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Helpful Ways to Get a Grip on Lighting

By Bobby Marko | July 31, 2014
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I spent the 1st half of this year releasing two films, a feature length documentary and a short film narrative (Becoming Fools and Fruitcake respectively). Through this process I've attended screenings and festivals of our own films and for others. I've also sat through several Q&A's with independent filmmakers and although I love hearing how other creatives move through the process of producing their work I sometimes get increasingly frustrated with the fact that camera gear takes such a center stage while lighting, composition, sound design and production design take a distant back seat.

As important as camera and lens choice is for your production lighting, audio and composition are equally as important. I've seen quite a few films shot on RED, Alexa and high end Canon and Sony cameras that looked awful. They should have saved the money they spent on those high end cameras and lenses and invested in lighting and shot on a dslr, it would have at least looked better.

Many times in the moment of my irritation I thought about firing off a social media post to make a quick statement. But I thought it best served to compile my thoughts and turn these points into teachable moments. I'll try not to make these posts long, there will be a few of them. But I want to make these tips easily digestible and things you can put into practice immediately.

Lighting Tips for Cinematographers

Part I: Foreground and Background Exposure

A common mistake I see with independent and young Filmmakers is not knowing how to light their scenes for foreground and background. Often they rely on setting a low aperture from their lens to create depth. However, properly setting your exposure for your foreground (or subject) and background will create the same affect and give you more options with your camera.

The general rule of thumb is to set your key light one step higher than your background. Of course there are some variations to this rule depending on style and genre. But I want to burn that rule into your brain, my subject must be lit one stop higher than my background. Say that to yourself until it's the first thing that comes to mind when your gaffer asks you "how do you want to light this?"

Now, how do you do this? Very simple, get yourself a light meter (I don't care if your gaffer has one already, every cinematographer should have one in his or her dity bag). Even if you have an app such as Cine Meter, it's still a tool to aid you. Which ever you have, learn to use it (I'm not going to go into depth on how to use a light meter, there are plenty of YouTube and blog posts covering that subject) and then once you have a simple lighting rig set up meter your subject. Let's say for example you get a reading at 4.0. Remember that and then move to your background. Find a flat area that faces your camera lens and meter that area. You should get a reading of 2.8. If not then adjust your lighting respective to your reading. If the background reads 3.2 then your a half stop too high. Consider a half scrim or pull your lighting back (or dim a half step if you have that ability). If you're reading is 1.4 for the background then you must increase the power. Sometimes you have to adjust your key light in order to get the proper setting but no matter which method you have to employ, once you have this set, you will have a proper foundation to start with lighting your scene. Now, let's look at some examples.  

Shawshank Redemption (1994) Roger Deakins - DP

Here is a clear example. We have the subject that is not too far from the bookcase behind him in the background but notice how Roger Deakins (DP) lights the subject at least one stop above the background. Had he lit the background as much as the subject, even keeping the same depth of field, the image would have been flat and the focus for the audience would not have remained on the subject. 

Helpful Ways for Cinematographers to Get a Grip on Lighting
We Are What We Are (2013) Ryan Samul - DP

Here's another example where Ryan Samul uses the same principle. His subject is lit at least 1 stop above the background, even though the texture is great, it's not the focus of the scene so he chooses to keep the background dimly lit. Now, as I mentioned before employing this method is a start. Sometimes you want your background to play a role in the scene as it conveys an importance in relationship to the foreground and.or subject. So let's look at some examples as to when this rule can be broken.

Helpful Ways for Cinematographers to Get a Grip on Lighting
The Big Lebowski (1998) Roger Deakins - DP

Here you see the background of the grocery store obviously lit much higher than the subject. And if you also notice the angle in which Deakins uses the store shelves, starting in the foreground and moving towards the background. This is to show the deep philosophical nature of  "the Dude" in the opening scene. It's also to establish the environment in where he is. No one is around, he is isolated. You can assume that it's the middle of the night when most people are not at grocery stores. So there's a ton of information you can gather from this one shot and a reason why sometimes you want to break the one stop rule when lighting foreground and backgrounds. But at least you can see the lighting is not even so there is still depth to the scene.

