How to Cut a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

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Cameras roll on the set of Kate Madison’s web series, Ren. Photo: Richard Unger

Despite my big plan to quit editing last year, I somehow ended up cutting nearly all the behind-the-scenes material for Ren, including a dozen YouTube videos and 30-odd exclusive set diaries which have just been released for sale. Guess I just have a fondness for BTS stuff.

Brett Chapman shoots B roll on Stop/Eject as Hadrian Cawthorne looks on. Photo: Paul Bednall
Brett Chapman shoots B-roll on Stop/Eject as Hadrian Cawthorne looks on. Photo: Paul Bednall

So here are some tips for editing BTS videos for the web. Many of these apply equally to any talking-head-based documentary.

  • Plan for it before the shoot by lining up a competent BTS camera crew and being clear about the kind of material you need. Here are some tips for shooting B-roll.
  • Start the edit by creating a new timeline and putting in some text generators with category headings you think you’ll want to cover, e.g. “plot”, “characters”, “casting”, “action scenes”, “concluding remarks”.
  • Watch through all the interview material. Every time you hear something you think you can use, dump it on the timeline after the relevant text.
  • Play back your timeline. You’ll immediately see that some of the material you’ve included is dull or repetitious. Whittle down the material until your timeline is only a little longer than you intend the finished piece to be. (I suggest 2-3 minutes should be your target length for a web piece.)
  • Pay attention to your in and out points. Don’t cut while someone is drawing breath – cut before or after. Beware of breathing time if you’re hacking someone’s sentences around. If your editing makes a couple of words sound unnaturally close together, interpose a few frames of atmos or silence. If you cut someone off in the middle of a sentence, firstly be sure the intonation doesn’t make it sound cut off, then add in some silence or atmos before the next clip, and paper over the edit with B-roll as the interviewee’s face will often give away that they’re not finished speaking.
  • Speaking of papering over the talking heads with B-roll, it’s time to do that now. I often start with the obvious stuff. Clearly shots of the fight scenes being rehearsed need to go over the actors talking about fight scenes. Then I’ll move onto the less obvious stuff – an actor talking about their character might go with almost any shot of that actor on set, so I’ll see what’s left at the end.
  • Avoid cutting in the middle of quick movements – an arm going up, a head turning- unless that action will be continued in the next shot. This goes for the talking heads too – don’t cut on or close to a blink. Also avoid cutting on an emphasised or particularly loud syllable, because this too will jar.
  • Take out the text generators and replace them with a few seconds of B-roll that doesn’t have any interview sound under it. This gives you dividers between topics without blatantly signposting them, and allows the audience a breather. You could bring up the audio on the B-roll, or put in a bit of music. Usually it’s best for this B-roll to serve as an introduction to the topic that’s up next. For example, if the next topic is “what it was like working with the director”, kick it off with B-roll of the director explaining the next scene to the actors. After hearing him or her talk for a sentence or so, fade down the audio and bring in the interview sound.
  • Get some music from somewhere like, if your composer hasn’t started work yet, and cut opening and closing montages of B-roll to it.
  • Put in your lower thirds and opening and closing titles. If the video’s going on You Tube, it’s a good idea to allow for annotations linking viewers to other videos on your channel. Do not put in credits – sorry, but no-one cares who made this.
  • Watch the whole thing through and try to take out another 10-30 seconds. Remember, pace is everything. Do not give people the slightest excuse to stop watching.
  • Do a colour correction pass so everything matches.
  • Go through again balancing the audio. People start their sentences loudly and get quieter as their lungs deflate, so counter this by ramping the audio up over the course of the sentence. Use EQ filters if necessary to counter tinny or boomy sound, or reduce hiss or wind noise. See this Nofilmschool article for some handy audio tips. If any of the audio cuts are popping or clicking, put on a 1 frame cross fade. If you don’t have decent speakers, do this on every cut because you won’t know which ones are dodgy.
  • If any of the speech is still hard to make out – and remember that your viewers haven’t heard it a million times like you have – then subtitle it.
  • Watch it one last time to check everything’s smooth, then compress and upload it. You’re done!

