• Making Miracles


    Although the lighting package will vary vastly from shoot to shoot, the approach is usually the same. I would first consider what mood is required - is it natural or stylised? Is it a sunny or overcast? Usually this is obvious from the script/treatment and from discussions with the director. In the case of Future Kings the mood was stylised and we were shooting at night (the warehouse had many skylights which would have been too difficult to black out). On top of that, there were four different lighting styles - one for each room. Finally, just to complicate things further, two sets had to be lit at any given time - we were tracking between them.

    The next thing I consider is how much space I need to light. I find drawing up diagrams is a handy way to predict how much light I’ll need. Because the budget was so tight, and also because of the rigging situation, I couldn’t light every room at once. So I came up with two different set ups, one for each night of the shoot.

    And, with low-budget videos such as this, I have to consider how I can achieve what I need to for the lowest price. We couldn’t afford a large generator, so we had to work off the power that was already there. We weren’t matching to daylight, so I could stick with tungsten sources which are relatively cheaper than HMIs. Without the genny, I could only use small sources - the strongest light I could use was a 2K. So I kept that in mind when making the diagrams. Inevitably there will be changes to what I plan, but I find that the amount of lights I use tends to match quite well, so it’s a handy way to quantify things. On a bigger budget shoot, there might be a truck full of lights at your disposal, but when every lamp counts, it’s worth planning.

    One of the initial lighting diagrams

    I spent a half day rigging the set with the help of Dave and John from the band. I had hoped that we could hire out two long crossbars (one of the rooms was over 20ft long), to rig over the sets, from the lighting hire company (CineElectric), but unfortunately they weren’t going to fit on the roof of the transport van, so we had to come up with an alternative. Mike suggested trying Mulveys, which was just around the corner from the set. In a stroke of luck, they had some metal scaffolding bars available to hire which were just the right length. The bastards weighed a ton, but we managed to get them over a wall and into the warehouse.

    With some manoeuvring we got them rigged safely above the set, and I was able to hang the first set of lights from them. We managed to get the first room rigged, just leaving some minor tweaking for the day of the shoot.


    Even the most simple shoots can have their moments where time is of the essence, and this shoot, with its scale and ambition was run on a fairly tight schedule. Although we moved quickly, the first day was plagued with electricity issues - although the warehouse seemed to have a number of circuits, we lost power frequently, often just because a small appliance was plugged in somewhere. My gaffer, Niall O’Connor, made great work of managing the power situation, and in the end we brought in a portable generator to aid running everything. I can also safely say that the shoot would have been impossible without focus puller Tommy Fitzpatrick and loader Aislinn McDonald, who kept the camera department running like clockwork.

    We kicked off with the most complicated scene - a cocktail party involving 20/30 extras and a choreographed dance. Knowing that this would be a tough one, I had all the lights rigged above the set, allowing us to move quickly and avoid catching any stands in shot. This room was supposed to feel intimate and dark - a contrast to the waiting room scene that precedes it. To achieve the right atmosphere, I had two 2K Chinaballs lighting the band as they play at one end of the room. I had them on a dimmer, and we dimmed them about half way down to get some warmth out of them. I also wrapped them with some black cloth to prevent them spilling onto the walls, etc.

    The lighting set up for the cocktail room. Two 2K Chinaballs to light the band (on dimmers) plus a number of 2K Blondes bounced into a white sheet above the set. Black material was used to control spill and 650s pointing down onto the wall added some shape to the background.

    Simon wanted the audience (the extras) to be very dark, with just a hint of light on them. I was conscious of not letting them become too ‘murky’ - dark without any detail. So I lit them with a very soft green toplight (achieved by bouncing a few 2K blondes gelled with ‘blue steel’ into white sheets). This meant that they were less lit than the band, yet you could still read their faces (we ended up printing some of their shots down further in the grade). The green came out of some of the visual references I had looked at, and complemented the red walls nicely. The shape the walls I had a row of 650w lamps facing down. These prevented the wall from being too flat. Originally I had hoped to get practical wall lamps installed, but it didn’t work out - I think the 650s do enough though.

    The effect of the lighting on lead actress Maria, in a screen grab from the video.

    The far end of the set also had to be lit. The lead actress, Maria, is watching the band from down there. I had a practical lamp put in the corner, and I fired a diffused 650w lamp out above it, simulating the lamp. This provided some dramatic backlight for Maria. Her face was lit by the bounced 2Ks, but we took the gel of one of the lamps so her face wasn’t too green.

    Then we track to the next room, continuously.

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Ronan O'Conghaile's Avatar
      Ronan O'Conghaile -
      Fantastic article Piers. Thanks for taking the time to write this up; it's a great insight to the behind the scenes work you had to do.
    1. PiersMcGrail's Avatar
      PiersMcGrail -
      Thanks Ronan!
    1. Ruairiob's Avatar
      Ruairiob -
      Thanks- good article Piers.
    1. markbennett's Avatar
      markbennett -
      God I wish I could make videos as good as yours!!
    1. CRT's Avatar
      CRT -
      This is the kind of budget I wish I had for video... not a lot, just enough to be as creative as I'd like... good article! Something to aspire to!
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