Virtual Reality is here and it’s actually for everyone!

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Many moons ago, people would have never even dreamed of some of the technological advancements that we’ve made in our post-modern age. We’ve come an incredibly long way from the invention of the wheel or the discovery of fire. Human ingenuity and creativity has spiraled over the years thanks to brilliant scientists across the world. We’ve made great strides in medicine, agriculture, communication, transportation and warfare… And in the realm of entertainment and art… Especially at this very moment in time… Because we now have real and true Virtual Reality that is deliverable to the general public.

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What is Virtual Reality? That’s most likely the first question that you’ll ask. Well, it stems from the idea of creating an alternate reality that can be seen, heard, and experienced in order to transport people or entertain people with new information or storytelling in a 1st person narrative. It’s also an immersive way to give people an interactive experience unlike the traditional movie or even musical concert. With Virtual Reality, thanks to the aid of headsets and special cameras, one can go places that they had never dreamed of… Without leaving their bedroom or backyard!

As technology changes and new devices are invented or upgraded, we come closer and closer to finding the very best products for our needs, and much thanks to Nokia, this is happening rapidly with the remarkable new OZO 360 degree V.R. Camera. The OZO is part of this new and fast emerging landscape, but unlike many of its predecessors and experimental cameras, the OZO has a comprehensive solution for all panoramic and immersive virtual environments. With its own unique design that positions the highest quality (2K x 2K) V.R. cameras around the device, which looks like a small bowling ball, and allows for simultaneous 360 degree. 

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We’re extremely excited to have joined forces with Nokia to bring this fantastic video technology to the LA area. We have the camera available for rentals and sales in our facility in North Hollywood. Come over and check it out. Our staff has even shot a fun demo for anyone to watch with one of our headsets right here in our shop. We hope to SEE you soon!

Sincerely,

 

Ramzi Abed

Director of Marketing & Sales, BIRNS AND SAWYER

Our Memories Are Stardust

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A View From Behind The Meter : Film Memories

Birns & Sawyer on Set 4
Recently, my wife and I traveled to downtown Los Angeles to the Music Center to see a play that we knew nothing about. It was called “Marjorie Prime.” As it turned out, we were very glad we knew nothing about the play because the impact of the premise was that much more adventuresome. The play was about the frailty of human memory and how we remember people after they are gone. Children remembering parents, husbands remembering wives, and we ourselves desperately trying to accurately remember the past were all explored through the interaction of the characters during the performance. The loss of loved ones, whether in the natural aging process or in accidental tragic circumstances leaves us little but scattered memories of those who have passed on. Those memories are not always accurate and in many cases downright fraudulent, however, our sense of loss sometimes overwhelms us with constant regrets that we were never able to communicate our love in the fullest degree while they were present. It was a very thought provoking premise, and, after the play was over, as we were driving home I began to think about my long history in this industry. I am in my seventy fourth year and by next June will have lived almost three quarters of a century. During that time, I have seen a great deal of changes in the film making process and experienced a plethora of exciting memories. I have a mind filled with sights and sound bites of people, some of whom have already passed away and others who have quietly retired into old age and irrelevancy. There are times when I wonder whether my memories are real or just fabricated to fit my own perception of the past. That fact was present in the play and the characters themselves were constantly careful to forget certain experiences and then embellish others to the point of fantasy.

Are the memories that we treasure real?… or are they constructed by our fertile imagination to represent the past as we want to see it? I spent the entire rest of the evening combing through my memories searching for elements that I purposely ignore and elements that I have created with a disregard for the truth. It was a tough night.
As I began to examine my past I realized that most of the people who truly influenced my life are gone and I only have, in my memory, brief fragments of who they really were. I began to wonder whether we all do that in order to reconcile the loss of loved ones and get past the depression that any such loss brings to us. Our memory becomes so selective and so careful that we avoid painful glimpses of the past and instead create scenarios that we can accept today. I can clearly remember some of my first steps into the film world at USC in the mid-1960’s. Mel Sloan (who was the editing professor through all my time there) was working in an editing room, filled with 16 mm moviola editing machines, tutoring a dark haired intense young girl by the name of Marcia Griffin. I was working with David Dryer in the same room editing our first project for a film production class and neither of us could have imagined that this dark eyed lady would marry George Lucas who was also attending USC at the time and together they would create “Star Wars” changing the film making world forever. Later, when I returned to Los Angeles, in the early seventies, after ten years filming in the United States Air Force Audio Visual Service (AAVS), I went back to USC to view a screening at the invitation of an old friend who was teaching there at that time. Sitting in their small screening room which maybe seated twenty people, I watched the 16mm version of Dark Star while John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon talked about blowing up their then student film project. At least it started as a student project but, with the influx of additional funds, it gravitated to a commercial product and sent both into the studio system. John went on to direct “Halloween” and Dan co- authoring “Alien” anchoring them forever in the film catalogs of substantive movie makers. In that small screening room at that moment it was just two young men trying to decide whether they wanted to spend money on a controversial blowup process: that being 16mm work print to 35mm theatrical release print. Their decision which might even have been made that day sealed their future forever.
During my first ten years in Hollywood, I worked for a lighting rental company called PSI (Production Systems Incorporated) and in the 1970’s Allen Daviau and Steven Spielberg strolled through my life. I was the lead rental manager and I’m pretty sure it was Steven who I remember coming into the shop and setting up a package of equipment for shooting in the desert a sequence for his feature film. The film turned out to be Close Encounters of a Third Kind and the sequence was the Gobi desert scene which was shot by Allen that was ultimately cut out of the final released version. I never saw Steven again but worked on packages for Allen’s vast commercial portfolio, before E.T. became a hit, for many years after that incident. As I look back sometimes I’m not sure that my memories are accurate but each time I go over to the ASC clubhouse for one of the monthly breakfasts I run into one of the DP’s that I worked with and they confirm my recollections to be true. These encounters are such fun and I feel graced to have been part of the almost legendary past of this industry that have I loved so much. I can remember Sam Raimi running across the wooded area that we lit with Par 64’s, rigged into the trees, with a 35mm Bell & Howell Filmmo camera simulating the Evil Dead racing to Ash’s house. He ran that route a number of times until he was quite exhausted and laughed the whole time at himself. He appeared to be having more fun than all of us combined.
I think that some of my most lingering memories have to do with those performers and technicians which were just emerging or on there way out due to age or sickness. In one educational shoot about the game of chess, shot in a small sound stage in Burbank, I met and worked with Orson Welles. The experience occurred while I was finishing lighting the set and almost hanging off one of the pipe grids working on a back light. It started when a voice rang out calling to me, “You there on the ladder…can you tell me where I’m supposed to sit?” I looked down and there was Orson Welles in a wheel chair staring up at me. “What’s the matter cat got your tongue? Are you both deaf and dumb… I’ll say it again …Do you know where I’m supposed to perform?” I was pretty speechless. Here was an actor that I considered a legend and had seen his performance in “Citizen Kane” a number of times and now he was pointing a finger at me and dressing me down for my speechless behavior. In truth, I was delighted. I smiled broadly and told him that where my ladder was at present would be a chair. That chair is where he would sit and that I was placing a back light for that chair at that moment. He was enormously overweight and had to be wheeled around in a large wheel chair, I’m sure because his legs wouldn’t handle the rotund frame. When I finished, his chair was moved into position, and once he moved into the chair he never moved again for the whole day. His food was brought to him and he railed over the stupidity of the script most of the day. He even apologized to me later for being so gruff with me explaining that hadn’t had his morning coffee to that point. I almost wanted to say that it was well into the day and certainly not early in the morning when the encounter occurred but I left it alone.

There is something very wonderful about seeing that your idols are really very human after all. I still smile often when I remember Katherine Hepburn flipping me the bird out of her Cadillac convertible while driving in the Hollywood hills. I was in one of my grip trucks, and was slowly navigating the twisting narrow roads in the area and heard quite a few honks on someone’s car horn behind me. I pulled over after quite some distance and a while Cadillac convertible with the top down whizzed by me with Katherine holding her hand high in the sky, her finger clearly pointing out her ire. I felt honored to be flipped off by one of the greatest actresses of all times.
Over a career that spanned 36 years, I worked on hundreds of sets and in many cases didn’t find out until I got home, and my wife asked me how my day was, that I discovered that I had worked with quite popular stars. I remember my wife relating to me that the woman I had lit on the stage was none other than J-Lo, and she couldn’t believe that I didn’t know who J-Lo was. That actually happened to me on many occasions with stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Cindy Crawford, Cheryl Tiegs, Topher Grace, J lo, and even such big names as Sylvester Stallone, Fred Astaire, and Bo Derek. I used to get so wrapped up in what I was involved with that the recognition factor was highly impaired when it came to the talent. I worked with the Barbara Walters specials team for a number of years and the glamour of the stars no longer was a factor with me. The memories of those wonderfully talented people, while some of them were not so talented, are pretty much of a blur to me now, however every once and a while someone will ask me “did you work with such and such” and I realize that I had indeed. At that moment, I generally felt that I was gifted a lovely series of memories that many people would envy, and I am just lucky to have lived during this time to meet such wonderful people.
Michael Rogers

Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

Frankly Dear, I Love The Movies

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A View From Behind the Meter : Quotes From The Movies

Birns & Sawyer on Set 5

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” is a line that almost everyone who has gone to the movies during their lifetime knows which movie it came from. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind is one of the most recognizable characters in the one hundred or so year’s film has been in our experience. I grew up with film. When I was a young boy in Brooklyn New York during the war years of the forties my mother took me and my sister to the movies regularly. I saw Fantasia, Gone with the Wind, White Heat, Treasure of Sierra Madre, It’s A Wonderful Life, and many others holding my mother’s hand both in and out of the theaters of Manhattan. She took us to see “Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman” during this time and both my sister and I spent a great deal of time with our butts in the air because we were afraid to look at the screen. We buried our faces into the seat to try and avoid the scary moments.