Helpful Ways for Cinematographers to Get a Grip on Lighting
Book of Eli (2010) Don Burgess - DP

Now here is a shot in which Don Burgess decides to blend the characters in with the background. Both the subjects and background are nearly in focus and lit almost the same. Why? Many times you want to submerse the viewer into the world in which your characters are living and here is a good example of that. This method of even lighting allows the audience to get a sense of the environment in which the characters are currently in. But notice there is still a lot of light and dark, between the object, even on the characters who are lit from only one direction. Burgess still employed depth but just from a side to side and not in Z space.

Like with most anything creative, there are rules to break and the "one stop" rule with lighting is certainly no different. But learn it first and then use the creative process to know when and how to break it.
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Stopping Time with Canon 1D X

Tight budgets mean Matrix-style montages for public-broadcast documentaries are rarely done. But somehow the team at DokLab did it – and they tell CPN writer Mark Alexander how they used 50 EOS-1D X DSLRs to pull it off...

There is a childish glee that overtakes us all when we set eyes on a new piece of kit. As pristine packaging carelessly falls to the floor and a spotless lens or gleaming camera body emerges, our anticipation gives way to unreserved delight. It is a wonderfully gratifying – and unashamedly geeky – moment...

© Daniel Rihs/Pixsil
As with all big productions, preparation is the secret...

If unconditional joy is the consequence of opening one new box, imagine what Dodo Hunziker and Pierre Reischer went through as they unwrapped 50 EOS-1D X DSLRs and 50 EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lenses ahead of what would turn out to be a momentous day’s filming.

“We approached Canon to see if 50 cameras and lenses were available to do this shoot,” explains cameraman Reischer, who didn’t specify which DSLR he required when he first enquired. It was lucky they made the request when they did, as usually Canon does not have this number of bodies and lenses available. But in this case, there were a few days of opportunity for the shoot, before Canon's preparations began for the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. “It was like ‘wow’. This is the top model. We were going to shoot with 50 of them - it was just crazy,” Reischer recalls. The enormity of the task, and the challenge of getting to know Canon's flagship DSLR intimately, was dawning... (Read More)


Ace Wonder - Now on DVD!!

I worked on this film back in 2010 producing the behind-the-scenes episodes. Watch them all here.

DVDs are available at your local Walmart!

Ace Wonder Facebook Page


Beyond the Mask - Final Audio Mix

“There were many people involved in the sound work for Beyond the Mask. We had sound designer Nathan Ashton, composer Jurgen Beck, and their teams,” says director Chad Burns. “But on a project, there’s usually one person who has what is called the ‘golden ears.’ And that person is the last one to listen to the audio and put all the pieces together. It’s an incredibly important job.”

Allow me to introduce Ben Zarai, Beyond the Mask’s “golden eared” sound mixer. I had the privilege of interviewing Ben about his time working on Beyond the Mask. Ben is an LA based audio expert who knows his field well, having worked on audio in over two hundred films. Chad, Aaron, and Nathan Ashton had the opportunity to work with Ben on the film’s final audio mix. As Chad commented, “Ben is really a power mixer. He didn’t just do the work of a final mixer. He did the work of a music mixer, a sound effects mixer, and then a final mixer as well. Ben’s impact on the movie was a night and day difference.”


Director Chad Burns in the studio with audio mixer Ben Zarai

All of the pieces have already been recorded and created by the time the film reaches the mixer, but at that point, Ben arranges each of them so that they sound good relative to each other. As Ben says, “My job is to take all of the sounds plus all the music and blend them together so that everybody can understand the dialogue; the sound effects are what they need to be – big and dynamic or soft and subdued – everything that needs to happen to make it sound like a movie.”

