Nicholson Ren | Cinematographer & Colourist
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What's Left Production Diary

Initial impression - Location Scouting

4 days before our scheduled start I met with Casey and we went up to the location to look around. It was my first time on location as a DP with significant equipment to affect lighting so I had to take note of a couple of things. Casey was there to producer things while I walked around the set taking in the physical space and imagined the blocking. The following pictures will be paired with some general thoughts I had while I walked the space.

A lot of the knowledge I had going into this production was mainly theoretical. My experience of cinematography from previous shorts I directed were mainly shot placements rather than lighting manipulation. I've had at least a years worth of Camera assisting and Gaffing practice on other projects but no direct say in lighting placements or design. I basically walked onto the set personally speaking with almost no practical DOP experience but a mind full of ideas and concepts. 

The Mess hall was the first room we walked into and it was nothing like what I expected. The front room to our set is a bar and everything behind that was an extension of rooms and halls which we filmed in. The bars along the veranda made it feel like a prison which fit the orphanage setting nicely and I was pleased to see that there was an ample amount of light coming through the roof. Immediately I noticed that the skylight would cast a windowed pattern onto the walls and floor which despite looking pretty could prove hard to keep consistent because its location would constantly change as the day goes on. All scenes filmed within this hall had to be done quickly or we risk continuity problems. The design of the set itself with its white walls, brick tiles and steel bars meant that I could choose to film in any direction I wanted without restricting myself to one side or framing out a certain part.

Going around to the other rooms I was pleased to see large sources of natural light. By this point in the production I had not known what type of equipment I had available. I had offered to provide my two LED lights but I knew that they wouldn't be enough to light a room, just enough to use on foreground elements but not on background detail. There were also no practicals within the rooms, I had to request Casey to supply some lamps and bulbs so that there would be other sources rather than the single window. We ended up only adding a working lamp to one room.

Together with looking at light sources I needed to look for electrical sources from which to draw power from. I needed to know if the ones available would not be in shot if we used them and if there were other sources which we could potentially draw from if a point couldn't be used. It is also a good idea to take 30 seconds to listen for sounds which may interrupt the audio recording. It's simple enough to listen for airplanes, electronic hums or unwanted street noise that you can warn your sound recordist of instead of having them come to location scout (unless they want to of course). The hardest room upon initial impression was the study hall. I wasn't sure if I would've been able to control the lights coming in from all 6 windows surrounding the room. The boy's corridor was also a worry as there was no practicals on the walls and only part of the corridor was light naturally.

After the scout I could begin thinking about storyboarding. I had ideas previous to seeing the location but wasn't sure if the camera moves would fit the set but once I managed to block what I saw in my head in the space it made me more comfortable leading up to the first day. The next few days after this was spent worrying about what equipment I had access to in order to pull this off. But one thing became clear to me - always go location scouting.