I was thrilled with each visit and my infatuation for the silver screen grew yearly but it dates to those war years both before and after 1946. I was hooked and I spent every Saturday during my preteen years at the movies. For twenty-five cents I could see a double feature, fifteen cartoons an adventure serial and, if I was lucky enough to be a possessor of the correct color advertisement given out the week before, a large popcorn with butter. For years I watched B movies by the droves and never saw them as “B-movies” with the connotation of B meaning bad. They were just movies and my appetite was almost insatiable. It is truly amazing how much of our common vernacular comes from the movies. “When I’m good I’m very good but when I’m bad I’m better” I’ve heard at least a hundred times and most who utter those words have no idea that they come from the Mae West movie “I’m No Angel.” The Wizard of Oz has some of the most oft quoted lines. Who doesn’t use “Toto were not in Kansas anymore” or “I’m melting…” and of course the big one “There’s no place like home…” Generally the movies have given us moral structure pitting good against evil and clearly outlining what is considered evil. A consideration for others is always considered a good trait and the absence of that trait a definite path to self destruction.
Even in the movies of today such iconic lines as Clint Eastwood’s “Make my day…” or Star Wars’ line “May the Force be with you…” are repeated over and over in our everyday conversation. We use the words and the sentiment of these movie lines often unaware of the origin. I sometimes wonder how movies have shaped our society without our awareness. While I was in college I read “From Caligari to Hitler” which outlined the influence of movies on the German people and how the Nazi’s under Goebbels as Propaganda Minister used that influence to promote the rise of Hitler. The Nazi’s took over the film industry and made obvious pro Nazi movies and newsreels without the consideration of truth or facts. The newsreels were on every screen in Germany every Friday and they influenced the German public to believe ideas and values in a very unreal rendition of what for them was all the news they got. Leni Riefenstahl made “Triumph of the Will” in the late thirties, and it canonized Hitler as the gift of God to the German people. Just as we were looking at “…mirror, mirror on the wall…”, the German people were raising their hands and chanting “Mein Fuhrer.” The movies have been a part of the world’s social conscious and used by people for both good and evil purposes. It is highly influential and as one can see every election cycle a tool in the hands of a good marketing team to change your mind at least temporarily if not forever. The last line in “King Kong”, spoken by the film director character, Carl Denham, when asked whether the airplanes killed the beast, has always stayed with me…”…no it wasn’t the airplanes…it was beauty that killed the beast.”

Our love of beauty draws us over and over to the movies. We wish to be scared, teased, titillated, thrilled, romanced, but most of all we wish to see something beautiful that makes us forget the daily beasts in our lives and hopefully not be killed in the process. The process of living in somebody else’s shoes for two hours and forgetting mine is why I keep coming back to the movies, which is probably why you do as well. I’ll see you in the movies!

Michael Rogers

Educational Outreach / Lighting Specialist

BIRNS AND SAWYER

It’s More Than Just Cracking The Whip!

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A View From Behind The Meter:

Set Discipline

When I first began working in this industry in the early seventies, there was a disciplined set organization and procedure that was stringently adhered to. It was designed, because raw stock was expensive and editing time was even more expensive.

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The consistent mantra expressed by all departments was that “Time was Money!” and that wasting anyone’s time was self-destructive to the film’s completion. Everybody was keyed to make sure everything was perfect before the director would call out loud and clear “Roll Camera.” Everyone on the set was anticipating that moment as if it were opening night on Broadway and all their concentrated skills as well as pre-production activities came to the head at that moment. I remember the excitement when a shot was perfect and the disappointment when there was an error causing us all to do it once again. It was truly a team effort with all the closeness that comes with success in any endeavor that is performed as a group.

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When a football team scores a touchdown the elation of the group is pervasive and the feeling of accomplishment is lasting. I felt that closeness with all the crew members over the years and I still look on those people with respect to this day. There was something magical about the process that captured my imagination and set the process of film-making on a different level of life’s accomplishments. The preciseness, the concentration, and of course the artistry was on a higher plane than anything I had ever engaged in prior to my first set experience. I had played football in high school, acted in theater in college and spent ten years as an officer in the air force but none of those experiences gave me such a sense of self accomplishment as working on the set producing a film product. I went home each night sometimes exhausted but always with a sense of self fulfillment. It was a good feeling and certainly one I cherish today.

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As I listen to the camera teams in our prep bays and speak to them at the ASC clubhouse I hear over and over that the set discipline is slowly disappearing. When I went to a seminar at Panavision about using film cameras, instead of digital cameras, one of the elements that kept coming up in the question and answer period was the pleasure everyone experienced by the return to that discipline dictated by the conservative use of film raw stock. It surprised me at the time so I began to ask DP’s and assistant camera techs about this change in set discipline. The response was consistent and pervasive. The fact that capturing the image on digital chips was at relatively no cost allowed the concept that there was no longer a need to make that moment, when camera was turned on, a precious one. I’ve had cameramen tell me that directors have expressed to them to turn on the camera in the morning and don’t worry about shutting it down throughout the day.

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I’ve witnessed on the set shouting, by directors and assistant directors, directions to the actors while the camera is running. This, of course, destroys the possibility of use to the editor and radically disturbs the actor’s concentration on his character. When speaking to editors the overwhelming complaint I hear is the amount of garbage that they have to plow through to find good usable material is pervasive. The artistry is being eroded in favor of the possibility of getting that one shot that might go viral. Just because you can run the camera with disregard to the cost on the set is no excuse to lose that element that made our industry an artistic collaboration of skilled talent. The discipline and procedure that has been practiced over the last hundred years is still a viable as well as efficient way to work. You get more bang for your buck. Because one doesn’t have to be concerned with the cost of raw stock and you can run the camera continuously the cost is just being transferred to the post production. In my estimation the acting suffers and the self-fulfillment by the group is damaged.

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Yes, one can probably get a very candid moment in that process and that candid moment could be precious but why throw the baby out with the bath water. Use the process to get the meat of your production and then work with improvisation letting the camera roll to capture the results as an addition rather than the absence of process.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

Nancy Schreiber At The ASC Breakfast

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A View From Behind The Meter :

Nancy Schreiber At The ASC Breakfast

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It’s been a couple of months since I had attended the ASC breakfast in which Nancy Schreiber was the guest speaker. It was very well attended, and the crowd filled the ASC clubhouse to capacity. I have been an avid supporter of the ASC’s breakfast program, because I think it brings the new filmmakers into a closer association with those experienced professionals that they have admired and respected for so long. These new filmmakers look at these great cinematographers as icons of the industry, but when they begin to speak, the human element supersedes our entire pedestal placement of these individuals. As one begins to listen to the very real problems that they encountered on the set, a bong forms that all of us share.

Filmmaking is a difficult problem-solving business that requires creative thinking at every step of the process. I have listened to Nancy during the camera prep of one of her many productions bemoaning the lack of funds given to her. Time after time with little financial backing, she produces images that rival the highest budget epics of the studios. The audience while listening to her methodology were all are aware that their budgets are also dwindling in this economic recession. Shooting features on $250,000.00 budgets and making them look like five million budgets is a godsend to the low budget producer and Nancy has been doing it as a matter of course for years. Her emphasis on lighting and camera movement (Mostly hand holding camera movement) was very instructive to the audience and when she detailed her choices in this endeavor you could hear a pin drop.

It was fascinating for me to hear her speak about the excessive sharpness of the digital cameras in this digital camera revolution. This is something I had not thought about and I can see where it could be a concern. What she does to soften the image through the lens I have been employing with light on the talent for years and for the same reason. Almost all the light indoors, where we have most of our interaction with people, is soft overhead light. Both at work and at home the presence of hard light is an exception rather than the rule. For almost a hundred years, the primary lighting systems that we have to illuminate our subjects is point source hard light instruments. Seldom, however, do we view people in hard light with the obvious exception of outdoor sunlight. “The harsh light of day” as we call it in slang, is not generally a part of most of our communication with our fellow human beings. In most of our retail stores it is overhead fluorescent lighting and in our homes the light is usually filtered through lamp shades, so that our eyes are attuned to interacting with each other in soft light not hard light.

