48 PM   #2
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This is a short I shot last year. With the exception of the tunnel shots, everything was greenscreened:

Secret Society

If this is the sort of thing you were thinking of, feel free to ask any questions :-)

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Old August 17th, 2008, 04:28 PM   #3
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If you don't have access to a diner, there's not much room for debate. If you could somehow get stills from a diner at the 'angles' focal lengths (approx), and lighting situation that works for your shots...then green screen might be a convincing enough proposition.
If you can find a local restaurant supply shop in your area, maybe you can put together something with a table/booth/bench and some props that would work. I don't know how much easier it would be to get filming permission/access there...but I'm just trying to brainstorm for you (and my head is starting to smoke).
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Old August 19th, 2008, 10:05 AM   #4
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thanks everybody.

I found a place that will allow me to film. A local film student clued into a place near his school. I called the manager, who reacted like I was the umpteenth filmmaker who called him that day. He's got a cool, old-timey diner a few blocks from a film school, so I probably was.

Anyway, after some back and forth about how much money he needed, we came to an agreement.
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Old August 19th, 2008, 12:23 PM   #5
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Great job PJ. Very impressive. What software did you use for keying? Also, can you tell us about the lighting you used?
Paul Cascio
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Old August 19th, 2008, 06:10 PM   #6
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Hi Paul,

Thanks, glad you liked it :-)

The keying was done in After Effects. I usually use the colour range effect to pull the key, as it can be a lot more forgiving of uneven lighting, which I had to deal with in some of the shots.

The film was shot with the JVC HD101 at 720p.

Lighting for the exterior shots was easy, as we actually shot them outside in the backyard of the place where we shot the interiors. I had a 3metre x 6m and a 3mx3m greenscreen which we strung between lightstands. Obviously the biggest problem was the fact that they acted like giant sails. Anyone who wasn't in shot was basically recruited to hold the things down.

For the interiors, we had a fairly small room, about 6mx6m. I greenscreened one wall and a corner. The camera basically stayed put, and we just moved the furniture and lighting for the different angles. Since I'd already constructed the 3D room, I had a good idea of the direction the light needed to be coming from for each angle.

The actual lighting consisted of two 800w tota lights on the greenscreen, an 800w redhead through a diffuser to replicate the light from the windows, and a 150w dedolight for fill.

As you might imagine, it got very hot in the room, especially as this was shot towards the end of the Australian summer. Originally I was planning on giving it a cool look in post, but when I realised you could see the sweat on the actor's faces in some shots, I went for the warmer look instead ;-)

The other factor presented by the small location was that I wasn't able to get a lot of separation from the screen, which made the keying tricky in a few shots, most notably the ones with the girl with the frizzy hair.

All up, I was pretty happy with the results, especially considering shooting and post were all completed within 10 days to comply with the competition it was made for :-)

Caliburn Productions
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Old September 29th, 2008, 07:44 AM   #7
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Excellent greenscreen work.

A suggestion about the overall lighting: given the subject matter, it would have been effective to use dark shadows, obscuring half the actors' faces, to give it that "secret, underground" type vibe. The whole thing was lit like a bright picnic, which did not enhance the mood.

And might I suggest having the people sit cross legged in a circle, sharing their stories, to make it more like a tribal meeting where oral tradition is passed down, than a meeting at a table?

The music was very effective and suitably unobtrusive.

All in all, an effective piece, and all too true as a political statement.
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Old October 1st, 2008, 01:05 PM   #8
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We did an all green screen short last year (still working on FX): - Hellevator - WEST PALM BEACH, Flevoland -

My advice would be to have everything pre-made, FX-wise, before shooting. We did it a little backwards. Oh, well...

My Final Cut Pro X blog
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