LIGHTING FOR HIGH SPEED ( behind the scenes of "corruption" )

Grieg Fraser has been an inspiration for me since I stumbled upon this fricken awesome piece titled 'Burn', which he shot on a DSLR. From there I stalked him and found more of his television commercial work from a few years back. I really like his style and how far he has taken his career - especially since he's an Ozzie hehe :) Yep, he's an Australian DoP who is smashing it...Zero Dark Thirty, Snow White and The Huntsman, and Killing them Softly are just a few of his recent works.


Speaking of inspiration, after watching this awesome super slow motion gun scene from Killing Them Softly, I simply had to try it myself. Now wait a second....that looks like it was shot at, at least 1000fps (Phantom Flex anyone?), and I certainly don't have access to a camera like that. But maybe I could try it at 300fps....maybe.

I was at the time, half way through shooting my very first director/DP gig, titled 'corruption' (I'll share it soon...probably after NAB). I've always had this dream to shoot some sort of filmy thing where a detective get's caught up with the wrong girl who ends up being the murderer on the case he's trying to solve. Sure, it's been done before, but I wanted to do it super stylized, super sleek and in a way that could be a commercial for, perfume for example. So after assembling a team, I fleshed out the script, we hired some actors, secured some locations and got cracking. It was all very rushed and all around Christmas - I'll never do that again, but it's pretty much done and I'm super happy with the result, considering the budget and time constraints we had.

Wait...back to the rain, the guns, and the super slow motion. So yeah, half way through my shoot I thought fuck it, I'm going to give it a go. I hired a RED Epic camera from Darren at Ignition Pictures in Melbourne for a night, purchased a $15 hose from Bunnings and kindly asked Olympia Valance if she'd be keen on "shooting" one more night. Thanks Olympia!! :)


In Australia, we don't really like guns....well, we do, but not like Americans do. To us, they belong in movies and with the bikers on Lygon Street. So to access a gun, let alone fire one, you need a licensed armourer. I found a legend of a man named Paul Norton, owner and operator of Portifre Studios in Melbourne. He was more than willing to help us out. Not only does he have any gun you could think of, he's great to work with and is actually a talented DoP too!  Below is the man himself, firing an UZI that we will be using in an up-coming film, written and directed by Daniel Pearson titled 'Thrombosis'. I shot this test below using the Sony FS700 and an external RAW recorder at 2K, 240fps. It's surprising how slow 240fps is! It's also surprising how dangerous an empty bullet shell-casing is when it flys out of an Uzi towards your face (eye protection FTW)!!

Anyway, so back to the night of the pistol, Olympia and the rain. I did some tests with tungsten lights, but found that they flickered at 300fps. They were okay at 120fps but much higher than that and the filament cool-down can be seen in the footage as the pulse of electricity powered it in the 50Hz cycle we have here in Oz (60Hz in the US). To get around this "cool-down" you need REALLY big lights. My tungsten's are 650watt, not nearly enough heat is generated to keep the filament hot enough to shine bright through the cycle I mentioned a moment ago. To beat that, you need something along the lines of a 5000watt tungsten lamp. Not only do I not have one (or four) of those, but I don't have 40K of power to strike them, and I didn't want to set mums car on fire.


SO!! LED's saved the day :) God I love LED's!! The are balanced at 5600 Kelvin, run off batteries, don't get hot and can be placed almost anywhere. Luckily for me, the shots I wanted allowed me to place the lights quite close to the subject, since LED's don't have a very long throw, they're best suited to this sort of lighting.


Once the LED's were dimmed, they started to introduce a noticeable be careful with that. At maximum intensity they were fine, but you'll notice Seb holding the mother reflector, blocking the flickering fluro behind him on the wall that we could not turn off. Thanks for suffering for us Seb :)


So what about our rain machine? Well, it cost $15 and it looks like this >>>


And here's Seb, gracefully quivering the rain machine's nozzle to create the perfect droplets...


Above I positioned the mother reflector in front of the firing gun so that the muzzle flash would bounce back light into Olympia's face during ignition. Worked a treat! You'll also notice the very expensive sand bags used to secure light stands where needed.


And here's some actual frame grabs from the footage :)


So where did I get these LED's? What brand are they? I get asked this question more than "can you please make more tutorials about Davnici Resolve?"...but the problem is, I purchased them from eBay over a year ago from a seller that doesn't exist anymore and they don't have a brand on them! I paid $500 each, they are NOT color temperature adjustable, they have 1000 LEDs, are balanced to 5600 Kelvin and are Dimmable with a V-Lock battery mounting plate on the back. I use them on almost every single shoot :)


For the shot above, I've created a lighting setup diagram HERE :)

Sure, it's no Killing Them Softly, but the shots we got totally transform my little film. I'm so glad I gave it a go...and that's why I've written this post! Because often that is all it takes - to get out there and try. I can't stress that enough. People should shoot more, and talk less. I'm not interested in what camera you have, what lenses you've used, or who you've worked with. I'm interested in actual results and hearing about your experiences. There's too much "shop" talk going on and it makes me mad hehe....I learned so much from this shoot and cannot wait for opportunities to work with serious budgets and all the gear in the world.

Below is a shot straight through the green tinted windows of mums car, enhanced some what in post. I love it! You should see the rain fall over the glass, distorting the image ever so slightly...below that is a shot that didn't make the final cut, 300fps :)


So, what's the point of all this? Well for a start, none of it could have happened without the support of my friends and family, so don't forget about them! Team work, collaboration and support go a long way....and so does Crust Pizza. But the main point I'm trying to make (with my entire blog) is that great cinematography is about what you CAN do, with what you already have. It mostly just requires you to get out there and try.

I also want to give a big thanks to Cameron McCulloch for taking these bad-ass, behind the scenes stills. They totally make this post more cool, love you Cammy!

Have you ever shot and lit for slow motion? What's the slowest you've shot with LED fixtures?

Posted on February 12, 2014 .