I came out of live stage theater, and all of the lights we used were Fresnels or parabolic reflector leko lights and these are all hard lights. Now for stage it makes a lot of sense because of the distance most of the audience is viewing the action but for the intimate nature of movies it is counterproductive. In the past, whenever I used hard light it was for the special effect of creating shadows. Horror films are a perfect example of this technique, as are suspense dramas, in which you want the audience to feel uncomfortable. The hard edge and high contrast from light to shadow creates anxiety in the audiences mind whether they are aware of it or not. Nancy was relating that the same concept is applicable to the camera image. Excessive sharpness is not how we normally view people in our daily interaction in life so why place it on the big screen where we can examine every pore in the human face. Film seemed to naturally do this and now the future cinematographers will have to keep this in mind because digital cameras are inherently sharper than most of us view our surroundings.
In the last year I’ve attended each of the breakfasts with at least one of our young technicians both to familiarize them with ASC and to have them get invaluable information about the career they are entering. We have listened to such wonderful creators as Dean Cundy, Claudio Miranda, Haskell Wexler, Victor Kemper, and David Mullen as well as the truly incredible Nancy Schreiber. Each has brought keen insights to their methodology and the constant difficulties that had to be overcome in order to create their notable films. I cannot think of a better place to interact with your fellow film makers and meet those people who are just as involved as you with making a living at this profession. Here is the place to ask that question of “how did you do that?” in a comfortable intimate environment and get the answer from the horses mouth. These horses, however, are successful horses, who have run the race and won, and that is the true value of this venue. It can be found no where else.

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-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

It Was Better When It Was In The Original Language

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View From Behind The Meter

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I just viewed the French version of “La Femme Nikita” last night for the second time after more than twenty years. It was released in 1990 by Gaumont Films and I was reminded of how Hollywood’s version couldn’t compare to the storyline or character generated by the Luc Besson version. The American version was called “Assassin”, or “Point of No Return”. It was directed by John Badham and starred Brigitte Fonda, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Bancroft, and Harvey Keitel. The two movies are very similar in plot, but I have always felt that the original Besson version was considerably more earthy, more raw, and the character of Nikita much more complex. I’m not sure why Hollywood remakes foreign films. I suppose it’s because American producers believe that audiences in this country can’t stand sub-titles. I have never had problems with sub-titles and have even watched American films in Thailand with Thai sound track and English sub-titles. Now that’s a kick in the head.

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In retrospect the plot itself spawned the American remake in 1993 and a television series in 1997 which went for 96 episodes, so it sold well in this country. The film was the eighth best selling film in France for that year and I saw it in 1991 and was really swept away by Anne Paillaud’s performance. Brigitte Fonda’s performance was certainly good but the complexity of Nikita’s character suffered, and her psychotic behavior was not nearly as effective as the French performance.

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Time and again, the U.S. version of a foreign film is only a shadow of the gritty realities of the people that populate these foreign films. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” immediately comes to mind. The foreign version was far superior in my mind. Daniel Craig is a fine, very competent actor, but in the American film, he just didn’t work for me. I have to say I read the book, and Daniel just was not that character. I saw the three part series generated by several Swedish Production Companies, and was enthralled. My wife and I watched the series in three consecutive nights, and felt a true let-down when the three night experience ended. It was such an engrossing story, and the character of Lisbeth Salander was one of the most enigmatic that I’ve seen in recent years. Noomi Repace was described by one critic as “the diminutive, flat-chested, chain-smoking, tattoo adorned, anti-social, bisexual, genius computer hacker,” has become “one of the most compelling portrayals in recent popular fiction.” The American remake was slick, clean, and well made, but nowhere near the captivating engrossment of the Swedish version. Here again, the foreign version was head and shoulders above the American version.

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These are not the only American remakes that make no sense to me. “The Wicker Man,” and “City of Angels,” are two films that Nicholas Cage was involved with that I’m sorry to say… Since these two have come out, Mr. Cage has come down a few pegs in my book. The topper this year was the continuing saga of the Godzilla remakes. There were 28 Godzilla spinoffs produced from 1954 through 2004 and six made in America, the 1998 and 2013 being the most notable, if that is a term that could be applied here. I find that amazing. In all that time I’ve never been able to completely sit though one. To me they defy all the elements of fine film making in that they have shoddy special effects, poor sound, terrible acting, and absolutely unbelievable story line but they breed like rabbits. The co-stars have even sillier names and by co-stars I mean co-star monsters. Names like Mothra, Shockirus, Titanosaurus, Battra, and who can forget Destoroyah, all have found there way into this limitless spinoff genre that seems to have no end. There is a new one set to come out in 2016 by the same group the produced the 2014 version. The computer graphic capability is like a drink to an alcoholic when it comes to Godzilla remakes…one just can’t resist one more.

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Even the great Fellini can’t escape remakes as the movie starring Daniel Day Lewis proved. “Nine” is a remake of “8 ½” and I really don’t understand the penchant of Hollywood’s need to remake a classic. Are we destined to copy great films of foreign directors forever into the future just because we as Americans are required to read subtitles and have a reputation for disdaining the process? So far I have never seen a remake of a foreign film that I thought was better made. What I’m concerned about is the possibility of an American remake of all of Ingmar Bergman’s great films. I can just imagine what “Virgin Spring” would be like. Here’s the plot line…Antonio’s 14 year old daughter is attacked, raped and murdered by black gang members in Griffith Park and Antonio’s angry response when finding her clothing at a yard sale is a drive by shooting in Watts…end of story. There would of course be no sub-titles and it could be titled “Las Virgins Revenge.” Heaven help us!
Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

The History Of The World (Part Two): LED LIGHTING!

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A View From Behind The Meter

History Of LED Lighting

history

The emergence of LED technology is becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives and it comes to mind that few people have any awareness of how it all started. I think that that the majority of us believe that this is a new technology but that is far from the case. It really goes back over a hundred years to the beginning of the 20th century when a British Marconi engineer by the name of Henry Joseph Round noticed that semiconductors produced light. He wrote a few paragraphs on the phenomenon and made no further investigations. Without any information of Rounds observances twenty years later, a Russian radio technician Oleg Losev living in Novgorad Russia noticed that the diodes used in radio receivers emitted light when current was passed through them. He published the details in a Russian journal at the time and went on to publish his discoveries in 16 journals both in German and British periodicals between 1924 and 1930. Due to these publications Losev could respectively be considered the discoverer of LED technology. The Soviet Union during the following years was embroiled in a turbulent social change culminating in the catastrophic slaughter of World War II and Losev was one of the millions of victims of that period of history. It is believed he died, in the siege of Leningrad by the German Army, of all things starvation in the year 1942 at the young age of 38. It is not known where he was buried.

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During the years between 1927 and 1942 Losev theorized correctly that the light was not caused by thermal effects but instead a “cold” light in a new field of science we now call quantum mechanics. No practical usage of the observed phenomenon happened for several decades and at RCA in the United States during the early 50’s Rubin Braunstein reported on infrared emission from gallium arsenide (GaAs). These observances were utilized and developed by two experimenters at Texas Instruments and they applied and received the first patents on infrared LED’s in 1961. The next year in 1962, the first practical visible-spectrum (red) LED was developed by Nick Holonyak Jr. while working at General Electric. Holonyak is considered the “father of visible light-emitting diode technology” by many. Both he and one of his former graduate students, a George Craford, worked to develop red and yellow LEDs. Craford went on to create a brighter, (almost 10 times) red and red-orange LED by 1972. In 1976, T.P. Pearsall created the first high-brightness, high efficiency LED for optical fiber telecommunication.

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The first commercial LEDs were commonly used as replacements for incandescent and neon indicator lamps in expensive equipment such as laboratory and electronics test equipment. Until 1968, visible LEDs were very expensive, almost $200.00 per unit. Monsanto was the first to mass-produce visible red LEDs by using the compound gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAaP) which was suitable for indicators usually in test equipment and appliances. Everything changed in the seventies when Fairchild produced LEDs at a cost of less than five cents per unit. The methods used by Fairchild are still being employed by LED manufacturers today. The methods they employed allowed an inexpensive production of light, the brightness of which grew dramatically over the next twenty years, and the devices developed with this technology exploded into the marketplace. Calculator readouts, auto dash display lights, appliance signal lights, proliferated using these efficient long lasting illumination systems. The light output has doubled approximately every six months since 1960 and this trend will seemingly continue as engineers experiment with chemicals to increase output and color in the basic compound substructure. By the late 1980’s LEDs had become common in our daily life but the white light equivalent of incandescent systems had not yet been developed and wouldn’t be until the early 1990’s by an employee of Nichia Corporation in 1994.
Shuji Nakamura graduated from the University of Tokushima in 1977 and joined the Nichia Corporation where he invented the first high brightness gallium nitride LED whose brilliant blue light when converted to yellow by a phosphor coating produces a white light. Nakamura managed to develop a thermal annealing method of irradiating GaN that was suitable for mass production inexpensively. He is responsible for creating the white LED in the early 1990’s as well as the blue laser diodes used in blu-ray discs. In 2014 he was honored with the Nobel Prize in physics together with Prof. Hiroshi Amano for inventing blue light-emitting diodes. This discovery has led to lighting that is viable for our media and inexpensive for an illumination that is for all practical purposes without substantial heat and dramatically less in amperage draw. Nakamura by the way received in 2005 the largest bonus ever awarded to that date paid by a Japanese company, 9 million dollars. He now teaches at University of California Santa Barbara and holds over 100 patents.