In the studio, Ben worked alongside Chad, Aaron, and Nathan to create the final mix. Working as a team, they went through the film, moment by moment, adjusting each individual sound to reach the perfect combination. In the mixing process, Ben converted the audio from stereo to surround sound as well as adjusting several elements on each sound. “We have all the different sounds on a computer, and we turn them up and down and modify them so that they sound a little bit thicker or thinner or add more treble or bass to each sound, just to get everything to fit together as well as it can.” There are many aspects to every sound, but Ben’s main adjustment is the relative volume of each sound. “That is probably number one. How loud the music is, even how loud maybe the strings are versus the horns, compared to the dialogue.” But knowing which layer to increase or decrease gets complicated quickly, and that’s where the discerning ears of an experienced mixer are needed. “Maybe the scene is on a ship,” Ben offered me an example. “And you’ve got the creaking of the ship as a sound and you’ve got the crashing of the waves. You’ve got the boots on the wood deck as people are walking around and the swords clanking in their belts. So many sounds are happening at once, and you have to decide what is important for telling the story. You want it to sound big and full and rich, but you also want it to be clear so that the dialogue isn’t buried by the wind.”

The most difficult yet rewarding sound work in Beyond the Mask comes at the end of the film. “The most challenging part was the big finale,” Ben says. “Everything goes crazy, and stuff is blowing up and there are sword fights while there are explosions while there’s dialogue. It’s pretty intense. We had to get all of that to fit together so that you can hear what’s going on, but also make it exciting and cinematic and as entertaining as possible. That came out really well. We are all very happy with it.”

At the close of the interview, I asked Ben what he thought of Beyond the Mask as a film. “This is sort of like a critique of the movie,” Ben said. “Wow, that’s hard, because there are so many really strong elements in Beyond the Mask. The story’s strong. The acting’s great. The cinematography’s terrific. Of course the sound is good,” Ben added with a laugh. “I would say the story is probably the strongest element. It’s a very classic story, but it’s told in a fresh way that doesn’t feel tired or contrived. It’s a story of redemption. It’s a hero’s journey with universal themes of love, honor and integrity. With a great plot line, and great action sequences… It’s a winner. ”
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Beyond the Mask - Color Grading

One of the key players in putting the finishing touches on Beyond the Mask was senior colorist Keith Roush. A few weeks ago, Aaron and Chad flew out to LA to work at Keith’s studio, Roush Media, on the color grading process. It was fun talking to Aaron, Chad, and Keith about their time working together and getting a chance to understand what it was like developing the movie’s final, defining look.


The color in the final edit looks stunning. Here Beyond the Mask’s heroine
Charlotte Holloway enters a Philadelphia shop.

Because color grading is an aspect of filmmaking that gets little attention, I’ll let Keith introduce you to the process.  “We refer to our job as color grading. We don’t like to use the term color correction, because that title denotes that you are correcting for an error, so the DP (director of photography) doesn’t like that. What we do is color balancing, color enhancement, and look development. It’s really about setting the mood with warm, happy tones or dark, edgy tones to give the audience visual cues. We are shaping the lighting to enhance the drama of what’s going on in the scene.”

Chad and Aaron were excited about the opportunity to work with Keith. “Keith has a good eye for color,” Chad says. “One of the things that he did really well was understanding how much work to do in each particular scene. It can be easy to get lost in the weeds, twiddling the knobs, and do too much detail work in one particular spot, making the film look patchy. But Keith did a lot of great work keeping it uniform, and he didn’t push any of the details too far.” He has an impressive resume, and as a believer, he has a heart for faith-based films. Some of Roush Media’s most recent projects include the titles God’s Not Dead and Mom’s Night Out.


Roush Media’s equipment is state of the art.

In contrast to some of the more traditional, modern films, however, the job of color grading for Beyond the Mask was a bit more difficult. The details that make an action adventure film exciting, like night scenes, explosions, firelight, and VFX sequences take a lot of skill to properly balance the color. Keith agreed that these elements were challenging, but added that “They can be fun at the same time, especially the visual effects, because we are often doing twenty layers of the various controls on every part of the frame on those shots in order to really shape the lighting and make it as realistic as possible. In the scene with the explosion in the forest, we’re doing a number of color tricks in order to bring out the warm, red fire and have that color contrast against the cold blue moonlit woods. But those are the very beautiful, strongly lit, creatively colored scenes in Beyond the Mask that give the imagery depth and make it stunning to look at.”

