PHOTOGRAPHING THE FACE
Our first cinematography task of the year was to create a 60 second short using a single shot centered around the notion of Photographing the Face, without any dialogue.
This exercise was given to us to make us pay attention to the details involved in creating imagery, and how we use the imagery we have created to craft and deliver our narrative. I liked this exercise as it restricted us to focus specifically on cinematography as the means of communicating to the audience. I believe this pushed me to think more creatively about how I want to compose my imagery to create an impact and delivering a message.
In my long portrait Stop I wanted to try and make the camera a participant. In it we see the character sitting on a staircase staring directly at the camera as passers by walk past, giving little looks to the camera as they go by. The aim was to contrast the ‘mad rush’ of people dashing through and peaking at the camera as they go about there day to day with the protagonists longing stare, sitting in one place, comfortable.
Sometimes we all get caught up in the practicalities of life that we forget what we really want from it in the first place, and sometimes by just stopping to reflect or appreciate things, we can help make sure we don’t lose sight of what we want, who we are or what we care about thus prevent getting swept up completely in the less meaningless things etc. This was my thinking behind my long portrait and the reasoning behind trying to get the presence of the camera to influence the characters.
Below is my Photographing The Face project.
This project was filmed on a 50mm lens on a canon 700d using only natural light as it is a personal and emotionally evocative piece of work so wanted to create a visually natural and soft light. I also graded the picture to have a warmer colour temperature so as to further deliver this effect.
I feel that if I was to change anything if I was to make this again I would maybe consider composing the image differently, having it focused more on the expression of the character’s face.
LIGHTING FROM A PHOTOGRAPH
The 3rd 260mc cinematography task focused on teaching us the fundamentals of cinematic lighting and using it as a way of conveying the intended mood and style to communicate visually with the viewers. We got into groups and were given a photograph with which we had to produce a cinematic response, centered around trying to recreate the lighting of the still in our own 1-2 minute short.
The still my group was given was from the neo-noir crime film The Man Who Wasn’t There (The Coen Brothers, 2001). Below.
I was quite happy with this still as I enjoy using low key lighting and the use of negative fill and it stirred my imagination with what me and my group could do. In our final production we decided to make a spin/parody on a Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) scene, juxtaposing the harsh noir lighting with light comedy material and incorporating the use of the image at the end to give some context. Our short is below.
I believe in terms of filling the brief that the short did well in implementing the lighting shown in the photograph bar some possible room for improvement.
I acted in our production and contributed to the set design, shot composition and lighting of our short primarily.
With the photograph assigned to us being from a neo-noir film, we were tasked with adopting and implementing noir style lighting in our short.
This meant an emphasis on high contrast, hard shadows and strong key lights and back lights. We decided to replicate the composition of the scene with two people sitting at a table with a balcony in the background and create our own narrative utilizing the mood of the photograph.
To do this we found a small balcony at the top of a flight of stairs, and decided to black out the light sources there. We did this by clamping reflectors to the ceiling to block the tungsten ceiling lighting and darken the room. Then after setting up the props we decided to use two redhead lights on the stair below pointing up at our props and actors. This was used to create harsh rim/back light in the wide/two shots to add some mystery to the characters by making their faces dark, and thus place more emphasis on the outline of the setting.
For the single/close up shots of the characters faces we used the same lights directed more so at the characters faces as a key light, a small LED panel to add a soft fill light to the face shadows and some light spillage from the redheads bouncing of the wall adequately back lit the subject. This set up was used to capture the emotions of the characters as they conversed while still retaining the mood of the film.
We wanted to give the scene a feeling of mystery that is so commonly affiliated with film noir, and with our lighting set up we were able to achieve this. We wanted to create this mysterious moodiness as it lent a much more intriguing platform for our narrative then if it was more exposed and full with less contrast and shadows.
The script itself was based around a narrative enigma as it sets the tone for something bad to happen and flips it on its head and reveals it to be good, with the character revealing to the audience the topic (wife is pregnant) then the Godfather reference. I feel this would only work with this kind of moody atmosphere as it coaxes the audience into having false expectations of the scene, and makes the enigma in the script work.
The suit costume also adds to this as I believe it says to the audience that this character has a position of some importance and raises questions as to who he is, creating more intrigue and aiding the narrative. It is also a convention in the mise en scene of film noir so contributed to the style that we tried to achieve.
Our Lighting from a Photograph task was for all intents and purposes a parody of the Godfather with reference to a particular style of film as shown to us through the still from The Man Who Wasn’t There. In terms of style it is largely influenced by the film referenced in the photograph as we watched and analyzed the style/lighting of the scene from where it was taken, and mainly referred to it when creating our own scene. I also referenced other classic noir films and the lighting techniques used as inspiration.
I believe we could have used better actors and set design if we were to re shoot the project again as I believe it would give the scene more depth and character. I also wish we could have improved on lighting the faces of the subjects as they weren’t completely consistent throughout the film.
The last cinematography task before the final coursework hand in was to remake a piece of our cinematic work from the past few weeks. I decided to remake my photographing the face/long portrait task.
I enjoyed working on this as it allowed me to employ techniques I developed through the weekly tasks on a pieces of work where I had less knowledge of skills such as lighting. It is a clear indicator to me of the progress I have made with my skills and my ability to make cinema.
