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April / 2006

John S. Bartley csc asc
On Being Lost . . . in Hawaii
'Moonlight at the beach comes from Dino lights'

by Roger Paul

By now, fans know the story behind the J.J. Abrams-created hit series Lost. An Oceanic flight from Sydney to Los Angeles crashes on what appears to be a remote island. Stranded, with slim hopes of being rescued, 48 people struggle to survive the island, its secrets, and themselves.

Envy the cast and crew behind this hit series, which is shot on the island of Oahu in Hawaii? They have sun, surf, and non-stop partying on this incredible island. "Then we have to deal with the elements, the long drive to locations, the fact that Panavision isn't a sneeze away. Not to mention how far it is to the post house," Vancouver-based cinematographer John S. Bartley csc asc says dryly.

Tensions boil over as Dr. Jack Shephard (right, played by Matthew Fox ) scuffles with John Locke (Terry O'Quinn). Photo: © ABC
Tensions boil over as Dr. Jack Shephard (right, played by Matthew Fox ) scuffles with John Locke (Terry O'Quinn). Photo: © ABC

The ABC-CTV series is shot with two Panavision Millennium camera bodies, two Panaflex G2s, O'Connor heads, Primo lenses and Bartley's favourite filters by Schneider in the 1:1.78 format with Kodak 5205 250 daylight for day exteriors and Kodak 5218 500T for night work and interiors. "Although, for a recent Korean back story, I used Kodak's 5229 500T Expression to give a little softer feel and added a ½ coral filter for the day exterior scenes," Bartley explains. "I like to use the Schneider Tru-polars on all day exteriors, to darken the ocean and sky.

"Often, moonlight at the beach comes from Dino lights. However, when there is a lot of fire, I will switch to 18k HMI lights without any gel (normally it is either Rosco or Lee) to get more of a colour separation between the fire and moonlight," he adds. "For those 'rainy' days, we've brought out an old workhorse, Braun Kobold's 200-watt, 800-watt units, which are water resistant.
A dramatic night scene from the hit ABC series Lost. Photo: © ABC
A dramatic night scene from the hit ABC series Lost. Photo: © ABC

"When we are inside, Mole Richardson tungsten lights and a mixture of Fresnel and Par lights from LTM are a staple, with those great LED lights from LitePanels for eye lights and places where it is hard to get conventional light units in. We also use Atomic flash units for effects shots and flashes."

The main location on Lost is what is called "the encampment." Bartley explains that "it is where most of our survivors have set up home. A very nice piece of coastline just along from the old surfing town of Hale'iwa. The waves pound in there, so we try to set the ocean in all the shots and have a lot of cheating to make that happen. In the winter, the sun is mostly in the western sky. So, it is relatively easy to keep everything backlit. Sometimes, we will have six pages to shoot but there are only 11 hours of daylight. It makes for a busy day with economical setups and a very fast crew."

What really challenges Bartley is the back stories. Each is designed with a different look. "On a recent episode (#214 called "One of Them"), directed by Toronto-based Steven Williams, the opening scene is an Iraqi bunker," Bartley recalls. "I set light through the windows, using 18k HMIs supplemented with strobe flashers to suggest a war going on outside, while the Iraqi soldiers are burning their records.
In one of the many back stories on Lost, Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) is an Iraqi soldier captured by American forces during the first Gulf War. Photo: © ABC
In one of the many back stories on Lost, Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) is an Iraqi soldier captured by American forces during the first Gulf War. Photo: © ABC

"I was trying to go for a reversal cross-processed look for the flashbacks in the episode, without post-production time, so I tried to get the same look with lighting and colour timing," he explains. "In the interrogation scenes, I saturated the background with green light and added yellow to the faces. I wanted the desert scenes to have a cool wartime look.

'Still not enough light. It happens.
You roll with the punches'


"This was the only episode where I managed to get to Los Angeles to supervise the timing," he adds. "It is very difficult, being so far away from your post-production, not to mention the two hours time difference. I spend a lot of time on the phone with dailies colourist Peter Ritter at Complete Post and Randy Coonfield at Matchframe in Los Angeles."
Lost DOP John Bartley csc asc on location in Hawaii.
Lost DOP John Bartley csc asc on location in Hawaii.
Bartley loves these back stories. "We had one set in Nigeria. A young Eko is playing soccer with his friends when a small truckload of rebels comes along and tries to force Eko's brother to kill a villager. Eko takes over the kill and the rebels take him away.

"The scene was shot in daylight, with a red enhancement filter and Tobacco two. The end result made us feel like we were in Africa, instead of the North Shore of Oahu. The location helped," he adds. "The background was an old sugar refinery and banana fields. We built a façade of a church, where later in the back story Eko meets with his brother, who is now a priest."

For another flashback (#212 called "Fire and Water") directed by Jack Bender and set in Brixton, England, Bartley chose not to change the "look" radically, except for a moment in a dream, "a Christmas morning that incorporates some of Charlie's dream of his father's butcher shop, which appears in the middle of the living room. I added minus green gel to the overhead lights to make it feel you were in a butcher shop and then pink to get the meat redder. The scene was lit dimly and we wanted to see snow falling outside the house windows. That meant controlling the daylight outside but still giving the special effects guys room to put in the falling snow outside.
Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) baptizes Clair's (Emilie de Ravin) baby in a scene from Lost. Photo: © ABC
Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) baptizes Clair's (Emilie de Ravin) baby in a scene from Lost. Photo: © ABC

"A lot of this episode takes place at night on the encampment beach," he adds. "That meant being able to read the waves in the background. Finding a balance of being able to see the water and not being too bright on the faces is quite difficult," he admits. "Especially when you have two cameras going at the same time with different angles."

Of course, there are always the "little things" that make the creative juices surge - and they usually happen on every episode. "Here, it was when Charlie comes back to the camp after setting a fire to cause a diversion so he can steal Clair's baby," Bartley recalls. "We had a Steadicam bring him out of the forest past Sayid, who asks for his help. He keeps walking.

"It was a night scene. Not enough light to read the actors. I took a deep breath. We could fix it in post. Oops. Still not enough light. It's a little dark," he sighs, shrugging it off. "It happens. You roll with the punches.

"Fortunately, those 'punches' are few and far between. Because we do the show with rotating DPs (Michael Bonvillain is his counterpart), we are able to get many setups done in a relatively short day and it really helps being able to do pre-production, help the director and first AD plan the shooting.

"And, of course, thanks to an incredible crew. First-unit gaffer Jim Grce and second-unit gaffer Mark (Kiwi) Kalaugher have lights in place almost before I ask for them. Operator Paul Edwards, first AC Tony Nagy, key grip Chuck Smallwood have learned to anticipate what is needed. I would truly be Lost without everyone there to back me up on this show."

(Roger Paul is a California-based freelance writer specializing in the technical side of the entertainment industry. His work has appeared in international trade publications as well as mainstream magazines.)

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