If you’ve found this post useful, please consider supporting Ren by purchasing or sharing the trailer for the Daily Diary videos. Buyers get the first 7 videos now and the remaining 29 when the series is released this summer. They’re all different, some following the above pattern and others being much more candid, fly-on-the-wall affairs. There are plenty of bloopers, interviews and filmmaking tips to be enjoyed throughout. Or check out our free behind-the-scenes videos on YouTube.

How to Cut a Behind-the-Scenes Featurette

How to Make an Electronic Press Kit (EPK)

Lately I’ve been working on the electronic press kit for Kate Madison’s web series, Ren. An EPK is a collection of footage that a broadcaster can use to edit their own piece about your film or series. It should contain:

  • a trailer (optionally with versions without music and without dialogue, so it can be dubbed);
  • clips from the show (again, versions without dialogue are handy if you’re expecting foreign coverage);
  • interviews with the director and principal cast;
  • B-roll, i.e. behind-the-scenes footage.

You may also want to include a short (5 minutes max) ‘making of’ featurette.

The whole thing should be about 20-30 minutes long.

You need to think about your EPK in preproduction. Assign someone with camera and editing experience to film behind-the-scenes material on a few key days of the shoot. This post has lots of tips for shooting good B-roll.

Here’s some B-roll from the Avengers: Age of Ultron EPK.

Personally, I think that putting black slugs between every shot is excessive. With the Ren EPK I loosely edited half a dozen montages and titled them ‘Filming crowd scenes in the village’, ‘Filming fight scenes in Epping Forest’ and so on.

Here’s another example, this time from the Chappie EPK.

When shooting the interviews, encourage people to keep their answers brief. Answers of about 30-45 seconds are ideal. Remember that an EPK is not a finished product: you can’t have jump cuts or paper over edits with B-roll, which means you can’t cut stuff out of the middle of people’s answers; all you can do is trim the beginning and end.

Typical EPK questions are:

  • What’s the film about?
  • Who is your character?
  • What was it like working with the other actors and the director?
  • What was it like filming the action scenes / scary scenes / romantic scenes / scenes where you had to be painted blue from head to toe?
  • Why should people go and see this film?

Put a title card before each answer, giving the question (or a brief description of what the person talks about in their answer), the duration of the clip, and the person’s name and role.

Here’s an example, again from Age of Ultron.

See how the picture kicks in before the sound? That’s to give someone editing the clip into their show more flexibility – they could dissolve into the shot, for example.

Here’s another example, this one from Far from the Madding Crowd.

Once upon a time you would deliver an EPK on Beta SP, but clearly those days are gone. For Ren I’ll probably put the clips up on VHX, a VOD platform we’ve been using for our behind-the-scenes Kickstarter rewards. We can create a package of videos which people can be invited to, with a nice, slick interface, and the videos – one for each interview answer and B-roll segment – will all be downloadable by invitees as 1080P H.264 MP4 files. If anyone wants less compressed versions, they can contact us directly.

If you missed it, check out my post on lighting the Ren EPK interviews.

And for another perspective on making an EPK, you can read Sophie Black’s guest blog from 2012 in which she talks about making the one for Stop/Eject.

Find out more about Ren at

How to Make an Electronic Press Kit (EPK)

DIY Interview Lighting for the Ren EPK

Left to right: the flipchart holding up the key bounce reflector, the halogen key source with the flagging reflector immediately to the right of it, the hair-light LED panel peeking over the backdrop above the hot seat, the LED panel acting as a flag, and the halogen 3/4 backlight.
Left to right: the flipchart holding up the key bounce reflector, the halogen key source with the flagging reflector immediately to the right of it, the hair-light LED panel peeking over the backdrop above the hot seat, the LED panel acting as a flag, and the halogen 3/4 backlight.

Shooting interviews is a great way for a cinematographer to learn to light. I figured out loads about how human faces react to light of different kinds from years of experimenting on the talking heads in corporate videos. And because those interviews were often long and dull, there was plenty of opportunity to evaluate my lighting as I relaxed behind my locked-off camera.

At the weekend a “promo day” was held for Ren, the fantasy-action web series which you must all have heard of by now. The goal was to shoot publicity stills of the lead actors, and to shoot interviews for the EPK (Electronic Press Kit). We decided to stage these against a black backdrop.