My Long Portrait remake is below.
One of the biggest things to note about the difference between my original and my remake is the production value. I went from using a Canon 700d and 50mm f1.8 lens to a Black Magic Ursa Mini with a 50mm f1.4 lens. This rendered a much more detailed picture with a much shallower depth of field and in general created a more cinematic aesthetic, making it more immersive and emotionally impactful than before.
In my original task I used natural lighting on a stair case outside amongst the public whereas in my remake I found a dark and isolated staircase indoors, and exclusively used artificial lights to make the scene. I used two Limelight LED Mosaic fixtures, one with a blue gel as the key light and the other with a warmer colour temperature setting to light the background. My source of inspiration for mixing colour temperatures came from a scene in the action film ‘Terminator 2: (James Cameron, 1991) which shows similar technique to what I have done (with the moonlight blue and molten lava red), although at the time was a much newer and unfamiliar idea used by director James Cameron.
I employed this technique to create an eerie and atmospheric tone for my portrait. The sci-fi like deep blue hue from the blue gel on the key light, contrasting the intense fiery orange hue from the back light gives creates an image of polar opposites and conflict. The highly saturated colours give the scene a vibrancy that further pushes this and puts the character in a surreal situation.
I wanted the character to be a characiture of a normal guy essentially and I consider myself to be fair normal looking so I used myself. The whole thing has an air of mystery to it with the underexposed staircase, with the light at the top creating an almost biblical visual.
When colour grading the image I wanted to try and separate accentuate the contrast. Using the Ursa Mini in a neutral film format gave me a lot of freedom in post production as most of the information regarding the shadows, mid-tones and highlight was retained allowing me to have more control each individual channel, and thus the colours. I decided to edge up the saturation in the image in order to create a strong contrast.
I feel I accomplished what I set out to do. I think I could have refined the lighting somewhat by adding a little some fill lights to manipulate the subtleties of the shadows on the subjects face but I am satisfied with the overall result.
For our final piece of coursework for this module we got into production groups and was given a photograph or painting with which we had to produce a cinematic response to, in the form of a 4-6 minute short film.
My group was given this photograph which we found out was taken in 1955 by American photographer and filmmaker William Klein.
After our research phase we assigned ourselves into production roles. My role was primarily as a DP but I also contributed to the project as an editor and colorist. Below is our short film ‘The Man With The Handgun’ (Theo De Ath, 2016).
We discovered that the photographer of our image was William Klein, who is by trade a well reputed filmmaker, photographer and also a painter (lesser known). Willaim is an American-born Frenchman who was born in New York; the place where he captured his first majorly popular work, photo essay Gun 1 (William Klein 1955) and others such as the one above.
At first we wanted to center our film around the 1955 era in New York and use the photo as a part of the narrative. Our scriptwriter then wrote a few outlines and we decided on a story, which we eventually changed after a bad filming day. We then went with a story based around dairy entries written about an obsessive and suicidal sociopath from America, infatuated with the man holding the gun in the photo. I believe this narrative was a more realistic choice for the sets we could obtain, but still manages to be impactful and interesting. We used an outdoors park and small Italian Cafe as our setting for the film.
Below is our Rough cut for the original film:
We used a lot of natural and ambient light in the film as our settings had very ambient light that fulfilled our needs but we still used small LED fixtures to pop out certain colours and bring out the whites on the camera, or to highlight reflective objects like spoons to emphasise them more in the frame. We added fill lights to soften the shadows often on our close ups of the character, using LED panels and reflectors. I contributed to the the lighting and composition of most of the shots in the film as well as the cut, and had sole responsibility of the colour grading process.
The story we went with called for a contrast of colours between the two main settings which was the cafe and the park, with one being warm and the other cold to show the comfort and uneasiness of the character shifting from one end to the other. The two settings we chose had contrasting colour palettes and natural lighting, so my job in the colour grade was to bring out and accentuate this contrast. In scenes in the cafe when our character finds catharsis in coffee and carrying out his lead-less investigation, giving him momentary respite from his reality, the colour temperature is much warmer whereas in the the scenes where he is in the park and his investigation is crumbling and he is approaching his inevitable fate, the colour is much cooler and melancholic in feeling.
The narrative was more a product of experimenting with styles and story ideas than following a structured script. We had gathered from our experience with botching the rough cut that we would benefit from a more organic approach to making the film.
The main inspiration for our film was the idea from the feature film Submarine (2010, Richard Ayoade) which uses a sole narrator as the main narrative device. We used this in a different way however as we decided that we were going to use the diary entries of our character who is a sociopath with an internal conflict. This was a good device as it worked well to develop the character and drive the story.
In our rough cut we originally filmed using a Canon 5D Mark II but after scrapping the story and visuals, decided to switch over to the Black Magic Ursa Minis as they gave a much more cinematic look with its 35mm sensor and captured the colours a lot more vividly which we wanted, particularly from our macro shots in the film.
We recorded primarily on the Zoom H6 and an rifle microphone on a boom for the ambient sounds and sound effects. We made sure to make use of the Radio studio to record the voice over to get crisp audio without interference as the dialogue is the drive of the narrative.
W KLEIN, Publisher: Marval (1995), ‘New York: 1954-55′ 1995