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Now that we have some idea how we got here, just how does the LED work/?, I’ll try to simplify a very complex physics lesson so that you as technicians understand the nature of what’s happening and can realize the potential of this new efficient source of light. A light emitting diode is a semiconductor light source. A diode can be viewed as an electronic version of a check valve. Electric current is only allowed to pass in one direction (commonly called forward direction) and is used to convert alternating current to direct current. The semiconductor diodes current to voltage characteristics can be tailored for special purposes, light being only one, by varying the inherent materials and introducing impurities into the compound elements or what’s called doping. When a light-emitting diode is turned on (forward based) electrons are able to move from one element to the other and that movement creates a loss of energy in the electrons which in turn creates a photon. This effect is called electroluminescence and the color of the light is determined by the energy gap of the semiconductor. More simply put, introducing DC current to the compound forces a drop in energy in the electrons as the current passes through both elements and the production of a photon is the resulting consequence. Presently our white light is really a blue LED covered with a phosphor coating producing a light that appears white.

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(The Cineroid LM400-VCDS Variable Color LED Light displayed above)

The above simplicity is designed to clear the detailed science of the process so that the guy in the trenches can work with a basic understanding of what’s really happening. Trying to convert physics into layman’s terms is very difficult and I hope the above brief description achieves that purpose. As lighting technicians and film makers we will be using LEDs as our primary source of light for the foreseeable future and it is good to know how it operates. Good luck!

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

Our Minds Are Movie Projectors

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A View From Behind The Meter

Film Memories

Last night, my wife and I traveled into downtown Los Angeles to the Music Center to see a play we knew nothing about. It was called “Marjorie Prime.” As it turned out, we were very glad we knew nothing about the play because the impact of the premise was that much more adventuresome. The play was about the frailty of human memory and how we remember people after they are gone. Children remembering parents, husbands remembering wives, and we ourselves desperately trying to accurately remember the past were all explored through the interaction of the characters during the performance. The loss of loved ones, whether in the natural aging process or in accidental tragic circumstances leaves us little but scattered memories of those who have passed on. Those memories are not always accurate and in many cases downright fraudulent, however, our sense of loss sometimes overwhelms us with constant regrets that we were never able to communicate our love in the fullest degree while they were present. It was a very thought provoking premise, and, after the play was over, as we were driving home I began to think about my long history in this industry.

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I am in my seventy fourth year and by next June will have lived almost three quarters of a century. During that time, I have seen a great deal of changes in the filmmaking process, and experienced a plethora of exciting memories. I have a mind full of sights and sound bites of people, some of whom have already passed away, and others who have quietly retired into old age and irrelevancy. There are times when I wonder whether my memories are real or just fabricated to fit my own perception of the past. That fact was present in the play and the characters themselves were constantly careful to forget certain experiences and then embellish others to the point of fantasy. Are the memories that we treasure real?… or are they constructed by our fertile imagination to represent the past as we want to see it? I spent the entire rest of the evening combing through my memories searching for elements that I purposely ignore and elements that I have created with a disregard for the truth. It was a tough night.

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As I began to examine my past I realized that most of the people who truly influenced my life are gone and I only have, in my memory, brief fragments of who they really were. I began to wonder whether we all do that in order to reconcile the loss of loved ones and get past the depression that any such loss brings to us. Our memory becomes so selective and so careful that we avoid painful glimpses of the past and instead create scenarios that we can accept today. I can clearly remember some of my first steps into the film world at USC in the mid-1960’s. Mel Sloan (who was the editing professor through all my time there) was working in an editing room, filled with 16 mm moviola editing machines, tutoring a dark haired intense young girl by the name of Marcia Griffin. I was working with David Dryer in the same room editing our first project for a film production class and neither of us could have imagined that this dark eyed lady would marry George Lucas who was also attending USC at the time and together they would create “Star Wars” changing the film making world forever. Later, when I returned to Los Angeles, in the early seventies, after ten years filming in the United States Air Force Audio Visual Service (AAVS), I went back to USC to view a screening at the invitation of an old friend who was teaching there at that time. Sitting in their small screening room which maybe seated twenty people, I watched the 16mm version of Dark Star while John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon talked about blowing up their then student film project. At least it started as a student project but, with the influx of additional funds, it gravitated to a commercial product and sent both into the studio system. John went on to direct “Halloween” and Dan co- authoring “Alien” anchoring them forever in the film catalogs of substantive movie makers. In that small screening room at that moment it was just two young men trying to decide whether they wanted to spend money on a controversial blowup process: that being 16mm work print to 35mm theatrical release print. Their decision which might even have been made that day sealed their future forever.

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During my first ten years in Hollywood I worked for a lighting rental company called PSI (Production Systems Incorporated) and in the 1970’s Allen Daviau and Steven Spielberg strolled through my life. I was the lead rental manager and I’m pretty sure it was Steven who I remember coming into the shop and setting up a package of equipment for shooting in the desert a sequence for his feature film. The film turned out to be Close Encounters of a Third Kind, and the sequence was the Gobi desert scene which was shot by Allen that was ultimately cut out of the final released version. I never saw Steven again but worked on packages for Allen’s vast commercial portfolio, before E.T. became a hit, for many years after that incident. As I look back sometimes I’m not sure that my memories are accurate but each time I go over to the ASC clubhouse for one of the monthly breakfasts I run into one of the DP’s that I worked with and they confirm my recollections to be true. These encounters are such fun and I feel graced to have been part of the almost legendary past of this industry that have I loved so much. I can remember Sam Raimi running across the wooded area that we lit with Par 64’s, rigged into the trees, with a 35mm Bell & Howell Filmmo camera simulating the Evil Dead racing to Ash’s house. He ran that route a number of times until he was quite exhausted and laughed the whole time at himself. He appeared to be having more fun than all of us combined.

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I think that some of my most lingering memories have to do with those performers and technicians which were just emerging or on there way out due to age or sickness. In one educational shoot about the game of chess, shot in a small sound stage in Burbank, I met and worked with Orson Welles. The experience occurred while I was finishing lighting the set and almost hanging off one of the pipe grids working on a back light. It started when a voice rang out calling to me, “You there on the ladder…can you tell me where I’m supposed to sit?” I looked down and there was Orson Welles in a wheel chair staring up at me. “What’s the matter cat got your tongue? Are you both deaf and dumb… I’ll say it again …Do you know where I’m supposed to perform?” I was pretty speechless. Here was an actor that I considered a legend and had seen his performance in “Citizen Kane” a number of times and now he was pointing a finger at me and dressing me down for my speechless behavior. In truth, I was delighted. I smiled broadly and told him that where my ladder was at present would be a chair. That chair is where he would sit and that I was placing a back light for that chair at that moment. He was enormously overweight and had to be wheeled around in a large wheel chair, I’m sure because his legs wouldn’t handle the rotund frame. When I finished, his chair was moved into position, and once he moved into the chair he never moved again for the whole day. His food was brought to him and he railed over the stupidity of the script most of the day. He even apologized to me later for being so gruff with me explaining that hadn’t had his morning coffee to that point. I almost wanted to say that it was well into the day and certainly not early in the morning when the encounter occurred but I left it alone. There is something very wonderful about seeing that your idols are really very human after all. I still smile often when I remember Katherine Hepburn flipping me the bird out of her Cadillac convertible while driving in the Hollywood hills. I was in one of my grip trucks and was slowly navigating the twisting narrow roads in the area and heard quite a few honks on someone’s car horn behind me. I pulled over after quite some distance and a while Cadillac convertible with the top down whizzed by me with Katherine holding her hand high in the sky, her finger clearly pointing out her ire. I felt honored to be flipped off by one of the greatest actresses of all times.

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Over a career that spanned 36 years I worked on hundreds of sets and in many cases didn’t find out until I got home, and my wife asked me how my day was, that I discovered that I had worked with quite popular stars. I remember my wife relating to me that the woman I had lit on the stage was none other than J-Lo and she couldn’t believe that I didn’t know who J-Lo was. That actually happened to me on many occasions with stars such as Lindsay Lohan, Cindy Crawford, Cheryl Tiegs, Topher Grace, J lo, and even such big names as Sylvester Stallone, Fred Astaire, and Bo Derek. I used to get so wrapped up in what I was involved with that the recognition factor was highly impaired when it came to the talent. I worked with the Barbara Walters specials’ team for a number of years and the glamour of the stars no longer was a factor with me. The memories of those wonderful talented people, and some of them not so talented, are pretty much of a blur to me now, however every once and a while someone will ask me “did you work with such and such” and I realize that I had indeed. At that moment, I generally feel that I was gifted a lovely series of memories that many people would envy and I just lucky to have lived during this time and met such wonderful people.
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

A Dialogue About Dialogue and Film!

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A View From Behind the Meter

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” is a line that almost everyone who has gone to the movies during their lifetime knows which movie it came from. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind is one of the most recognizable characters in the one hundred or so year’s film has been in our experience. I grew up with film. When I was a young boy in Brooklyn New York during the war years of the forties my mother took me and my sister to the movies regularly. I saw Fantasia, Gone with the Wind, White Heat, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, It’s A Wonderful Life, and many others holding my mother’s hand both in and out of the theaters of Manhattan. She took us to see Abbott and Costello Meet the Wolfman during this time and both my sister and I spent a great deal of time with our butts in the air because we were afraid to look at the screen. We buried our faces into the seat to try and avoid the scary moments. I was thrilled with each visit and my infatuation for the silver screen grew yearly but it dates to those war years both before and after 1946. I was hooked and I spent every Saturday during my preteen years at the movies. For twenty-five cents I could see a double feature, fifteen cartoons an adventure serial and, if I was lucky enough to be a possessor of the correct color advertisement given out the week before, a large popcorn with butter.

