This weekend is designed to be the biggest of the Movie Tao independent film production 6 Degrees of Desperation in that it is the finale of the film which takes place at the Senior high school prom. This also happens to be the biggest night on the production in terms of lighting, which is where I come in.
Writer/producer/director Bren Pettengill scheduled me to be on set this August 11-12 in hopes of giving her production a little flare. I am excited to be on the set as this is the first time I’ve been given the opportunity to light a prom (although I’ve done several parties for the Blank Stage production Too Shy To Be A Vampire). My first mistake was not bringing enough lights to accommodate the requirements of the production but like all low budget independents we compromise and make due with what we’ve got. Lucky for me proms, in general, should be darkly lit so having few lights actual works in my favor. The night becomes more about what to emphasize which is the stage in which the band The Issues is to perform and highlight the event.
Filming on Saturday is at the former Cosa Middle School in Rome, Georgia (home to the Rome International Film Festival and where several other indie productions have been filmed including Dark Remains, Dance of the Dead, and the short film Brutal). The people of Rome are very accommodating as they allow the production to use the abandoned and closed school for the prom scenes as well as use the newer schools for various other scenes.
Lighting the band is tricky in that I have only the use of two flood instruments to side light them allowing spill to highlight the front of the audience. Co-Producer Hawk Pettengill is instrumental in helping out in this aspect as well as suggesting split gels for each of the lights. For one instrument I use a spit gel of Rosco 124 – Red Cyc Silk, and Rosco 125 – Blue Cyc Silk, and in the other instrument I use Rosco 126 – Green Cyc Silk, and Rosco 127 – Amber Cyc Silk. I use the cyc gels since I want as much spill as possible and the silk will give me that. I enhance the band by using the stage fluorescent overhead lights gelled with random colors as back light. This gives the entire stage a psychedelic feel. For all the wide shots I use your standard “pan lights” from Home Depot on the floor shining up into the crowd at the back of the room in a position that would not be seen by the camera(s). These pan lights are usually gelled with a Rosco 74 – Night Blue, and Rosco 21 – Golden Amber, although for pick up shots and close up shots on the action in most of the scenes these gels are replaced by something less saturated or no gel at all. For added effect and ambience a handheld mirror ball with two multi-colored LED lights is used in every scene.
At times there are scenes that are too heavily saturated with one color so I have to make sure to change the lighting around so that this will not happen. Being a prom scene I go more for what looks appealing rather than continuity in terms of lighting. It’s a prom and the lighting is always changing.
I must thank everyone in Rome for there help as the city not only provided the film with all the requirements of extras but many of them also helped out as grips and gaffers for the film as well, which made my job easier since I was always going back and forth from one scene to the next.
After the prom scenes are complete it is time to move to the next location which is the exterior of the current Cosa Middle School which is being used as the exterior of the fictional Zion High School in the film. This is where we have to shoot the main characters arriving at the prom. Since the production has already filmed at this location, before Hawk takes charge of this location. He uses the two flood instruments as ambient fill in the arch way that you walk through before entering the school. The fully lit arch way makes for a very interesting contrast to the rest of the exterior of the school which is only lit by the school’s exterior security lights. Once this location is fully lit, Co-Director Chuck Fallaw takes the second unit to an alternate location to film another scene.
Fallaw, H. Pettengill, and myself go to the front of Cosa High School (which is only located on the other side of the new middle school) to film a scene that is theoretically suppose to be a car parked on the side of the road. We have to use available street lights as our light source since we don’t have any way of getting power to the location. There is no fill light for the scene, only top light so I’m not 100% sure how the footage will come out. Hopefully, the sharp angle of the light won’t create too many over powering shadows on faces since this film is suppose to be a broad comedy and not an indie dramatic-comedy. The harsh lines and shadows on the actors’ faces may give the wrong impression of the film.
The scene goes by fairly quickly being as though I have very little to contribute other than telling Fallaw and H. Pettengill where they should place the scene at the location in order to maximize the most from the overhead street lamps.
All in all Saturday ends up being the best day of the film set for me thus far. In my next article of the series I will discuss filming and lighting inside Cosa Middle School in terms of making the school look like a school.