Our venue was the office-cum-studio of the nascent Cambridge TV station, kindly lent to us for the day, but the only lighting kit we had were two Chinese LED panels, two halogen worklights and a couple of collapsible reflectors. I knew from the start that I wanted to use the worklights to key the talent, because halogen bulbs put out a much fuller spectrum of light than budget LEDs. Without a full spectrum you can’t capture all the skintones, and your subject will lack life.


Here’s the lighting set-up I arrived at.

Sketch 2015-03-30 12_59_18

I’ll talk you through it.

The keylight (halogen, top left) bounces off the silver side of a reflector (resting on a convenient flipchart) to give a nice, soft source. The second reflector is used as a flag to stop direct light from reaching the talent.

The second halogen (top right) serves as a hot three-quarter backlight. One of the LED panels is used as a flag (!) to stop this backlight flaring into the lens.

The other LED panel pokes over the top of the backdrop to provide hair-light.

The white walls of the studio provide sufficient bounce to render a fill light unnecessary.

The result is a nice, slick, minimal look. The two backlights stop dark hair or clothes from disappearing into the background, and the soft key is flattering to all yet is at enough of an angle to provide shape and contrast – see how it outlines Sophie’s left cheek and jaw.

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Incidentally, we considered using a white backdrop for a little while. Had we gone with this, how would I have changed the lighting? I would have had to lose the backlights, because white rim-light will only make your subject bleed into a white background. The lamps thus freed could have been trained on the backdrop in an attempt to blow it out, but it’s questionable whether that would have been achievable with the Blackmagic’s dynamic range. Finally, I expect I would have introduced negative fill to get rich, black shadows on the talent’s up-side, in order to get some contrast into the image. More on lighting for a white backdrop here.

After the publicity shoot, we repaired to Kate’s place for a Q&A livestream. Here it is if you missed it. Subscribe to Mythica Entertainment’s YouTube Channel to make sure you never miss our behind-the-scenes videos and trailers.

DIY Interview Lighting for the Ren EPK

What I Learnt from Ren

This coming week the core team from Ren, the fantasy adventure web series I lensed last autumn, will meet for a de-brief. We’ll discuss the challenges of season one and how we can meet those going forward to season two and beyond. And we’ll probably drink wine.

So I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what I personally learnt from Ren: Season One, and where I’d like to improve for season two.

“People talk about lighting, but the hardest thing to do [for a cinematographer] is to shoot a day exterior over an extended period… especially in England.” – Roger Deakins

The biggest challenge I was plunged straight into was the fact that most of the season was set outdoors on a single day. How could I maintain a consistency of lighting without huge cranes, silks and big HMIs, or without demanding the production grind to a halt whenever the light didn’t match (something the schedule couldn’t accommodate)? Quite simple, I couldn’t. Perhaps if I’d been involved in preproduction, I could have helped shaped the schedule so that certain scenes were only being shot at certain times of day, but given how much the schedule changed during shooting, this probably wouldn’t have helped.

Colin Smith slates a shot of RIchard Zeman as the Kah'nath Commander
Colin Smith slates a shot of Richard Zeman as the Kah’nath Commander

But being forced to leave lighting the set to Mother Nature had its advantages. Whereas indoors, or at night, the cinematographer must light the set and the actors, for daylight exteriors the only thing you have the ability to light is the actors. That really focused my attention on the faces and telling the story through the way light hit them.

I was able to compile a mental dossier of what works well for each actor – and each character. So I knew that Ren (Sophie Skelton) looked best with a soft front- or side-on key, but not three-quarter, that Hunter (Duran Fulton Brown) looked best in toplight, that Karn (Christopher Dane), the Commander (Richard Zeman) and Lyanna (Dita Tantang) all looked great with a hard side key. I knew that Baynon’s (James Malpas) eyes looked extra expressive with a large bounce board under his face, whereas Hunter only needed a little dot of an eyelight. And so on, and so forth. In the future I want to get better and faster at compiling these ‘dossiers’.

