Illumination Experience- Day 1
I spent the last weekend participating in the Illumination Experience Cinematography Tour (illumination.mzed.com).
The first day was the more general workshop. It was a combination of classroom style lectures, demos, and hands-on training. The morning started with Shane going over some useful tools; some killer apps that I’m looking into getting, and something I hadn’t really thought about using before: a color temp meter. I have and use light meters pretty often, but using a color meter is sort of a new concept for me. But after learning how Shane uses them on set I’m seriously looking into getting one.
The rest of the morning was spent going over lighting. I’ve always used the standard 3-point setup with key and fill on opposite sides. So when Shane introduced the idea of lighting everything (key, fill, back) from the same side I was a little taken aback, but in a good way. It makes perfect sense and allows for a lot more flexibility in camera placement. Bringing everything onto the same 180º and using bounce and controlled spill to cover the fill side is an incredibly useful concept.
Before we got too far into full lighting setups Shane pulled out his dubbed “pirate ship.” The idea is this: in prepping for a project, having actors come in and testing different lights from different angles can drastically effect how you light the project. In the morning we covered doing this for your key and fill lights; and we saw how you can make an actor look completely different just by how the shadows form on their face. Later in the afternoon we did the same thing for backlights. I absolutely love this; and now I just need to get on a project that actually allows me the time and resources to do it.
He further broke project prep into three categories: discovery, creation, execution. In discovery you’re going over the script multiple times and figuring out how you want to tell each characters’ story by use of specific lighting and camera techniques. In creation you’re going through tons of inspiration and developing the who, what, when, where, and why of how the film’s world looks. Execution is making use of the “rules of engagement” that you’ve created for your world and characters, and not breaking those rules without a good reason.
When going over prepping for a project, Shane talked a lot about using photography to inspire you instead of looking at (and eventually copying) other films. So when he got around to discussing the idea of “key frames” it made a lot of sense. We dissected a few scenes from his films and pulled out the key frame for each. Shane defined these frames as having “all the emotional firepower with one shot.” A lot like photography it’s all about how you can tell the story with just one frame. I jumped into video without having a really strong photography background and I’ve always felt that my work has been missing something. The concept of telling the entire story in one frame is what I was missing. Looking forward, I plan on really finding the root of each shot I take.
As much as I learned from sitting and listening to Shane’s killer stories, the best parts were definitely the scene breakdowns. The crew rebuilt a set from Crazy/Beautiful (imdb.com) and we had some hands on with Shane lighting, blocking, and shooting the scene. Being able to see his thought process and how he builds lighting setups and moves the camera was an amazing sight. A lot of the concepts were things I knew in my head but hadn’t gotten to practice a lot with.
His final lighting practicum was recreating a setup from his first feature, Rat Pack (imdb.com). The cool part was that after he showed us the $15k setup, he tore it down and rebuilt it with under $500 worth of Home Depot lights. Being a DIYer I grabbed onto this with hook and claw. The biggest thing I took away from seeing all the setups was that I need to light in layers. Starting with the key light, then working backwards; instead of trying to mess with all of it all at once (like I’ve been doing).
When I say that this workshop was invaluable, I really mean it. I’ve been to a lot of cinematography workshops and I’ve never once taken a note. With the Illumination Experience I walked away with seven pages of notes. It may sound like I’m just blowing smoke because I’m a big fan of Shane’s work and what he does as an educator, but I really did learn a lot and picked up some fantastic techniques that I hope will push my work even further. This was just day 1, stay tuned for more about day 2!
And if you don’t know about the tour, I put the trailer below. It’s almost over, but there are still some seats left for LA. Check out the trailer then go check out the tour: illumination.mzed.com
Illumination Experience- Day 1