Recently, I had the opportunity to help out on the set of Mark Bakaitis’ upcoming film Cult Girls. Not only was it an excellent opportunity to see the workings of an indie film production; but it was also an eye opener to the pressure and responsibility of crewmembers on set. Admittedly, my role was very minor, but it was intense to see both the cast and crew work toward getting the perfect shot.
Whilst on set, there were several challenges the crew faced; one of them being the continuity in lighting. When I arrived on the exterior set at 5pm, the sun was only just starting to set; but as time went on and the director decided to push for more shots, the sun slowly began to slip below the horizon. For continuity purposes, the crew then had to work with artificial LED lighting to construct the same (or hopefully similar) lighting contrast and tone in the shots.
In reference to our lighting workshop with Nicolette Freeman, we discussed scenarios such as this, with one specific reference1 to Lynne Ramsay’s 2012 short film Swimmer2. Nicolette discussed the obstacles1 that the cinematographer, Natasha Braier, faced when shooting for short periods of time over a vastly spread out number of days3. Throughout the workshop we discussed ways to neutralize these difficulties and maintain continuity in the progression of the shots1.
The plot of Swimmer follows the story of a boy that swims through the lakes and rivers of Britain, overhearing the thoughts and conversations of various characters on the shore2. With a large portion of the shots being filmed in exterior locations, complimented with several underwater interior set-designs, lighting continuity was a challenging obstacle3. Through scouting the locations thoroughly, and using the times of day to assist in specific lighting direction, Natasha Braier was able to create the impression of a harmonising lighting arrangement throughout the entirety of the film3.
In comparison, it was interesting to see how the cinematographer for Cult Girls, Trent Schneider, worked with artificial lighting, camera direction, and space, to accommodate the setting sun. Noticeably working with a considerably smaller crew and principally fewer resources, it was motivating and notable how the crew managed to arrange a similar lighting setup to maintain continuity in the final shots of the day.
It is evident to me, through the analysis of the lightning continuity techniques used in Swimmer, and seeing for myself the practical use of methods to effectively control and change lighting, just how important it is to consider such crucial variable elements in a scene. Not only is it important to identify these changing variables beforehand, but also to consider multiple ways to address them using methods that work to construct continuity and balance.
- Nicolette Freeman, in Lighting Workshop Lecture, VCA Southbank Campus, March 16, 2016.
- DVD. Directed by Lynne Ramsay. UK: BBC Films, 2012.
- Jean Oppenheimer, “An Olympic Swimmer,” American Cinematographer, December 2012.