For years I watched B movies by the droves and never saw them as “B-movies” with the connotation of B meaning bad. They were just movies and my appetite was almost insatiable. It is truly amazing how much of our common vernacular comes from the movies. “When I’m good I’m very good but when I’m bad I’m better” I’ve heard at least a hundred times and most who utter those words have no idea that they come from the Mae West movie “I’m No Angel.” The Wizard of Oz has some of the most oft quoted lines. Who doesn’t use “Toto were not in Kansas anymore” or “I’m melting…” and of course the big one “There’s no place like home…” Generally the movies have given us moral structure pitting good against evil and clearly outlining what is considered evil. A consideration for others is always considered a good trait and the absence of that trait a definite path to self destruction.
Even in the movies of today such iconic lines as Clint Eastwood’s “Make my day…” or Star War’s line “May the Force be with you…” are repeated over and over in our everyday conversation. We use the words and the sentiment of these movie lines often unaware of the origin. I sometimes wonder how movies have shaped our society without our awareness. While I was in college I read “From Caligari to Hitler” which outlined the influence of movies on the German people and how the Nazi’s under Goebbels as Propaganda Minister used that influence to promote the rise of Hitler. The Nazi’s took over the film industry and made obvious pro Nazi movies and newsreels without the consideration of truth or facts. The newsreels were on every screen in Germany every Friday and they influenced the German public to believe ideas and values in a very unreal rendition of what for them was all the news they got. Leni Riefenstahl made “Triumph of the Will” in the late thirties and it canonized Hitler as the gift of God to the German people. Just as we were looking at “…mirror, mirror on the wall…” the German people were raising their hands and chanting “Mien Fuehrer.” The movies have been a part of the world’s social conscious and used by people for both good and evil purposes. It is highly influential and as one can see every election cycle a tool in the hands of a good marketing team to change your mind at least temporarily if not forever.

The last line in “King Kong” spoken by the film director character, Carl Denham, when asked whether the airplanes killed the beast, has always stayed with me…”…no it wasn’t the airplanes…it was beauty that killed the beast.” Our love of beauty draws us over and over to the movies. We wish to be scared, teased, titillated, thrilled, romanced, but most of all we wish to see something beautiful that makes us forget the daily beasts in our lives and hopefully not be killed in the process. The process of living in somebody else’s shoes for two hours and forgetting mine is why I keep coming back to the movies, which is probably why you do as well. I’ll see you in the movies!

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

You Never Stop Learning!

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A View From Behind The Meter

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Last night I went to a gathering of editors at Barnsdall Park Gallery Theater hosted by Los Angeles Final Cut Pro Users Group (LAFCPUG). It was held from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM with the doors opening at 6:00 PM. I bought a chili dog for five dollars and after finishing my tube steak I went in about six thirty. Initially there were about 25 to 30 people in the theater, and a discussion began with an offer by three seasoned pros to answer any questions about software or general editing problems. A number of people responded with questions which seemed to deal with mainly the transition from Final Cut Pro editing system to Adobe Premier. There were a number of people confused about this transition and the expert panel answered most inquiries quite sufficiently.

By the time most of the questions were answered the group had swelled to about a hundred and the meeting began in earnest. This is a group formed in 2000 and boasts a membership world wide of 6,000. The highlight of the evening was an appearance by Arthur Schmidt the editor of such great films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Castaway, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, and his first project Jericho Mile. One of the most startling revelations about this very unassuming man was that after fifteen years of working in the shadows at the age of thirty eight he got credit for his first feature production. He apprenticed for eight years and was not guaranteed a job when he was finished with all that time and service. He edited sequences for Jim Clark and Did Allen as well as numerous studio feature editors but was never in all those years offered a feature project. The work he did on Marathon Man got him the attention of Michael Mann, and Michael asked him to edit the running sequences in Jericho Mile which eventually morphed into the key editor position on the project. This television feature was his springboard into an incredible career as a feature editor of box office hits. Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, The Last of the Mohicans, and Castaway, are only some of the twenty seven feature editing jobs accomplished by this very gifted artist.

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These kinds of groups are very informative and allow a unique view into the process of how individuals enter the business as well as remain year after year. Arthur’s father was a professional editor in Hollywood but it was not Arthur’s direction once leaving school and rather by accident he was offered an apprentice position at one of the studios. It was to take him fifteen years of assistant editing positions before he got his first editing credit and from that time on he never looked back. Two Academy awards and numerous Eddies over his career have placed him in an honored position in the Hollywood history books. It was a sublime pleasure to listen to him speak of his interaction with actors and directors which have become household names yet his recollections of them gave such humanity to these icons of our industry. I can not recall him uttering a negative word about any of them and his admiration of the talents of actors like Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones was truly illuminating. It reminded me of the time I worked with Sophia Loren and she called me over to where she was sitting and asked me to place the key-light straight in front of her so that the nose shadow did not reach the upper lip. She knew her business phenomenally well and exactly how to light her face for the camera.

Working with seasoned professionals was always a sheer joy and in moments one discovered why they were such legends in the film making community. I was reminded again listening to his words how much of a pleasure our business can be when you work with people who positively know what they are doing. This consciousness that exists in true professionals comes from many arduous hours over the years working to repair the errors made by people who don’t know what they are doing. Arthur worked in the system for well over a decade and during that time his job usually entailed trying to make sense out of the images he was handed. When a technician, whether they are in acting, lighting, camera, or sound, learns his trade it’s easy for the editor to make a beautiful story.

When there is no understanding of the basic principles of story in pictures and dialogue an editor’s job can become a nightmare. The simple absence of “cut-a-ways” can leave an editor no place to go when the shots don’t cut together and this is a relatively common error made by novice film makers. Listening to the professionals speak at these venues is priceless to the beginner and very enlightening to the seasoned veteran because we all can learn from others experiences. Events such as the LAFCPUG talks and the ASC Breakfasts where one can listen directly to the top pros in our industry are wonderful learning experiences at very reduced costs. This one cost me $5.00 and they have one every month. The breakfast cost me $30.00 and I get coffee and egg sandwiches as well as fruit and yogurt.

Take the time and search for them on the net and attend. It will be well worth your effort and you couldn’t help learning something. Besides the guests that you can listen too the crowd is a natural place to meet fellow film makers who are in the same search for the future as you are. You really never stop learning.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

The Best Independent Horror Films On Halloween

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Scare And Inspire

Since Halloween is just around the corner, and everybody’s been talking about their favorite horror movies, I thought it would be both fun and informative to write something up about the best independently produced horror films out there. Of course, since filmmaking has been happening for over a hundred years in one way or another, and since some of the very first silent films included films like F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and “Faust”, there is a vast multitude of films out there to discuss… However, it’s always fun to highlight one’s favorites, which is exactly what I’m about to do.

Now, to give you a little background on myself, I’m an independent filmmaker who has directed a few feature-length films (along with a handful of short films), and much of my focus has been on the horror and thriller genres. I’ve been fascinated with death and dark subject matter from a young age, and grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Clive Barker, and watching shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. I have many friends in the horror fiction and film community, and have a deep appreciation for suspenseful and imaginative movies. That being said, I wanted to come up with something fun for Halloween that was also potentially inspiring to other filmmakers. This list is by no means comprehensive, and the budgets for these films are very different from one another, but they are all independently financed and realized movies. And not all of them are from North America… But I highly recommend them for different reasons!

10) “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death” (1971, John D. Hancock)

This amazing little film is quiet and slow in its build-up of potboiler style suspense. It has little to no violence in it whatsoever… However, the mood of dread and the overall atmosphere in this very low budget and modestly made film is incredible. In many ways, Hancock evokes a mood that only directors like Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick have ever engineered, but he did on a tiny budget with clever staging of actors, a great script, and perfect pacing.

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9) “Martyrs” (2008, Pascal Laugier)

A very violent and incredibly disturbing film, “Martyrs”, is also one of the most poignant and beautiful films of its genre. It defies convention with an impeccable script, but more than anything else it shows how important performance is to a film. The lead actors in the film are phenomenal, and the cinematography is breathtaking… Even though this is easily one of the scariest and most mind-blowing horror films of all time.

8) “A Horrible Way To Die” (2010, Adam Wingard)

More of a character study than anything else, the pitch perfect film “A Horrible Way To Die”, takes us into the mind and life of a real serial killer in ways that even Hollywood’s awesome show, “Dexter”, doesn’t. It’s gorgeously shot and uses real locations in ways that will inspire and delight filmmakers. A real gem of a film.

7) “Mother’s Day” (1980, Charles Kaufman)

This is definitely one of those films that you have to hunt down. Make sure to see the original one before you see the remake. This 1980 cult classic lays down a foundation for creepy killer family films that started with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, but here the film takes a different turn with a powerful, hilarious, but also genuinely frightening older woman playing the most evil and powerful character in the film. Also of note, it has a roving poolside camera sequence that Paul Thomas Anderson acknowledges lifting for his own famous poolside scene in the film, “Boogie Nights”. Anderson was inspired by “Mother’s Day” for that show.

