The Joys of Pre-Rigging

I don’t always get the luxury of having a set to light well in advance of shooting a project, either as director or as cinematographer. But this weekend I have exactly that opportunity. I’m the cinematographer for a new short film being co-produced by Stories by the River. The film is a comedy written and directed by Chris Esper. This is our first partnership since meeting a few years back at the very first Stories by the River Film Festival.

We’re transforming our space at The River South Center to serve as the primary location for this new short film. We’ve done this in the past with my short film, “Parallel,” which used the main room at the Center for two key locations. The current set-up really takes advantage of the open ceiling and metal rafters that allow us to rig lighting into place as if we were on a small sound stage.

I opted to work with tungsten balanced instruments for this set-up as we’re using the dimmable perimeter lights that art part of the space. The lighting is mostly compact fluorescents (CF) and LED lights to minimize power draw and heat production. The notable exception is the SourceFour 750w Par in the left of this picture that is being bounced into a flex fill to provide a large amount of ambient fill light of one of the key areas of the set.

I opted to keep things very simple and practical for this shoot. So most of the lighting instruments are actually rather common units. Two Chinese lanterns hang over the main table to provide fill light and help sell the idea of implied overhead lights that will never be actually seen in the film.

In one of the other areas of the film set, I hung a single lantern with two CF bulbs in it. Each bulb gives off the equivalent light to a conventional 150w tungsten bulb. So it’s like having a 300w Chinese lantern. On the left of this picture is also simple clamp light with a single CF bulb (100w equivalent). It will serve as side/backlight (depending on shot angle). Because of this, I left the bulb naked rather than defusing it.

I’m mostly using clamp lights anyone can grab at a hardware store. This allows me to attach the lights to the metal rafters and hang the Chinese lanterns from them. In some cases, like the clamp light in the left of this shot, I used the metal cone they come with to help provide a little shielding for the LED bulb in the instrument as well as having somewhere to clip my diffusion.

For the key light for the main area of the set where much of the action take place, I actually went well off the beaten path and used a painter’s LED light that I had been using for home renovation work this summer. The light is powerful, putting out 4,000 lumens. It’s essentially daylight balanced (around 5,000 degrees Kelvin). So I threw a light CTO gel and some diffusion on it.

We’ll be shooting with two BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Cameras through the weekend. Likely, we’ll need to make small lighting adjustments as we go, but being able to work with Esper head of time light the set on Thursday means that we’ll be up and running tonight for our first night of shooting in no time at all. The project wraps Sunday, but this location will be wrapped at the end of the day on Saturday.

If you want to see how it all turns out, be sure to follow Stories by the River on Facebook or Twitter, as we will be distributing the film.

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Mikel J. Wisler

About Mikel J. Wisler

Mikel J. Wisler is an award-winning filmmaker who has written, produced, and directed several short films that have played at festivals, gaining both nominations and awards, as well as international distribution since 2005. In 2012, Wisler teamed up with Kristina and Dominic Stone Kaiser to create Stories by the River.

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