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Hail Caesar - Universal Pictures

Hail Caesar – Universal Pictures


Looking at Lighting


We shot this scene on location in LA but it was just a raw space that had to be totally dressed for the scene.

Palladium Nightclub Lighting plan

Palladium Nightclub Lighting plan


Like all location work I always start with deciding what of the existing lighting can be used and what I need to add. In this case the existing lighting fixtures in the ceiling above where our characters would be sitting were visually very interesting. So too were the soffit lights. Much of this was of very low output and the wiring was old. Some of this had to be replaced and all had to be enhanced. To do this we used, for the most part, 40 and 60 watt tungsten household bulbs on ready made strings of sockets that could be easily fitted into the soffits without compromising the existing wiring. There was no lighting on the back wall of the balcony so we added a row of soffit lights here to match the overall ‘look’ of the space.

Palladium Nightclub

Palladium Nightclub


One of the great benefits of both storyboarding and a detailed tech scout is that it can minimize the amount of work that has to be done in preparation. In this case we had decided on a precise line of sight that would limit the actual picture area that would be seen. Consequently I only needed to rig lighting that would appear in camera for the stage area and I could use a mobile scaffold for the upper balcony area where the scene really takes place. This was not only an easier rig but also one that allowed me some latitude when shooting. This mobile scaffold held a row of 12 x 2K Blondes each of which were dimmed down to about 50% of full voltage and spaced at about a foot apart. The effect was of one large warm soft source that I could move quite easily as a ¾ front light to each complimentary angle on the actors.



The green beds for this set were only rigged at 25’, which was the highest we could go in the stage we had available but this also worked for us aesthetically. As the idea was to shoot the scene as a ‘film within the film’ and then open out to see the camera and the shooting crew, it was an advantage to have the lights lower in the frame.

Sestimus' Courtyard Lighting Plan

Sestimus’ Courtyard Lighting Plan


The scene is lit in a similar way to the ‘water ballet’, by using a series of lamps, which were in this case 10K Fresnel lamps interspersed with 5K Fresnel lamps, to create soft lines of light. Here I wanted to add a harder sunlight effect so we incorporated three 24K Fresnel lamps into the rig as well. There is a note referring to a half Wendy light but this got no further than a note. I have used a Wendy light to create a hard sunlight effect in very similar circumstances but here using Fresnel lamps had the advantage here of being able to spot a lamp in to a distinct area rather than just creating a wide wash of light. A Fresnel lamp can also be easily controlled with wires without any color shift, which is hard to do with a Wendy light. Besides that the Wendy light is obviously not a period fixture.

Wide Shot of Sestimus' Courtyard

Wide shot of Sestimus’ Courtyard


We took a number of reference images from films such as ‘Ben Hur’ and ‘The Robe’ and this lighting was my attempt to emulate that same look. The use of direct sources is not as easy as it might look, especially for someone such as myself more used to soft naturalistic lighting. One constant was the use of a backlight or a kicker; hence my use of three 20K ‘sunlight’ sources. Only one was used for any one shot but the three lamps were positioned in such a way that I could always have a backlight at the flick of a switch. Similarly, the 10Ks were controlled using wires, rather than by the dimmers, to enhance the backlighting or the side lighting of each individual camera shot. The lamps were wired rather than dimmed so as to maintain the full array of colors in the on set costumes.

Tight of Baird with backing behind him

Tight of Baird with backing behind him


The backings, one of which is an original from the classic 1959 version of ‘Ben Hur’, were lit using 1K Fresnel lamps so that I could control the intensity of the light in different areas rather than simply wash the whole thing with light.


Baird staggers away - Warner's Lot

Baird staggers away – Warner’s Lot


I put in here some images that we shot on the Warner Backlot. These set ups were split between day and night. We could only shoot there at the weekend and we had to be quite specific as to where and when we wanted to shoot; when so that we could take advantage of the light and where so that the studio could remove any modern vehicles and equipment. As you see from the daytime images the angle of the sunlight was key to the success of each shot and we had planned out very specific windows of time.

Day wide shot of Eddie on the Warner's Lot

Day wide shot of Eddie on the Warner’s Lot


Looking down the alley of stages on the Warner's Lot

Looking down the alley of stages on the Warner’s Lot


The night work provided some of the most fun lighting of the film. The look of these images wanted to be more noir’ish than anything that appears elsewhere in the film.

Noir-ish Wide Shot

Noir-ish wide shot


There were not many lamps used but the positioning of the few that were was key to the look of each shot. To set the lamps we used existing lighting positions on top of the standing set walls or added some platforms of our own.

Lighting plan for the Moneylenders Temple

Lighting plan for the Moneylenders Temple


For the most part I used direct 10K Fresnel lamps and 5K Fresnel lamps but I had one 20K Fresnel lamp to light the statue and a second on the ground to bounce some soft light from the reverse side of frame.

Eddie walks by the statues

Eddie walks by the statues


I was using a 20K on the statue to create both the width and intensity of the beam I needed whilst I may have been better off with a series of smaller lamps instead of the 20K bounce.



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