6) “The Blair Witch Project” (1999, Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez)

In some ways, not enough can be said about this amazing film that mixed Hi 8mm video with black and white 16mm film, and used a forest as its main location. Although it was preceded by the equally excellent and vastly underrated film, “The Last Broadcast”, it still resonates on both a practical filmmaking level and on the level of haunting storytelling it achieves.

5) “Wendigo” (2001, Larry Fessenden)

See this film if you can find it! It’s a monster movie for generations to come. Fessenden crafts a very unique and artful film that uses its natural outdoor locations in amazing ways. Much like “The Blair Witch Project”, a lot of the action takes place in nature. The difference here is that “Wendigo” is a glossy and beautifully shot film with some great special fx, a cool and creepy monster, and a lot of interesting imagery throughout that makes the film feel like it’s bigger budget than it actually is.

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4) “Possession” (1980, Andrzej Zulawski)

This is perhaps the most disturbing of all of the films on the list (although it could be a tie with “Martyrs”), and also the only one that hasn’t been out on home video for a very long time, but is finally getting the excellent Blu-Ray DVD treatment it deserves. A demonic possession movie that mixes body horror and sexuality in its premise, “Possession” is both avant garde and lurid in its style and directing. This is a polarizing film, but one that must be seen to be believed.

3) “Tenebre” (1982, Dario Argento)

As any horror film buff will tell you, it’s usually pretty hard to pick a favorite Dario Argento film, and for me, even though I really love both “Deep Red” and “Suspiria” with all of my heart, I’m pretty sure that the raw intensity and sheer audacity of “Tenebre” makes it my favorite of Argento’s canon. A very rough film in more ways than one, “Tenebre” somehow achieves a sense of dream, excitement, arousal, and repulsion that none of Argento’s other films can quite match for me.

2) “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974, Tobe Hooper)

It was a tough call, as I wanted to also mention George Romero’s “Night Of The Living Dead”, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, but because of the inventive no budget filmmaking techniques and the spine-tingling suspense portayed in Tobe Hooper’s seminal slasher film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, it has to get the mention above all others. With a documentary film style approach matched with the grainy and ultra creepy cinematography by Daniel Pearl in the film, it’s probably the film that influences more independent horror filmmakers than any other.

1) “Nosferatu” (1922, F.W. Murnau)

The first original horror film! And the one of the first independent films of all time. Although it was a studio that made it (and technically some of the other films on this list are the same way), it was one of the first films ever made period! Utilizing an incredible monster, inventive Expressionistic photography and lighting, and a twist on the Bram Stoker classic, “Dracula”, the film “Nosferatu”, is still to this day perhaps the greatest horror film of all time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you must.

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-Ramzi Abed, Director of Marketing & Sales, BIRNS AND SAWYER

A Tribute To The Vision Of James Wong Howe

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A View From Behind The Meter

Classic Visions Were Created

I have always loved the work of James Wong Howe and, thankfully, while I was attending USC studying Cinema, he came to lecture on the art of the camera. He was a quiet gentle man filled with rich stories of his experiences with the film industry of his time and I would like to share two of the stories with you.

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James Wong Howe was a very young not well educated Chinese laborer working in the Hollywood studios during the early nineteen twenties. As a sideline he snapped publicity photos of the stars and sent them to the performers hoping that maybe he could sell one or two. One morning he was summoned to Mary Minters dressing room (A huge star at the time.) after photographing her the week before. She held up one of his photographs and stated flatly, that if he could make her eyes look like the photo she was holding, in motion pictures, she would order the studio to hire him as her next cameraman. When James returned to his photo lab he discovered that the single photograph that she was enamored with was the only one of its kind in all the shots he had taken of her during that shooting day. The film stock he was shooting on, as well as everyone else, was ortho-chromatic and this emulsion had difficulty discerning the blue color of eyes. Therefore, usually Mary’s eyes were pale and lifeless in all her previous commercial imagery.

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Find Your Process

James went back to the same spot and re-shot numerous models, but couldn’t duplicate the look until some stage hands walking behind him and carrying a large 12’ x 12’ black curtain created the same look in the model’s eyes. The eyes apparently reflected the black of the material behind the camera. From that point on he photographed blue eyed stars through a hole in a large black velvet curtain and was seen as a magician. Minter was seen as a star that ‘imported a Chinese cameraman that mysteriously worked behind a black velvet curtain.’ And from that point on he was always in demand and worked on 130 films during his career.

Understand The Physics Of Light

James’ understanding of the physics of light and his ability to recognize the significance that light has on the viewers emotions was clearly one of his unique abilities. The capability to improvise was also a key element to his talent and a story he told about shooting a scene on the Howard Hawks film Air Force was a great example of that skill. Hawks had scheduled a series of B 17 Bombers to land on a training airfield in central California for a large production sequence. The crew had set up lights along the edge of the runway and prepared a large trailer mounted generator to power the entire operation. The cameras were in place and a short time before the expected arrival of the planes it was discovered that the generator was inoperable. Hawks turned to James and said “you’re the director of photography think of something…” James raced to the runway, found a crate of railroad flares, and began having his crew light them along the edges of the runway. When the bombers landed they flew through the smoke and glare of the flares, giving the appearance that the airfield had just been bombed by the enemy, and the bombers were landing amid the chaos. When Hawks looked at the dailies the next day he was thrilled with the result and suggested that they might shoot the rest of the film without generators. James took what appeared to be a disaster and turned it into an iconic image the cinema graphic art which still holds up today.

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Use what you have available to you and use it with skill was something he clearly exemplified. Sometimes one creates by accident, and sometimes one has to improvise but, ultimately, it all adds up to how we use those accidents and improvisations in the promotion of our art form that defines our identities. James Wong Howe was a unique individual in this art form and don’t we all wish we could achieve that distinction?
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant, Birns & Sawyer

Making Meters And Colors Your Friends

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A View From Behind The Meter

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The History Of Making Use Of Color In Movies

There seems to be still confusion about the principles of CRI (Color Rendition Index) and how it might affect the final image of the Cinematographers work. I can truly understand why this confusion would be present today in that it wasn’t until about six years ago that I first heard the concept myself. When I first started out in the early 1960’s all that was important was to get enough illumination so the cameras could record the image. The meters I used at that time told me the light coming from the instruments in foot candles and the lens opening relative to that level of brightness. Beyond that, there was no other requirement expected of me as far as light value that I had to become involved with. I remember clearly walking the set with my Brockway Meter and making sure that 400 foot candles of illumination covered the entire area where the cameras would record the activity for that shows production. The instruments were all incandescent 3200 fixtures, usually Fresnels or large “scoop” lights, with spun glass diffusion to soften the effect of the tungsten filament clear globes. This was all black and white television captured by large image orthicon three lens turret cameras, which were perched upon rolling pedestal bases, and each was linked to the control room by a heavy cable. The television tubes required a certain amount of light and the instruments that produced that light were all hung from the pipe grid on devices called a “panagraphs.” The only consideration was whether the light was hard or soft and in shadow or out of shadow. We certainly had no consideration for CRI.
Once I moved into color photography color temperature became an important aspect of the light, and, of course, what film emulsion or ASA we were using, but again CRI was not a consideration. This was all before HMI’s began to appear on the scene. All the lights used in color photography during this period were tungsten 3200 based lighting fixtures almost exclusively Mole-Richardson with a few Bardwell-Mc Alister or Colortran manufactured instruments thrown into the mix. Everything was based on 3200 Kelvin and even when stepping out into the sunlight we would put CTO filters on the lenses to keep the 3200 color temperature base consistent shot to shot. This was during the seventies and early eighties. It wasn’t until well into the mid-eighties that HMI’s began to really be a part of the motion picture process of light. The innovation of HMI’s began to take over what carbon arcs were accomplishing due mainly because it eliminated the need to have a man on every light when working on exterior set-ups. Once an HMI was set up and operating, the lighting technician could walk away from the instrument and proceed to other lighting tasks allowing for a much more efficient use of the labor force. Arcs required the lighting technician to stay with the light at all times and I spent many a day on a twelve foot ladder hugging my arc and almost lovingly never leaving its side until I heard the “It’s a wrap” call from the Assistant Director.