One of Keith’s favorite sequences in the film is Will’s dream. Keith elaborates, “Chad and Aaron allowed me to be creative and push the bounds of what was possible with this scene. We created a very stylized look where we’re heavily washed in blue. Then we isolated the red and warm tones to make them pop, which created a unique and beautiful color contrast. It’s a monochromatic blue with very warm tones laid on top of it in a very stark, gloomy way. Then we also blurred the highlights, making it very soft and almost ethereal. It gives you a sense that this is in the mind’s eye. That’s an example of how colors really set the tone for what you’re looking at.”

In discussing their time working together on the color grade, Keith, Chad, and Aaron all commented on the moment they saw the film on the theater screen for the first time. The experience had an impact that they were not expecting. Chad says, “We had been working on this film for almost three years, but had never seen it on a big screen. The details, the acting, the visual effects – everything read better than it had on a smaller screen, and there was something quite charming about seeing the movie on the big screen.” Seeing their work in the theater, with the images of Beyond the Mask finally looking their best was a fitting finale to the process. Keith concurs, about the experience, “When I first watched Beyond the Mask on the little screen on my iPad, I was completely blown away by what they accomplished, so I knew that once we took that to the big screen, and started to do what we do best with the image and color, it was going to look like a Blockbuster, which it ultimately did.”
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(Article Source)


Wait Till It's Free - Pre-Order

The wait is almost over!

Please prepare to join us September 10th for a jaw-dropping immersion in the life and death issue of healthcare.

Our film is available for pre-order today!  We are even offering the pre-order at a 20% discount - so please take this opportunity to get the film now before the offer ends on the September 10th release date.

Here are two other simple steps you can take to help spread the message of healthcare liberty:

1) Watch and share the New Trailer!

We just put the polishing touches on our new trailer. Now you can get a true taste of the film and share it with others to encourage others to find healthcare liberty.


2) Attend or host a screening!

You will be excited to hear we have several upcoming screenings in Texas, Peoria and Wisconsin. Click here to visit our screening page.

You can also become a host by organizing a screening at your church, home, or local theater. Contact us to organize a screening in your own area.

Many blessings and thanks!

Colin Gunn
Writer/Director/Producer - WAIT TILL IT'S FREE


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When God Left the Building


A pervasive part of the American fabric is fraying and decaying before our eyes. The church is withering.

Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. Less than 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval.

The film follows a church that has seen its attendance plunge from 900 to 40. In addition to external cultural factors that affect all churches, this church is disintegrating from the inside from a variety of human storms. A pastor who doesn’t know who or what God is. Fights over petty things. A faction of angry ex-members that devises a plan to take over the church.

Throughout the story, cameras also visit other dying churches—as well as innovative new forms of church that are thriving. These range from a ministry in a Pennsylvania pub to an outreach in Los Angeles that brings joy to skid-row moms.

By the end of the film, viewers will experience hope and a refreshing glimpse into how faith may be pursued in the future.



The War Within

This film won "Best Feature Film" "Best Movie Trailer" "Best Gospel Presentation" and "Audience Choice" at the 2014 Christian Worldview Film Festival...and I highly recommend it!!

THE WAR WITHIN is a unique fantasy that takes viewers to a world that only God can see; the world of the inner man. Michael Sinclair (Brett Varvel) is a syndicated cartoonist whose dream of a perfect life is upended when tragic events transform his dream into a nightmare. The result is a war that wages within his soul which is personified by six members; Mind, Memory, Emotion, Will, Conscience, and Heart. The ensuing battle for control adversely effects his relationship with his wife Amy (Rebecca Reid) and causes Michael to doubt his faith in God. But in the midst of this spiritual test, Michael discovers that victory is found in surrender. As viewers follow the quest for answers inside of Michael, they may discover their own war within.


Movie Website


Kendrick - Movie 5 Wraps Filming

Press Release from PRWEB
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Alex and Stephen Kendrick—creators of hit faith films FIREPROOF and COURAGEOUS—have just wrapped principal photography on their anticipated fifth movie—a family drama with humor and heart focused on the power of prayer and its primary role in the Christian life.