Setting an eyelight under the camera
Setting an eyelight under the camera. Photo: Richard Roberts

Despite gathering all this info during the exterior shoots, it was a still a bit of a shock when week six hit and I suddenly had to light these familiar faces entirely artificially. In the past I’ve often seen natural light as more of a hindrance than a help, but working with it for five weeks solid gave me a new respect for it, and I found myself more critical of my own lighting than ever.

The main challenge indoors was achieving the soft, innocent look I’d established for the title character without a skyfull of natural light to bounce around. The kinoflos I used to key Sophie often made her look very shiny, much to the exasperation of make-up artist Becca Youngs, who had to keep slathering more powder on her. (Which is one of many reasons why camera and make-up tests in pre-production would be beneficial for future seasons.)

In fact it wasn’t until the very last day of the shoot when I discovered that the best soft sources were actually hard sources – like 800W tungsten lamps or even the 2.5K HMI – bounced off Celotex (matte silver bounce board). If you read things like American Cinematographer you start to realise that most DPs create soft sources this way, bouncing par or fresnel fixtures off poly, foamcore, Ultrabounce or the like and often pushing it through diffuser of some kind as well. Stephen Murphy and Ed Moore conducted a great test of various bounce and diffusion materials on their blog recently. The problem with this kind of lighting for a low budget DP is that you need to hire larger lamps, because bouncing and diffusing really dilute a lamp’s power. Though in last month’s Cine Summit, DP David Vollrath recommended cheap-to-hire Source 4 Leikos as bounce sources, so that’s worth looking into.

Shooting on my Sigma 50mm f1.4 from under my signature Stealth Cloth, to keep sunlight off the Blackmagic's screen
Shooting on my Sigma 50mm f1.4 from under my signature Stealth Cloth, to keep sunlight off the Blackmagic’s screen

The other thing I’d love to spend money on next time, if at all possible, is a set of cine lenses. Season one was shot with my three Sigma DSLR primes and some legacy Pentax primes belonging to gaffer Richard Roberts. While the Pentax glass looks great, and the Sigma glass is fine at f4 – the stop I shot most of the show at – when it starts to get wide open it goes a bit soft (not that the average viewer would notice). Inevitably some of the night and interior scenes had to be shot wider than f4, and everything shot on the B camera – Richard’s Blackmagic Cinema Camera, with its smaller 16mm sensor – was exposed at f2.8 to match the depth of field. Plus I deliberately used an ultra-shallow depth of field for certain scenes in which Ren is feeling the effects of the spirit within her. So lenses that hold their sharpness better at wide apertures, and which are easier to pull focus on, would be great for season two.

Whatever level of resources we can get for future seasons, I know it will be a fantastic experience and I’ll learn a whole lot more, so bring it on!

Filming Ren's death scene. Just kidding…. or am I? Photo: Michael Hudson
Filming Ren’s death scene. Just kidding…. or am I? Photo: Michael Hudson
What I Learnt from Ren

Goodbye to Ren

Some of the key cast and crew at the awesome wrap party. Photo by Allison Reid
Some of the key cast and crew at the awesome wrap party. Photo by Allison Reid

Seasone one of Ren wrapped last week, and after a few days of tidying up and recovering, it was time for an epic wrap party – actually, two of them. And then came the heartbreaking process of saying goodbye to all the wonderful people I had lived and worked with for the past two months. We’d had all the time in the world and suddenly we had none.

What I said to those people as we parted seemed woefully inadequate as soon as they had walked out of the door. How could I put into words how unique and incredible this project, this experience had been? So to my Ren family, particularly that core group who were there day in, day out, here’s what I should have said…

Thank you. Thank you for the tea, the Thai curries, the Tech Biscuits and the jelly beans. Thank you for the joy of Tony the Phony Pony, for Spongebob Squarepants, for the movie quotes, the nonsense French and the inappropriate remarks. Thanks for the Nerf gun battles, the movie nights, the slumber parties and the Costa runs. Thanks for doing my laundry, for cleaning the toilets and for washing up.

Thank you for being so complimentary about my work, and for going the extra mile to make sure I had the kit I needed to do it. Thank you for your patience, for not compromising and for keeping cool when everything was broken. Thanks for waiting for the smoke.