The Time When HMI Lights Became Hollywood Gold

Once HMI’s came into the picture I realized that I needed a color temperature meter. To this point I had been using only a Spectra Incident meter and a Pentax Spot meter. With the advent of the HMI the element of correct color temperature became almost as important as F-Stop and contrast. I was using, at the time, my Spectra incident meter to establish F-Stop or the lens aperture setting and my Pentax spot meter to gauge contrast within the frame so that nothing was overexposed based on the aperture setting we were working with. Now, however, I also had to make sure the HMI’s were giving me the color temperature that matched the suns overall light at that time of day. It was very obvious that sunlight varied with the cloud cover and time of day but the HMI produced the same light at any time of day, so it was up to me to make that adjustment for the cameramen. The color light meter was an expensive toy at the time but I felt that it was an important element to offer the camera staff that I worked for. HMI’s, by their very nature, seldom had a color temperature that matched any other HMI instrument. If we rented four HMI’s there were four different color temperatures that we had to deal with. In many cases I would build gel packs that worked with each individual light in order to make them all compatible to each other.
I cannot remember at any time during the eighties or nineties, with the introduction of Kino-Flo florescent tubes and mixing them with HMI’s and tungsten instruments, that CRI was ever a consideration. In the first ten years of the 21st century during which we, as lighting technicians, began to see LED lights from the manufacturer Litepanels enter into our inventory. I remember buying some of the first that were put on the market. But even then as they entered during this time period CRI still hadn’t become a strong element in our calculations. I can remember clearly the study opening the can of worms that began to question the quality of light emanating from these original 1×1’s. It was done by SMPTE and was quite illuminating as well as controversial. Here at Birns & Sawyer we conducted our own test and requested LED manufacturer’s to bring in their products and let us test them with a spectral radiometer that Bill Meurer our CEO had been using with his GO Green LED manufacturing concern confirmed to us that the SMPTE tests were accurate and the LED instruments that were available at the time did not render color accurately. We also tested tungsten, HMI and Plasma and found quite a discrepancy between instruments as far as accurate color rendition throughout our lighting inventory. So CRI began to be a factor and most people, whom I questioned about the topic, had no idea what I was talking about. It was an unspoken fact of life at the time.

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Color Rendition, in simple terms means, that a lighting instrument, in order to accurately render the proper color to the capture mechanism, must have the color within the photons produced by that instrument. If the color is not in the spectral radiance produced by the source it cannot reflect that color accurately to the camera. In the early LED’s it was common for the CRI to be below 80 and I have measured many since, including just this last Tuesday, which recorded 71 to 76 CRI. All of those, which I recorded with my new meters, have been in rental houses and used by hundreds of film makers without an awareness of the color shift. Perhaps the shift from lavender to heliotrope went unnoticed by the client or it very likely didn’t matter in the long run what the true color needed to be. In any case, where it became really apparent and of considerable importance was in corporate logo colors. These colors were clearly important to the end user and that fact alone has changed everything. CRI is now a constant element of promoting the new LED products. I never see a promotional brochure from any manufacturer, in what ever country the product comes from, that CRI isn’t in the literature somewhere. It has become as important as “brightness.”

Empower Your Lighting Arsenal!

Because of this factor I added a new meter to my arsenal. I now have an incident, a spot, a color temperature, and a CRI meter. The meter I purchased was the UPRtek 350, from Taiwan, since it was the first one I actually saw. It also tells me color temperature, Lux, and position on the spectral graph. I now never think of examining a product without testing its light with all meters though I must admit that the CRI meter is the one I use the most these days especially if I’m considering purchase. There are a number of other companies manufacturing these CRI testing instruments and so far they all seem somewhat expensive, however, I think that will change with time.

They are as follows:
(1.) Lighting Passport…………… Allied Scientific Pro
(2.) CL-500a………………………….Konica or Pro-Life
(3.) SRC-600………………………….Everfine
(4.) Spectra Rd Express……………BW Tek
(5.) Chroma -2 LCD…………………Lisun

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Now there are probably more meters than this but these should give you some choices to look at. These are mostly meters that Labs use when manufacturing their products and the end users would for the most part use to verify the viability of the brochure information. I actually discovered that I couldn’t tell the color shift accurately with my eyes alone and was often surprised at my results when testing lighting instruments that I had used for years in the past. It was a great awakening for me as I am sure it will be for all of you.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Constultant & Educational Outreach

Making Your Set Flicker And Glow Is What You Need To Know

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Getting To Know Your CRI

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There is so much discussion about Color Rendition Index (CRI) and Color Temperature (CCT) that sometimes I forget to emphasize the basics of how light changes our perspective. I was asked during one of my seminars by a film student in the audience how to light a scene that he was going to shoot the following week. The shot was to take place in the desert at night around a small campfire with two characters speaking to one another across from each other. His problem was that he only had access to only one HMI and several tungsten lights (Two 650 Tweenies, one mini mole and one 400 Joker HMI.) His question to me was how was he to light the desert background and the men around the campfire with such a minimal lighting package?

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To begin with it was obvious that his perception forced him to believe that he needed to light the entire area of the location. This is a common misconception when lighting one’s set-ups. The viewing audience will provide the film maker with so much if you allow them to use their imagination. I began to explain how I would solve the problem he outlined to me using just what he had. First, by lighting just one cactus behind them with the mini mole warmed to 2800 CCT in the background tells the viewer that this location is in the desert. Bouncing the HMI into an ultra-bounce possibly a 6×6 or 12×12 if that were avaiable and use the bounce to back light the two characters and the immediate real estate behind the campfire giving the appearance of moonlight and the feeling of night. If the geography allows back light the cactus at the same time with the moonlight blue. Use the two Tweenies cross lighting at a low angle the two sitting at the campfire and flicker the instruments so they both appear to be imitating the campfire which you make sure is in the bottom of the frame. Keep the flickering light on the faces and chest of the two speakers and not on the camp fire or the back ground.

Make Your Own Flicker

I made my own flicker gags in the past because my clients seldom had enough budget to rent Magic Gadget devices or Flicker gags. I made them at home and used two carbon sticks from the old carbon arc days, bicycle grips, a male and female plug, and an extension cord. First I cut a three foot piece off the extension cord male end and replaced the male plug on the stinger. Now I had a full stinger and a three foot piece of cable with a male plug. Then I cut into the stinger severing the single hot line and put a female plug on this hot line. I then took the three foot piece and stripped the insulation for about six inches on both the hot line and the neutral revealing the bare copper wire which I wrapped and secured around the ends of both carbon sticks. I then covered the copper wired end of the copper stick with a bicycle grip. I could then hold both sticks by the bicycle grips and not be worried about electrical shock. I then plugged the male end into the female plug in the stinger which I had just installed into the hot line of the stinger. At that point whenever I touched the two carbons together, holding the carbons in my hands using the bicycle grips, it completed the circuit and caused the instrument to flash on and off at my will. I had just built a simple flicker gag that I could bring to the set without any cost to the production. I used the same device for television flicker as well. By putting a little red on one Tweenie and a little yellow on the other and having two PA’s operate the gags we created fire flicker at night that was non-synchronous and very inexpensive.

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Now this was a simple example of basic lighting which made an impossibly small lighting package perform effectively for a lighting sequence important for their production. Judicious use of light to convey the emotional meaning of a scene is almost always the key in media productions. The need for low budget production to light fast but with strong audience appeal is a learned skill. It doesn’t come naturally. One of the reasons is that, in most cases, we as lighting techs learn from our mistakes and those mistakes can’t cost the production because then they won’t hire you back. I think that a great deal of the pedestrian lighting we see in television stems from this anomaly. On the one hand we learn from our mistakes and on the other we can’t make mistakes. The two concepts are obviously incompatible. I came up the ladder from live theatrical productions in which I tried out a great deal of lighting experiments that sometimes worked but in many cases really fell flat on there faces. I was happy that those mistakes were never recorded and the show closed sometimes with very few people actually observing my “dramatic” errors. Today we have u-tube and twitter, and god knows what else, as places that a lighting guy can really look bad and not affect his future. When I first started there were many times when I didn’t see what my results were for several days due to the process of dailies in past film production. With the use of large screen monitors and immediate image overview most of the bad lighting can be circumvented by good eyes and careful communication between shooters and gaffers. During the latter portion of my thirty year stint behind the camera the monitor and the communication between me and the DP became a paramount element of our film making process.

When The Light At The Location Changes…

I can remember clearly one evening we arrived at a location late and the sun was setting leaving us in twilight but it was imperative to get the shot at the moment because we were going to lose the kids in the scene due to the hour of the day. I asked the crew members to pull there cars up to the fence and turn on their headlights which spilled light across the farmland location. The camera was quickly set up and we looked at the monitor. Both the DP and I told the director…”Go! Shoot your scene now!” The shot was almost magical. The very orange and purple sky background surrounded the kids as they went through their scene in the hard sidelight of the headlights. There was no thought about CCT or CRI at all. Later in the actual finished product the scene was touted as a highlight sequence and praised by everyone who saw it. Sometimes, just going by your gut, creates cinematic imagery that defies all the technical data and humbles us by its majesty. Throwing the book away and trusting our creative eye is quite perilous but there are times when it is the absolute right answer to the problem.

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-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

Originality In The Age Of The Remake

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There has been a great deal of discussion about the huge fall-off in box office proceeds this past summer. The figures range between 15% and 22%. Whichever figures are really accurate or not can be disputed, but what can’t be disputed is the dramatic fall-off. The reality here is undisputed. The truth of the matter is that it was the worst box office drop since 1992. However, ticket prices are at an all time high and the movies being made are more expensive than ever before. The product, on the other hand, being produced is totally uninteresting to the movie going public. I suppose that some of it can be attributed to the rise of large home screens that make watching movies at home quite a satisfying experience but I think the product for the most part really stinks. Almost all of the blockbuster sensations are remakes, relying solely on computer graphic eye candy. Story in these sophomoric productions is almost non-existent and individual character personality is lost in cartoonlike costumes worn by boring actors delivering wooden performances that no-one can identify with. Complexity of character doesn’t seem to be a part of the writing staff in these one dimensional melodramas. The movie “Godzilla” was a better commercial for Fiat than it was an entertaining story on the big screen.

