Water and Ashes

The opening frame of the big track and dolly shot
The opening frame of the big track and dolly shot

Earlier this week I DPed Sophie Black’s short film, Ashes. The script contained three fantasy scenes which were really fun to light because they didn’t have to be in any way realistic. All the scenes took place in the same bedroom, so here was a great opportunity to light the same space in three completely different and pretty whacky ways (plus in a more down-to-earth way for the “real world” scenes).

In lighting the fantasy scenes I drew inspiration from techniques covered in some of the blogs I listed in my top five last week. Sophie’s vision for one fantasy scene was of the lead character, played by Sarah Lamesch, on a bed adrift on a sea of hands. The hands were moulded in plaster and spread all over the floor, and it was my job to create the impression of water through lighting. So I turned to The Underwater Realm’s website, recalling a video blog they posted last year when their DP Eve Hazelton began testing lighting techniques for dry-for-wet photography (around six minutes in).

The silver wrapping paper on the ceiling
The silver wrapping paper on the ceiling

Big thanks to Realm Pictures for posting this blog. Although Eve ultimately rejected the technique in favour of something more realistic, it was perfect for Ashes. I had Sophie buy several rolls of silver wrapping paper, which we pinned loosely to the ceiling. I placed a 1.2K Arri Daylight Compact on the floor in the corner, pointed up at the paper. As we rolled, Sophie aimed a desk fan at the paper to create rippling, watery reflections.

I knew I wanted to do something special with Sarah’s incredibly striking eyes in this scene, to complement the make-up. I started off by having Colin rig a DIY lamp above her, surrounded by black wrap and card with only a slit of light coming through to highlight her eyes. Unfortunately I discovered that the light from DIY lamps just isn’t focused enough for this kind of effect, so I abandoned it.

Instead I created Sarah’s eye-light using a string of white Christmas lights taped to a piece of black card. This was inspired by Galadriel’s eye-light in The Lord of the Rings – a reference Sophie gave me. As it turns out, I think the starry reflections you see in Sarah’s eyes here are more from the silver paper than the fairy lights.

Sarah Lamesch
Sarah Lamesch as Sarah

This scene was also interesting from a grip point of view. We’d borrowed a jib, which we mounted on my dolly so that we could boom up from the hands on the floor, over the footboard and track to Sarah’s face. This was a real team effort. Colin handled the dolly and jib movement, while first assistant director Chris Newman operated the camera to begin with. As soon as the camera had cleared the footboard I jumped up onto the bed and took over from Chris for the rest of the shot.

In my next couple of posts I’ll look at the other fantasy scenes and we’ll see how Shane Hurlbut’s blog and a Lana Del Rey video inspired the cinematography in those.

Water and Ashes

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