Thank you for helping me grow as a DP and as a person. Thanks for not judging. Thanks for believing in me when I suggested outlandish things like the fake running shots. Thanks for listening, for being there for me and letting me be there for you.

Thanks for the BEST WRAP PARTY EVER. Thanks for sharing your karaoke with us, and doing it really well. Thanks for putting up with my playlist several times through, and helping me rediscover my love of music.

Thank you for the incredible hard work you put in before I even showed up. I have never met a kinder, more generous and more talented group of people. It has been the absolute highlight of my career to get up every morning and photograph the beautiful things you made. I am humbled to have earnt your respect and your friendship.

Thanks especially to Kate for bringing this amazing group together, and for setting the atmosphere that made this project unparalleled in my experience. Everything is awesome when you’re part of a team, and what a team to be part of. I love you all. I wish you every success and happiness in whatever you do next, and – if not before – I’ll see you all for season two.

Goodbye to Ren

Lighting Techniques #5: Smoke

Smoke looks cool, I think we can all agree, but why? What are we trying to achieve when we spray a set with smoke?

In the famous cinematography manual Painting with Light, John Alton says of the cinema experience: “We sit in the dark looking at a light screen; this gives a definite feeling of depth. In order to continue this depth on the screen, the progression from dark to light must be followed up. The spot which should appear to be the most distant should be the lightest, and vice versa…”

Smoke can help you accomplish this dark-to-light depth. Because it’s white, if you spray it in the background then the background will get lighter, while the foreground will remain crisp and contrasty. It’s like standing on top of a hill and looking at more hills receding into the distance. The more distant ones are lighter, less saturated, less contrasty because of the atmospheric haze.

Smoke helps darkly-clad characters stand out from a dark background in The Deaths of John Smith (dir. Roger Harding)
Smoke helps darkly-clad characters stand out from a dark background in The Deaths of John Smith (dir. Roger Harding)
Smoke machine
The Magnum 550: the most powerful smoke machine in the world. Are you feeling lucky, punk?

There are a number of ways to produce smoke. I own a Magnum 550, a small electric machine designed for DJs but perfectly useable on set. The smoke fluid is electrically heated until it turns to gas. On Ren we have an Artem smoke gun which uses propane gas cans to heat the smoke. This is handy on location because it doesn’t need a power supply, and it can produce thick clouds of smoke much more quickly than the Magnum.

An Artem smoke gun
An Artem smoke gun

You have to wait for both of these types of machine to heat up before you can use them. Ideally you need a dedicated crew member who is predicting when you might be ready to shoot and heating up the machine in readiness. If you’re outdoors, they also need to stay on top of the wind direction. You may think this would stay fairly constant, but trust me, it doesn’t.

Both types of machine produce wreaths of smoke which usually needs wafting in order to look like general atmosphere. And consistency is a challenge. It’s tricky not to have long takes that start with a lot of smoke and end with none. Both types of machine are too noisy to run during a take, though the sound recordist may agree to let you run an electric machine during pauses in dialogue, and an Artem can continue producing smoke for a little while after the gas is turned off.

A hazer
A hazer

If you’re indoors, a hazer may be more appropriate. This is an electric machine that uses compression rather than heat to vapourise the fluid, then blows it out continuously through a fan. The effect is much more subtle and constant than that produced by a smoke machine.

However you’re generating your smoke, remember to keep it in the background as much as possible. It’s all about making your subject stand out from the background.

You can find out more about smoke and why I use it in my Ren podcast at

Smoke used to volumise a shaft of light in Ren (copyright 2014 Mythica Entertainment)
Smoke used to volumise a shaft of light in Ren (copyright 2014 Mythica Entertainment)
Lighting Techniques #5: Smoke

Ren: Lighting Karn’s House

Karn’s house is an awesome set which I had been walking past at Ren Studios for six weeks before I finally got to light it. It didn’t disappoint.

