On February 18, I joined a sold-out gathering of professional cinematographers in Los Angeles to attend a weekend-long Master Class seminar at Avenue Six Studios, produced by The Film Training Company.
The Masters POV Cinematography Conference 2012 was jam-packed with in-depth workshops from five great cinematographers with a broad range of expertise and personal expression.
Gabriel Beristain ASC, BSC (The Ring II, There Be Dragons) kicked off with an admittedly improvised approach, addressing the idea that while digital may require less quantities of light, it demands a great mastery of light to achieve artful results. Using a mix of natural light (the studio doors wide open), he used a 5K and a few LED fill lights with CTI for fill, and overall the demonstration turned out quite well.
Beristain focused more on style than technical aspects, pushing the limits of the ALEXA into highlights and dark shadows and using a mix of available and artificial light. Recreating scenes from some recent shooting experiences, Beristain varied the angles of light to gain strength and drama; keeping the “victim’s” face in darkness, underscoring the mystery of the “aggressor,” while painting some spectral light on the gun for emphasis. For their demonstrations, the guest cinematographers were supported by professional actors and a crew of very efficient technicians, from gaffers, to best boys (and girls) and grips.
Next, effects cameraman Mark Sawicki (The Terminator, Premonition) led us into a visual effects test using forced perspective and a nodal mount (the pivoting axis of the tripod lined up with the optical cross-centre of the lens).
His demonstration was the clearest I’ve seen in this department, and I took good note of the setup to try at home. Sawicki also took us on a nostalgic ride into in-camera illusions, using a still camera to shoot step animation for a commercial with articulated puppets.
He showed us how to create shadows on puppets, by shooting the beauty pass, and the effect pass (a specific animated shadow on the puppet’s face) shot on every other frame and later combining them using digital compositing. He used a gobo on a C-stand to alternately mask and show the shadow, making the operation easier than flicking a light. He ended his workshop by showing us a short film he made that showed the step-by-step workflow of an optical cameraman on the last optical stand in Hollywood that was going to be dismounted the following week – a touching moment.
The highlight of the event was most certainly Karl Walter Lindenlaub ASC, BVK (The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Stargate) and his exceptional lighting workshop. Lindenlaub used an elaborate pre-lighting setup that he had created and prepared the previous day. He showed us a detailed lighting plan for natural effects, covering the entire range from early dusk to late sunset, right through into night. He even demonstrated a few common mistakes that are often made in attempts to save time. For example, one common mistake is to use a side key light and bounce it back onto the actor’s face in a close-up. Sure, it’s a fast solution to bring fill light using only one source, but what a mess on the actor’s face. He went on creating changes of mood with colour gels from quarter or half to full CTI.
Karl-Walter Lindenlaub ASC, BVK workshop “Lighting on Stage for Day and Night.” Photo credit: Russo Mutuc.
He experimented, changing the textures of the reflective materials, and affecting intensity by altering the distance of the source or using dimmers in very subtle increments.
As Lindenlaub modulated and masked the area with flags, he emphasized that the art of lighting is not merely about adding light, but has more to do with masking and limiting the spills. He emphasized greatly the value of good preparation, and the importance of pre-lighting and good make-up lighting tests for the main players.
Lindenlaub also showed us how he uses the app Artemis Director’s Viewfinder on his iPhone as a viewfinder deciding on angles with his directors, selecting focal length and snapping stills for later reference.
The following morning, Lindenlaub extolled the virtues of the mighty previs (or previsualization), showing us the previs from a rather expensive effects scene for his film The Chronicles of Narnia. Of course, the previs costs a lot of money to make up front, but in the end it saves your production time and money, and puts your entire creative team on the same page. Robbie Greenberg ASC (The Milagro Beanfield War) showed us an array of his organic style cinematography, from scenes under the Santa Monica Pier to the insides of a small RV (Even Money) using colour gels to define characters (a cross key using green and yellow for the bad guys, and red and blue for the protagonists), and he explored the warm and romantic lighting in Sweet Dreams. Greenberg also painted a very clear portrait of the politics involved in making a studio film and the many considerations of working within the star system.
Gabriel Beristain ASC, BSC workshop "Hell in Paradise." Photo credit: Russo Mutuc.
We concluded with Allan Daviau ASC, who insightfully described his work on E.T., Empire of the Sun, and other unforgettable movies. Daviau gave us a detailed shot list of the scenes shot in China for Empire, separating the work of the main camera from the B-Cam and the use of a mobile crane to get the shots of a car surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of panicking people.
This exquisite movie – which incidentally was supposed to be directed by David Lean and ended up on Steven Spielberg’s lap – is a great moment in cinematography.
Overall, Masters POV 2012 was a great success — a very exciting and worthwhile weekend that included a Saturday night dinner and cocktail networking event that allowed us all to connect and socialize.
I was very pleased to even meet a few other members of the CSC that made it to the conference, and I made friends in LA, New York, Chicago, and even Istanbul.
More information on next Master's POV Conference is available at www.MastersPOV.com.
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