Paintings of Paintings
The award-winning, independent feature “Tabloid Vivant” (formerly “TableauVivant”) is one of my favorite filmmaking experiences to date.
Shot with the Red Epic and Optimo DP Zooms (and the occasional Zeiss compact prime or Noctilux 50mm F/0.95) , “Tabloid Vivant” offers
an intriguing mix of horror, suspense and art theory, directed by Kyle Broom and produced by Alexandra Spector.
We treated the film as a moving painting about paintings (certainly drawing from it’s original title). This script was wonderfully visual, with many varied looks built-in, from the start… distinguishing flashbacks from present day, reality from daydream, and some very stylized representations of character arcs.
I documented one of my favorite visual challenges, rear projection, in this behind-the-scenes video. Of course, in addition to the challenges we had planned, there occasionally arose a few for which we had not planned.
For example, we didn’t have any night exteriors planned for our remote cabin location in the Angeles Forest. This fire-lit, night exterior scene, was supposed to take place during the day, but our schedule ran long and there wasn’t enough daylight left.
Two hours later, with nearly every light on our little truck in play, this was the result:
When I was standing there, at the end of the day, in the cold, dreaming up this lighting scheme… I started working with two objectives:
- This hearth, a gorgeous stone relic from a village lost in a fire, needed to be honored as a striking focal point for the scene.
- It had to be sexy. No spoilers ’til the movie is released, but, trust me, it needed to be sexy.
We were looking to create a sense of intimacy in a wide open space.
Of course, the fact that we didn’t PLAN for a night exterior also meant that we didn’t have ANY large lights. I believe we used every stick of banded and bates cable to just barely eek out the distance we needed for our back lights.
My crew was really fantastic, and patient, as this relatively large night exterior was entirely unplanned… I have to thank my Gaffer Matt Grace for keeping the crew moving forward and in good spirits. They started running cable and I started painting in my head…
Tableau Vivant (Now Tabloid Vivant) Outdoor Hearth, Night Exterior[/caption]
I started with the “moonlight” back-cross key from the two 1.2 HMI pars. Then the guys worked on getting the larger 2.5k HMI in place to give detail in most of the background.
Next we placed three bare-bulb photo flood practicals in the hearth (hidden from camera by a few rocks) they lay flat, on a few scraps of cinefoil, with some pieces of CTO and Straw draped over them (Gel had to lay flat in order for us not to see it on camera. We just left the lights off between takes to keep the gel from melting).
These practicals mainly served to create the feeling of a glow on and “in” the hearth, but it did very little for the actors. So, we brought in 3 150w Dedos and shot them through the small square hole in the center of the stone. One was centered, very low to the ground so we wouldn’t see it (barely out of frame). The other two Dedos were placed like a second back-cross key, only focused more for our actors’ neck and body. This let us feel the firelight on our actors, without as much of the “spooky uplight” effect that we might have gotten otherwise. I much preferred the softer “moonlight” for their faces. We put as much of the CTO/Straw cocktail on the Dedos as we could afford (up until exposure was an issue).
All of the photo floods and Dedos were on dimmers, flickering, to emulate a fire. As the scene “heats up” (pun intended) and takes a surreal turn, the flicker effect becomes more exaggerated and wild. The actors’ blocking also changes, moving them out of the traditional back cross, and into more disturbing side-lighting.
After that, I needed to make sure our Actor was carried from the cabin in the distance, all the way to the hearth. A moonlight edge, and his silhouette against the cabin in the background would work nicely. I wanted to have a change of color temperature near the cabin, so we left that 2k naked. I did not like the green porch light, alas, there was little I could do about it.
Ultimately, director Kyle Broom and I were very pleased with the scheduling “issue” that became a very happy accident.
At the same location, we eventually stumbled upon another exciting unplanned opportunity. One wild, climactic scene had been on my mind since I read the script. I wanted to do something special, and it didn’t come to me until I arrived that morning. I had about an hour to think it through and present the idea to Kyle, and we changed our whole day to accommodate the new plan. In both situations, the extra time and considerations were totally worth it.
In filmmaking, it often seems that we prepare, merely so we’ll be ready for everything to change at the last minute.
““Tabloid Vivant” is in it’s final stages of post-production, and I look forward to seeing it released soon!”
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