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Friday, 10 April 2009 13:45

Lights on Laughter

Written by  John Law
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The hit TBS show “House of Payne” presents veteran DP Robin Strickland with several big lighting challenges. The show is shot at...

        The hit TBS show “House of Payne” presents veteran DP Robin Strickland with several big lighting challenges. The show is shot at Tyler Perry Studios, creator Tyler Perry's new facility in Atlanta. “We do it a little differently from other sitcoms I've shot in the past in Los Angeles,” says Strickland, whose extensive TV credits include “Soul Train,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Who’s the Boss” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” “Typically a 30-minute sitcom is completed over five days, working 10- to 12-hour days,” he explains. “The first day we read through the script and order the necessary equipment. The second day consists of hanging lights and further focusing and prepping them on the third day. Full rehearsal in front of the cameras with all producers and writers occurs on the fourth day. Then we shoot the full show twice on the fifth day, often with a live audience. So typically two shows are shot by the end of the five days. But in Atlanta, we complete this entire process in just two days, so it’s very fast and pretty hairy.” 

In addition to the time crunch, the DP has to deal with all the challenges inherent in a four-camera sitcom. “You have to light for a 180-degree angle at all times,” Strickland notes. “You have two cameras at the extreme ends of the set, which will capture single shots. The other two cameras float in between and get the wider shots and most two-shots."”        

Strickland says it takes a lot of equipment for this typical sitcom-camera set-up. “I key light from the upstage side of the camera with fill light from the downstage side, also using a mix of hard light and soft light,” he reports. “I’ll put 216 Lee Filters in units to diffuse the light to make it nice and soft. I have to be aware of shadows that are created by the light. That’s always the biggest challenge on a four-camera show, as you end up having multiple shadows as you have to light for all the various angles. So if I can control that, it makes life much easier. Then from the downstage side I use bounce light, [which is] diffused light that’s usually obtained with a 2K Fresnel or a 1K par that I’ll bounce into a 4x8 bead board. This gives me a soft puff of light to fill in the eyes and the face. Then I key from the upstage side, either with 4K Super Soft or 2K Zip lights, and in the middle of the set I use 2K and 1K Fresnels as needed.” 

Strickland uses various rental houses to complete his lighting package, including Lighting & Production Equipment & Paskal Lighting in Atlanta, Mole-Richardson, Cinelease and Hollywood Rentals. “Trying to light a show in Atlanta isn’t always easy, as there’s not nearly the same variety of equipment that you have in Los Angeles, where most of the work takes place,” he notes. “So you end up subleasing a lot of the lights from places like Mole-Richardson and Cinelease, and having it shipped in just for the shoot, and then shipping it back.” The DP sums up by saying that he really enjoys shooting the show. “I love doing sitcoms –– there's always a challenge to conquer.”

Hollywood Rentals

www.hollywoodrentals.com

Cinelease

cinelease.com

Lee Filters

www.leefiltersusa.com

Lighting & Production Equipment 
www.lpe.com

Mole-Richardson
www.mole.com

Paskal Lighting
www.paskal.com

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