Behind all that smoke at the top is the HMI
Behind all that smoke at the top is the HMI

In the words of my camera assistant Andy Roughan, I had to John McClane it to get the HMI up on the metal tank behind the set. After climbing onto the tank via a stepladder, I had to shimmy around an incredibly dusty pipe to get to the spot where the lamp needed to be. Getting the lamphead, the low boy stand and sandbags up there was fun. At one point I lost my balance and fell backwards, towards the roof of the set. I shouted a naughty word at the top of my voice, thinking that not only was I going to injure myself quite badly, but I was going to destroy everyone’s favourite set before we’d shot a single thing on it. Fortunately it was so well-built that it took my weight, or at least the part of my weight that I was forced to put on it, and no harm was done. Except that me shouting the naughty word in such a tone of utter panic had given everyone within earshot a minor heart attack.

Squish's cyclotron
Squish’s cyclotron

Why was it so important to get light up behind the set, rather than shining it down through the roof from in front? The answer is smoke. You can’t really see smoke unless it’s backlit, so in order to get those magical shafts of light coming through the set, the HMI had to be at the back.

After shooting the video blog, Andy and gaffer Richard “Squish” Roberts finished building the cyclotron for the firelight effect. This consisted of three 100W bulbs behind a red gel, and two behind an orange gel. I don’t want to give away screengrabs yet,  but you can see the fire effect at work on set dresser Amanda Stekly in this ropey iPad photo:

Set dresser Amanda Stekly, lit by the fake firelight
Set dresser Amanda Stekly, lit by the fake firelight

This fire effect served to light Ren (Sophie Skelton) in the foreground of the master shot very nicely, and separate her from the background through colour contrast. It rendered the 2ft kinoflo shown in the video blog unnecessary.

When we came in for the close-ups I continued to differentiate the characters of Ren and Karn (Christopher Dane) through light quality, as I had in Wales. I brought in an LED fresnel for Karn’s close-up, to get a hard sidelight, then for Ren’s close-up I used the 2ft kino to get a much softer look and from a less severe angle.

It’s a shame there was only one scene to film in this set; it would have been great to use it more. But it will certainly add a lot of production value to the opening episode of the series.

Ren is copyright 2014 Mythica Entertainment. Visit to find out more.

Ren: Lighting Karn’s House

Ren: Lighting Dagron’s House

This is our big interiors week on Ren. The main set is the inside of Ren’s house, which was assembled in a mere three days by Chris Dane and his team, cannibalising the village exterior set. In this video blog I explain how I lit the set.

This set-up worked pretty much as-is for the first big scene in the house, shot on Monday. It was all handheld, so I needed the flexibility to move around with the camera and not worry about lamps on the floor getting in shot. The way I’d lit the set meant that the cast could stand pretty much anywhere and look good, especially since whoever was wiggling the “firelight” reflector could tweak the angle of it to follow any actor threatening to go a bit dark.

100W bulbs hidden behind the dresser for "candlelight"
100W bulbs hidden behind the dresser for “candlelight”

As the bedroom was visible in the background of many shots, I rigged a rough version of the candelight effect I knew I would be using when we got to the bedroom scenes proper. I clipped four 100W tungsten bulbs behind pieces of furniture and cabled them into two channels of the dimmer board Colin kindly lent us. These were then flickered to suggest flames.

The dimmer station

The dedo over the table proved to be superfluous. When I saw Claire making candles for the set, I asked her to double-wick them. I’d read in American Cinematographer that they’d done that on Pirates of the Caribbean to boost the light output, and sure enough, once those candles were lit, the dedo wasn’t needed.

The following day I played around with the lighting a bit more. When we came in for close-ups – this time on sticks – I turned off the overhead 4ft kino and brought in a 2ft kino on the floor for Window Wrap (Lighting Technique Number #3). That way the light got into the talent’s eye sockets and was generally more flattering.

The kinoflo on the right acts as Window Wrap
The kinoflo on the right acts as Window Wrap

For another scene I decided the fire had gone out, allowing our bad guys to be bathed in cool daylight while the good guys stayed near the candlelight by the bedroom door. It’s nice when you have motivated colour contrast like this in a set and you can play around with which characters are in which colour of light. I look forward to shooting the remaining house scenes and developing some nice candlelight in the bedroom.

Find out more about Ren at www.rentheseries or on Facebook or Twitter.

Ren: Lighting Dagron’s House

Ren: Lighting the Prison Cell

After a month of shooting exteriors, yesterday we shot the first interior set for Ren. Which was just as well since a tropical storm was raging outside and blowing down parts of the exterior village set.

