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Monday, 12 September 2011 15:48

Lights on Knife Fight

Written by  Carl Mrozek
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In the signature scene from the upcoming film Knife Fight (starring Rob Lowe), a political campaign manager advises his candidate that in order to win, he must be willing to “bring a gun to a knife fight.” One of the key moments in this political drama takes place in an attorney’s office atop a tall office/apartment building with a falcon’s-eye view of San Francisco. For Cinematographer Steve Kazmierski, shooting this scene in a penthouse suite — while maintaining a spectacular view from its wall-to-wall picture windows — was a lot like bringing a knife to a gunfight due to all the lighting challenges.

“We weren’t allowed to tie into the building’s power grid, nor could we run cable 51 stories from our ground-level generator,” says the DP. The production’s agreement with the building owners also prohibited overloading the circuitand tripping breakers. Instead, Kazmierski opted to utilize and supplement ambient daylight as much as possible. “The office had floor-to-ceiling windows that we covered with ND.9 gels,” he explains. “That reduced incoming light by three stops. We had to raise the light levels inside to preserve the panoramic view.”

Traditional lighting solutions, especially large HMIs and tungsten lights, would inevitably have overloaded the circuits. The solution was a heavy reliance on LED lighting which delivers several times more light per watt than most traditional lighting sources. This included a pair of OHM (overhead horizontal multipurpose) lights to boost the overall ambient light level. Developed by Production Resource Group (PRG), these new high-capacity LEDs use Gekko Technology’s proprietary kleer colour technology to deliver a daylight-temperature lighting equivalent of a 5000-watt HMI while drawing less than 500 watts of power. Hence, the DP was able to run two OHM lights in the office without overloading the circuit. “With HMIs, we would have been limited to using several 1.2K lights or some such [equivalent] at that location, which wasn’t nearly enough, but the OHMs gave us all the base light we needed,” says Kazmierski.

For creative highlighting, Kazmierski also used Gekko Technology’s new karesslite 6006 (6x6) and 6012 (6x12) LED-based lights. These new low-amperage LEDs are equivalent to 400- to 800-watt HMIs. “They had some distinct advantages over HMIs, beginning with their smaller size, capacity and low-power requirement,” the DP explains. “Besides in the office, we used them to light the inside of cars a fair bit. Compared to HMIs mounted on stands or other support, outside the car they were really efficient, especially since we could power them with V-lock camera batteries, typically with high-capacity RED batteries. Also, unlike HMIs, they’re fully dimmable and with no shift in color temperature. Moreover, they emit a naturally soft light, hence, there is no loss of luminance in order to soften them and they’re already daylight balanced. Their natural, daylight-balanced soft light fit the bill in a number of situations and, because they’re LEDs, we were able to move them around freely whenever we needed.”

For even smaller lighting needs, the relatively new Rosco LitePad LEDs fit the bill. “They’re incredibly thin, 12 inch by 12 inch and only ¼-inch thick,” says Kazmierski. “I put sticky Velcro strips on the back to make them easy to attach without a stand, but they also mounted easily on a pole or on a C-stand for use as a hair light or eye light, and were ideal in tight spaces. Hence, we used them a great deal.”

For Knife Fight, Kazmierski relied more heavily on LED lighting than he ever had for previous projects. For scenes shot in the lofty lawyer’s office, the OHMs and karesslite 6006s and 6012s made “a tough situation” very workable. “The sensitivity of new digital cameras like ARRI’s ALEXA and RED’s EPIC has helped a lot, and we probably could have made Knife Fight with mostly traditional lights, but it would have been tougher,” the DP reports. “Because they require more setup and breakdown time, we would have spent a lot more time on that and less on shooting. We had a jam-packed, 22-day schedule, which would have been far worse without the LEDs. They definitely helped us do quicker setups, which gave the director more time to work with the actors and, hopefully, get better performances which should help the film.”

So are LEDs the hot, new “cool” light and a godsend for cash-strapped indie films? Or are they a   truly long-term lighting solution for all sectors in film production? Paul Kobelja, a PRG lighting specialist, believes it’s the latter. “Light manufacturers have come close to matching the daylight standard of 5500K but have fallen a bit short in consistently achieving the AMPAS tungsten standard of 3150K,” notes Kobelja. “We’re hoping that our OHM lights will be the first to do so and will open the floodgates for LEDs in film and TV production. A number of studios are already reducing their labor and power costs by adding them to their mix of light sources on the set, while independents on low budgets are embracing them as a viable pathway to affordable lighting.”

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