Light schemes & staging/shot-list

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    Max A.

      Hello Mr. Deakins and all the DPs over this fantastic forum. I hope you Mr. Deakins and Mrs. James are well. I know you are very busy with the ‘Byways’ tour. I would like to ask you if it is possible, for your (Mr. Deakins and also other DPs who want to answer my question) workflow during prep about light schemes + staging + shot list, etc.

      My question is about in which order you proceed. In my not big “experience,” I sometimes faced situations where the director want to stage the scene on location during the day and sometimes it vinified my initial light scheme, this for me was really stressful because, in a short amount of time, I had to rethink a light pattern which fit with the idea of the story (while the AD that asks for time for the prep.).

      The same thing is applied with the angles of the camera, when a director wants to change an angle or maybe wants to “find” the frame during a day so maybe your initial light plan is vinified cause the light and the rig are on the shot.

      In order to work better in the future and maybe reduce this kind of stress, I would to ask you about your workflow and, maybe, learn a better plan.

      Do you always think and prepare your light plans after the staging/shot list of the scenes during prep? (I know that it will depend from director to director).
      Of course, my scenario is really low-budget feature/short film/commercial, etc.

      I always thank you for your patience and for your time Mr. Deakins. I can’t wait to see ‘EOL’, I will go to the theatre this Wednesday! Surely I will have tons of questions about the movie😁.

      I wish you a peaceful Sunday.

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    • #187182

        What I’ve encountered is that at low budget productions  it really depends on the production itself and what workflow has been stablished with the people, how much crew there is around is also important. The type of the shoot is also important, if it’s doc or fiction, or an hybrid. Outside big productions anything can happen. And that’s the magic in my opinion. People are free to develop a system that work for them. At the end results is what counts and you can see how some films are amazing in part for how they were shot.

        That’s one the reasons I really prefer European cinema (or anything outside US), as it’s more freer in that regard and the result they show, but watch “The Rider” for example in US, that film looks and feels more authentic than 20 big studio production together in my opinion. There are few interviews online that you can learn how it was shot. But it was a crew of a handful people.
        Also to me thanks to newer and cheaper technology it’s gonna be what will really change cinema. How we shoot and plan a shooting day. The big studio ways to shoot a story are dead and completely boring to me as the results are often the same. And in the future with all these LED walls and Virtual Production systems coming the gap between commercial and authentic will be broader.

        To answer your specific question is really hard as you have said some directors like to find the shots on location, some like to come with a define shot list to the set. Some do story boards some don’t.

        Whatever they like you need to come prepared, if director tells you way ahead he/she doesn’t have any shots in mind and wants to get on set to discuss them you at least come prepared. Usually I like to visit all locations and discuss with them but sometimes it’s not possible so you have to improvise on the spot. But as I said you need to know how they work before shooting days so at least you have a plan already in the head and can transmit ideas right away. And it’s usually more than 1 option. So in case first idea don’t fall you have back-ups.

        Also, and this is my personal opinion, every DP out there would need some years of experience shooting Documentaries on the field. Or at least work as photo journalists. The fast approach to get not useable images but amazing ones 1 minute after you arrive at one place gives you an enormous experience and prepares you to be in your toes and work fast and efficient. Something as basic as where is the best spot to shoot in any location (based on the actual light and architecture of the place) you can train even with your phone while you do your daily stuff. Next time you go to supermarket wonder yourself what would be the best spot to get the best frame you could get if you need to shoot someone picking a bag of carrots. Repeat this to any mundane action anywhere you go.

        Roger Deakins

          Firstly, I like prep but that is not to say anything that is imagined during prep has to be what is shot. That is certainly not the case. In my opinion, little can be decided before the director has rehearsed with the actors. Therefore, any lighting I plan out, or indeed rig, prior to seeing a blocking rehearsal will not compromise the possibilities available to the actors and director. Naturally, during location scouting the director and I might decide what will be the preferred angle to shoot in and also what might constitute the widest view, but there is always a possibility of change on the day of the shoot.