It was a classic prison cell scene, one of those shaft-of-light-through-the-barred-window jobbies. Amanda Stekly and her team did a great job of creating a two-walled set with moss, wet stone and even real snails. Outside the window was a platform to sell the illusion that the cell was below ground level.

Here are some frames from the scene:

prison1 prison2

2.5K HMI
2.5K HMI

If you’re going for this shaft-of-light-piercing-the-gloom look, you need three things. Firstly, a powerful, focusable light; I used a 2.5K HMI fresnel. Secondly, you need to accept over-exposure. The only way you will get any detail in the shadows is by exposing bright enough that the highlights – anyone standing in the direct beam of light – will clip. If you don’t like the highlight roll-off characteristics of your camera, stay away from this type of lighting. The cool thing about having a keylight this hot is that when a character moves around in the light, especially if they’re wearing light-coloured clothing, they bounce the light around in interesting and often unpredictable ways.

I shot the scene on Richard Roberts’ Blackmagic Cinema Camera, partly because of ongoing problems getting a monitor signal out of my Production Camera, and partly because of the extra stop of dynamic range the BMCC would give me to milk this high contrast lighting scenario.

The third and very important thing you need is a smoke machine to volumise the shaft of light. (More about using smoke in a future post.)

In this view of the platform behind the set, the fluorescent fixture providing indirect "daylight" can be seen on the left, gelled with Quarter Minus Green to remove the green spike in the lamp's output.
In this view from behind the set, the fluorescent fixture providing indirect “daylight” can be seen on the left, gelled with Quarter Minus Green to remove the green spike in the lamp’s output.

In order to give the sense of indirect “sky” light also coming in through the window, I placed a fluorescent outside the window so as to catch some of the side wall of the set. When I first tested the lighting set-up the previous night, I placed a second fluorescent fixture directly above the window to get some edging on the tops of the stones underneath. But I found that the more sources I set up, the less definition I got in the shaft of HMI light, so I dropped the toplight.

The door gobo
The door gobo

Although the script called for guards to drag Hunter (Duran Fulton Brown) into the cell and shut him in, the two-walled set had no door. So with help from the art department I constructed a ridiculous-looking door in roughly one-third scale, simply to cast the shadow of the door. Behind it I placed a redhead gelled with half CTO, which Richard wiggled during takes to suggest firelight.

The LED hidden behind the bucket
The LED hidden behind the bucket

I set the camera to a white balance of 4,500K so that the “daylight” of the HMI would go a little cold and the “firelight” would go really warm.

Our first shot involved Hunter washing his face at a bucket of water, then slumping back into the “sunlight”. We positioned the bucket out of the “sunlight”, in the small patch of light coming through the window of our fake door. But Hunter was still too dark by the bucket. I didn’t want to flood the set with fill and ruin the mood, so I hid a small LED light behind the bucket and diffed it down. This lights Hunter’s face when he leans over it, and hopefully suggests a reflection off the water.

A fluorescent toplight rigged over the bucket for the face-washing close-up
A fluorescent toplight rigged over the bucket for the face-washing close-up. Note the black cloth hanging from one side to reduce spill.

When we moved to a close-up of Hunter washing his face (below), I rigged a fluorescent toplight, suggestive of indirect daylight from the window, and placed a circle of foil at the bottom of the bucket. The idea was that the toplight would reflect off the foil and the surface of the water and light Hunter’s face. It didn’t work, but the toplight itself really made the shot for me. The more you work with an actor, the more you learn the best ways to light them, and I’ve learnt that Duran looks great with toplight.

Foil in the bucket for added bounce
Foil in the bucket for added bounce

Screen grabs (C) 2014 Mythica Entertainment. Visit for more info.



Ren: Lighting the Prison Cell

Ren Teaser Trailer Released

The first teaser trailer for Ren has been released today. This is the ambitious fantasy web series I’ve been photographing for the last four weeks. (I also cut this trailer.)

Michael Hudson has produced a series of behind-the-scenes podcasts about Ren. You can listen to me talking about the cinematography, along with all the other talented HoDs talking about the hard work and genius they have brought to bear, at

Ren Teaser Trailer Released