SubscriptionBanner 5

Wednesday, 02 February 2011 23:00

Lighting the Darkness of Black Swan

Written by  Iain Blair
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Lighting_Lighting_BlackSwan3V2Talk about revolutionary. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s latest R-rated film Black Swan just might have created its own new genre –– the noir thriller/horror ballet film –– thanks to its melodramatic, pulpy plot and dark, moody lighting and imagery that underscores the inner psychological disintegration of Natalie Portman’s obsessive ballerina.

Creating the film’s distinctive look was the job of top Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, ASC. The DP’s credits include Iron Man, Iron Man 2, the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens, and three previous collaborations with Aronofsky, including Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain. Libatique shot Black Swan in Super 16 with just one ARRI 416, and, after initial tests with various Kodak stocks, he opted to shoot most of the film with FUJIFILM’s ETERNA Vivid Series 500 ASA. “I needed a fast stock with as much fidelity as possible,” the DP explains. “I also used Fuji Vivid 160 ASA a bit for visual effects, to mitigate grain, but the workhorse was the 500 as we needed the speed for the small light sources we were using.”

Right from the start, Libatique and Aronofsky went for “very dramatic” lighting. “The colors –– the greens, the magentas –– are all pointed towards different characters,” says Libatique, “and then there’s obviously the black and white monochromatic looks of the black and white swans. It all comes from a restricted color palette, which stems from production and costume design and the color temperature of the lights. In practicals, you work a lot in lower color temperatures where the film renders very warm, but that’s not necessarily what was wanted. The light ─ when it’s neutral ─ should feel established as the white light of the film, and I didn’t want it to be too warm, even in a practical setting.”

Black Swan was shot on location in Brooklyn, New York for the apartment scenes, and SUNY Purchase College in Westchester County, N.Y. doubled for Manhattan’s Lincoln Center. While the DP used largely practical lighting, every setup wasn’t done with lights so he could shoot in camera. “If I had an incandescent globe with a lampshade on a table, it might have been augmented with one out of frame,” Libatique notes. “So every scene in the rehearsals or at [the lead character’s] apartment was clearly motivated by practicals, but also lit in a non-movie-light kind of way. Apart from Kino Flos, there wasn’t a whole lot of movie lighting going on.”Lighting_BS_00714_V2

The DP also treated the apartment as one scene, even though he didn’t shoot in the living room. “I wanted to be able to move from room to room and have it feel like a real space,” explains Libatique. “And that’s not to say there’s not lights out of frame, above our heads –– there were, but I needed it all to feel very real, as if the audience just drops in as a visitor to this world.” He also reports that even in the stage performance scenes there weren’t many typical movie lights, such as Fresnels: “A lot of it was theatrical lighting on the stage versus incandescents and fluorescents off the stage in rehearsal spaces and her apartment. I didn’t want it to feel particularly key-lit in the usual cinematic way, but more that characters were moving in between light sources. I wanted that naturalism, where you see characters in that way.”

The film’s lighting package was rented from ARRI Camera Service Center in New York, augmented with non-movie lighting from Libatique’s regular New York-based Gaffer John Velez. “Because we were pretty low budget and also on a pretty tight 42-day schedule, we basically used a lot of the lights already at SUNY,” says Libatique. “So a majority of the rehearsal scenes and the live performance sequences in the third act were lit with spotlights, par cans, source fours and cyc strips. We used clusters of them in different spots and then just rigged them in a configuration that would work for us.”

Libatique did a DI at Technicolor in New York with Colorist Tim Stipan. “We didn’t manipulate at all in terms of the image,” Libatique notes. “One of the reasons I like shooting film rather than digital is that I can make choices as a DP before I shoot and during the shoot, by way of exposure and where I place the film stock and the negative. I was lucky to come up at a time when I had to learn about timing lights and labs, and that’s how you establish whether you’re going for a contrast feel or for more grain or less grain. So while the film was timed digitally, the look of the film was created by virtue of the light and the exposure.”

Login to post comments