“We made this film to inspire, challenge and motivate families to fight the right kind of battles and to fight them the best way possible,” said Director and Co-Writer Alex Kendrick. “We have plans for everything—careers, finances, health. But what about a strategy for prayer for our lives, our spouses and our children?”

The Kendricks’ fifth film is their first project independent of Sherwood Pictures, the movie ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church. Pre-production began in 2013 with the blessing and support of the Sherwood family, where they remain associate pastors.

“Sherwood is still our church home, and we’re here talking to you now only because Michael Catt, our pastor, took a risk, supported us and let us make a movie,” Alex Kendrick said.

Provident Films and AFFIRM Films partnered with the brothers to distribute their fifth movie.

The film features New York Times best-selling author and Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer in her film debut.

“I'm honored to be working with the Kendricks, and to be part of a story that encourages people to pray,” Shirer said. “Prayer is the most powerful weapon the church has to unlock the activity of heaven on earth.”

Filmed in and around Charlotte, N.C., this is the first Kendrick Brothers project shot outside their hometown of Albany, Ga. It drew more than 1,000 volunteers from 85 churches in the Charlotte area who stepped up and reached across denominational lines to support the production.

In addition to Shirer, the cast of the Kendricks’ latest movie includes T.C. Stallings (COURAGEOUS), Alex Kendrick (MOMS’ NIGHT OUT, COURAGEOUS), Robert Amaya (MOMS’ NIGHT OUT, COURAGEOUS) and veteran actress Karen Abercrombie (MY NAME IS PAUL, MOUNTAIN TOP). It introduces film newcomers comedian Michael Jr. as Michael and Alena Pitts as Danielle, and features a cameo by renown speaker Beth Moore in her first acting role.

“It's time for fierceness in prayer, and I cannot think of a more crucial message for a movie to convey,” Moore said. “God waits to see a generation that will take Him at His Word. Let's be that generation.”

“We’re going after something here that could radically improve our culture, and moviegoers will experience it within the context of an inspiring and emotional story,” Producer and Co-Writer Stephen Kendrick said. “Prayer is so much more than people realize. It can powerfully affect every problem and need in our lives if engaged from within a vibrant relationship with God.”

A family-friendly drama, the film is about learning to fight the right kinds of battles. Filled with humor, wit and heart, it follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a middle-class couple, and their daughter, Danielle, as they struggle through personal, marital and spiritual issues. Their lives are forever changed after Elizabeth meets an elderly widow who helps her develop a secret prayer room in her home.

Each Kendrick Brothers film explores a subject deeply important to Christians and the Christian life: personal integrity in FLYWHEEL, resilient faith in FACING THE GIANTS, loving marriages in FIREPROOF and heroic parenting in COURAGEOUS.

This film’s focus on prayer strategically highlights a subject of interest to a majority of Americans. According to a National Opinion Research Center survey on frequency of prayer, nearly 90 percent of Americans claim to pray regularly. Some 60 percent say they pray at least once a day—for Christians, that number grows to 84 percent, according to a U.S. News and Beliefnet online poll. Almost 80 percent of American Christians say they pray most often at home.

For interviews, contact: Michael Conrad Michael(at)Lovell-Fairchild(dot)com 214-616-0320

About Kendrick Brothers Productions
Kendrick Brothers Productions is the company of brothers Alex, Stephen and Shannon Kendrick that exists to honor Jesus Christ and make His truth and love known among the nations through movies, books, curriculum and speaking. By prayerfully blending engaging stories with scriptural integrity, the Kendricks seek to encourage and inspire viewers and readers with resources that impact their daily lives and strengthen their families and personal relationships.

About Provident Films
Provident Films, a division of Provident Music Group, develops, produces and markets faith-based films. Nashville-based Provident Music Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, has served for more than three decades, worldwide, as a leader in inspiring entertainment.

About AFFIRM Films
Affirm Films is a division of Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions (SPWA), a Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) company, dedicated to producing, acquiring and marketing films that inspire, uplift and entertain audiences. Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Entertainment Inc., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass motion picture production, acquisition and distribution; television production, acquisition and distribution; television networks; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; and development of new entertainment products, services and technologies. For additional information, go to
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