          I too tend to prefer European cinema, and especially Eastern European cinema, but I am not aware that these films, or ‘The Rider’ for that matter, are made with different equipment. We recently talked with Andrey Zvyagintsev and his cameraman, Michael Krichman, for our podcast and delved into how they shot “Loveless’, ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Elena’. None of the equipment they used was any different to that available to any ‘Hollywood’ production. To say that the ‘big studio ways’ of shooting a film are dead is to miss the point. Was the film ‘In Cold Blood’ dead? Was ‘The Wild Bunch’ or ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ or ‘Dr. Strangelove’ dead? While you can easily dismiss the big budget films that are presently being made as, to put it mildly, unexciting, it would be wrong to erase film history altogether. It is not the technology that will change the films that are being made but the mind set of the film makers. Consider Godard. He didn’t work with one of today’s lightweight digital cameras and his greatest films, ‘Alphaville’, ‘Band of Outsiders’, Pierrot le Fou’ , “Breathless’ etc. etc., were made well before Steadicam and stabilized heads. And what about the work of Peter Watkins? What about his ‘War Game’ or ‘Culloden’. For an extreme contrast, consider also John Huston’s ‘Red Badge of Courage’, a film that is made up of extended tracking shots. Look behind the scenes of this production and see the size of the camera and the technological challenges of making those kinds of shots. Limitations can be overcome if the film maker has a vision and a passion.


            When I mentioned “The Rider” I didn’t do it because the equipment but the crew.
            It was shot with a minimal crew. This is one of the reason I think it looks how it looks. It’s magic.

            You can check “Rien à Foutre” a recent belgian film too to watch an European version of that. A movie set with again minimal crew where in this case they even use a small cheap “amateur” camera to shot it. And it wasn’t because there wasn’t budget. As there was budget to rent big commercial Airbus planes. But the image, the shots are powerful and as quality as any big name movie coming from a studio. My guess is they decide to shoot it like this because the outcome would be less rigid and more in line what creators had in mind. And again, it shows when you watch it.

            Technology has allowed this ways of shooting. It has democratize film making.
            Once you don’t need big money to shoot you are freer to find your own ways to shoot.
            But we would all agree that this was already done many decades ago already with Bresson and the like but nowadays it’s even easier than what he had.
            Also mentioning how all European movies are financed vs how they are in US would also explain in part this freedom. But that is another story.

            All the movies you mentioned are Amazing films that define cinema as it is. But time has flown since then and nowadays MOST big studio films are not that much exciting anymore. Again, that’s my personal opinion. And if I try to find a reason why is that I go back to my point, the way you plan and shoot a movie it’s really important and define the outcome. I would love to watch next Star Wars film to be shot with a crew of 5/6 people. I bet the outcome will be quite different.

            All of this was to answer OP question on how to plan and shoot a film. And my answer again is it all depends. But I mentioned all of this to make clear there are not one way to shoot a film, there are thousands. And also to have small crew don’t mean you can’t shoot a movie and make it look elegant and fancy enough.
            We all look up to how masters do their job but that’s just one way of doing things, there are many more. Even more exciting. At least to me.




            Max A.

              Hello Quijotesco and Mr. Deakins, first of all, thank you very much for your reply!
              What I understood from your pieces of advice about my question is to be obviously prepared with a good prep. but also be prepared and maybe training (maybe the most difficult step during a stressful day) for drastic changes without losing the “focus” of the story. I think that this is something that can be improved with experience or of course with an innate talent.

              To Quijotesco, I’m European (Italian), and I too like mid-range movies, personally, I love so much Asiatic cinema (Kore’eda, Edward Yang for instance) even if there are tons of European movies that I still have to watch (a few days ago I saw “La terra trema” 1948 movie from Luchino Visconti and it was really fantastic).
              I have to watch ‘The Rider’ cause I like both the director and the cinematographer, I really love his “minimalistic” style and non-invasive.

              I think that a good/strong story and a great narrative image making, it’s more valuable that a big-budget “soul-less” movie (even if it’s freaking complex to realize). Maybe this could sound a bit too “poetic” in the industry, (and I don’t hide that in the last months, I thought to change my way.. but this is another topic) but I think that even new generation audiences want to be absorbed into the stories through images.
              In the “past” maybe big budgets were however used with the idea to make a “film” and maybe “nowadays” the same big budgets are used to make “products” or even to realize a director’s virtuosic. But I’m nobody to say this.
              This is a bit “complex” topic and maybe I can’t be clear as my English is not really good, but it is really interesting too. As a great chatting with you all, around a coffee/Tea.

              Another good thing is that with this topic I discovered other movies to see from you Mr. Deakins and from you Quijotesco.☺
              Thank you very much again Mr. Deakins and Quijotesco for your reply.

              I wish you a peaceful day.

              Roger Deakins

                I agree that that most contemporary big budget movies are quite boring. I would not challenge that statement at all. But its not the equipment or the size of the crew that makes them boring. Nor is the supposed ‘democratization of film’ leading to more interesting films now than there were in the 1960s and 70s. While it is true that in some European countries government subsidies allow for a little more creative freedom it would be wrong to say that there is not an equivalent independent film community in the US. But there are interesting films being made in all extremes of production, ‘The Quiet Girl’, ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ or ‘The Batman’, but, sadly, these are few and far between.

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