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More Remakes Than You Can Shake A Stick At

During this last summer the list of remakes seemed interminable and made up half of all movies that came out. Yes, there have always been remakes and usually they were never as good as the original, but there were also original stories produced by filmmakers that had something to say interlaced with those humdrum remakes. Sadly to say there was little of that this last summer and I believe it showed in viewer interest.
So far this year I have clearly watched fewer movies in the theater than in the past twenty years. This year, I went out to the theater to see “Monuments Men”, “Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Divergent”, “Under the Skin”, “Lucy”, and “Magic In the Moonlight”. Of all of the movies, “Under the Skin” was my favorite. It was never predictable and never explained itself to the viewer. Instead the viewer had to engage and explain to oneself what was happening on the screen. I loved it, and my wife and I spent the next two days talking about what the film was really about as it was so intellectually stimulating. It was stimulating and erotic without being provocatively indecent. One had to think while watching and even when the movie ended one discovered one piecing together what had just happened to them. To me it was sheer pleasure. I think my least favorite of the movies that I saw this year was monuments men. I was disappointed in that it was predictable and the characters were pretty wooden while at the same time one dimensional. I was very surprised in that I usually like what George Clooney works on and have been impressed with his body of work. This one however, fell quite short of my expectations and it showed in the box office. It had great cast, it was developed from a true story, but ended up quite a quite boring film which only proved to me that even the best make bad movies. I don’t really know specifically why this years’ crop of films didn’t excite me. For years and years I have always found pleasure in that dark space alone with my thoughts and the big screen enchanting my imagination. This year was different. I saw more movies on AMC at home in front of my TV than ever before. In fact this last Labor Day I watched “Citizen Kane” for probably the tenth time and still enjoyed the film making remembering almost every shot as the story unfolded.

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Nothing Compares To The Classics

Perhaps what I’m coming to grips with is that I’m getting real tired of computer graphics and special effects taking precedence over character and plot. All the villains seem invincible and the feats of the heroes are growing more and more impossible. Reality is no longer a factor in any of the movies being put together. Move the plot along so fast that the audience doesn’t recognize how thin the plot. It seems that with all the events going on in the middle east or in the Ukraine you’d think some writer in Hollywood could come up with a story that we as the viewing public could actually relate to but no instead we get “Anchorman 2″ or “Amazing Spiderman 2″. I don’t mind watching zany comedies or comic book treatments on occasion but if that is all Hollywood has to offer the customer, no wonder the box office is dwindling year after year. The creators are leaving the sinking ship and we as the viewing public are getting unimaginative bookkeepers as producers that see only the bottom line as important and have completely lost touch with their audience in the pursuit of the almighty buck. It is obvious that the contempt that they have displayed for their audience is finally coming back to haunt them. Maybe this is just the pendulum swinging and perhaps this haunting will force them to find talent that will create the movies that inspired me to go into this business in the first place. Movies like “Sunset Boulevard”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Paths of Glory”, and “Wages of Fear” were thrilling stories that I still remember lovingly. None of them relied on special effects or displayed humans with super human capabilities but the characters in these movies resonated with the audience as people whom they could identify. Gloria Swanson, Kevin McCarthy, Kirk Douglas and Yves Montand were remembered forever for playing their roles in these films. All of the characters they portrayed in these films were imbued with human frailties that allowed us, as an audience, to empathize with their plight. Where are these kind writers today? Where are these kinds of stories today? Instead we get “Transformers: Age of Extinction” staring who? Need I say more?
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

Taking Light From The Sun To The Moon

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Seeing The Night Sky With New Eyes

When I was working on the television series “Astronomers” as an independent gaffer, we were shooting at Mount Palomar Observatory, and interviewing a woman who had been working for fifty years recording the color spectrum of light coming from individual stars. This interview changed the way that I looked at the night sky forever. This process, that she was involved with, could capture the light spectrum on a glass slide and by examining the color values on that slide gave information on the physical makeup of that star. During the interview she mentioned that she had been doing that same job night after night for fifty two years. Against the wall near her desk was a cabinet that housed thousands of slides, each carefully marked, labeled, and categorized as interstellar bodies in our solar system.

 

It wasn’t until nearly the end of the interview that, with modern astronomy methods changing the way we were exploring the heavens, and our dependence on visual observances giving way to infrared capture, she realized that in all those years she had been exploring only five per cent of what was really there. In other words the sparkling starlight that we view at night represents a tiny portion of what’s really there. In fact, it only represents a five percent and the rest is a mass that does not emit or reflect light, so, in all practical purposes, this mass is invisible to the eye.
We are light chauvinist beings. By that I mean we gauge what is real and what is not real by viewing the light reflected on it. If we can’t see it, it truly doesn’t exist for us. A very clear example of what I’m speaking about is the blue sky surrounding our planet. The blue sky only shows up from our viewpoint when light from the sun strikes the particles in the atmosphere and the shorter blue or ultra violet portion of the light is scattered making the sky appear blue. At night however, without light striking these particles, the starry cosmos shows clearly and the particles are invisible. When astronomers began using infrared telescopes the mass, which made up 95% more volume, of matter appeared in their calculations. It completely changed our viewpoint of the cosmos seen in the night sky and today I cannot look into the sky without an awareness of this fact. As a topper to this, when asked; “What about here on earth?” she smiled and said the same is true for the room we were standing in. The mass surrounding us individually is much more prevalent than we had ever imagined.
The sun, which is a black body radiator, creates the light by which all life sustains itself and that light moves at an incredible rate throughout the cosmos. 186,282 miles per second to be exact, and it arrives from the sun in just eight minutes. The color temperature is 6500 degrees at noon varying at sunset and sunrise depending on the cloud filled atmosphere both at morning and evening. It is really an electromagnetic radiation generated by the suns heat signature and most of the dangerous solar winds and ultraviolet rays are reflected away from earth by our precious magnetic field. Thus the suns rays give earth the light that preserves life on the planet sans the dangerous elements contained within that light. What’s interesting about this life giving light is that we only see 44% of the spectrum or 380 nanometers to 740 nanometers. The rest is invisible. We have labeled infrared and ultraviolet light as the terms that explain this invisible part of the spectrum. Now all this visible light that is arriving in our universe comes as infinitesimally small particles called photons and these photons exhibit properties of both particles and waves. They can be reflected, refracted, and scattered. Reflected is how we view our universe (All that is real is what we see) refracted is the phenomenon of a straw entering a glass of water actually changing direction before our eyes, and scattered is what I described earlier with regards to the blue sky.

The Elements Of Light

The elements of light that most affect us as lighting technicians are intensity, color temperature, color rendition, and spectral distribution. All these elements are under our control to a greater degree and can be manipulated to alter the frames emotional response by the viewer. Intensity of light is the most familiar, for without the correct amount of light on a subject it is hard to see as both under exposed light and overexposed light is considered a negative. CCT or more commonly spoken of as Color temperature is the warm verses cool atmospheres that can be created at both ends of visible spectrum. Daylight at the high frequency end is usually considered 5600 degrees whereas interior incandescent light is dictated by the maximum heat capacity of the tungsten filament or 3200 degrees at the low frequency end. Color rendition on the other hand is whether the instrument creating the photons contains a full spectrum of color. If it does not contain a full spectrum it will not render color correctly, the color reflected off our subject by that instrument will vary slightly. Red can become too orange or to purple. CRI, or color rendition index which is what this is referred to, is becoming more important especially in the LED age. The final element that we can control is the quality. This can be demonstrated by using gel or diffusion materials to soften or altering the spectral distribution of the light. Whether we are aware of it or not these elements are what we are manipulating when we light our subject matter and our eyes, if we are careful and skillful, will give us the picture we wish to have.

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Lighting Choices Bring Us Closer To The Sun

All of the fixtures we use are duplicating the light we perceive as emanating from the sun. There are basically five methods of producing light that are in use throughout the media today. The first is one we have been using for almost a hundred years and that is the incandescent or tungsten filament. This type of light began to be used in the early twenties and companies such as Mole-Richardson, Century, Bardwell-McAllister, and Strand all began manufacturing instruments for use by film-makers during this period. The second is HMI’s Hydrogyum (Mercury) – Medium Ark-Iodide which was introduced in the early eighties and have eclipsed the use of carbon arcs as the prime daylight source which match sunlight, as far as color temperature is concerned. The third is Kino-Flo or fluorescent lighting which was introduced in the late eighties as a soft source fill light with a thin small footprint. The fourth is Plasma and had been just a Tesla theory until the turn or the century and now has several manufacturers’ beginning to promote this new technology. Finally there is Light Emitting Diodes which I believe will eclipse all light creation in the future. Of all these systems the most efficient is the LEDs and at present the fixtures that have been developed are reaching an equivalent level of illumination as high as the 2500 Watt HMI systems. Mole, as well as other companies, is working to develop larger wattages such as 5,000 watt instruments and I’m sure that, in time, all wattages will be duplicated in LED format. I do believe that in that in our time LED’s will replace all light creation in the future, whether its in our homes or on our sets. When I first started in the media, as a young twenty year old, all the equipment I worked with no longer exists. The cameras, the microphones, the recording equipment, the editing machines, and even the lighting fixtures all have disappeared. New technology has altered forever the way we produce the media of today and light creation is just the next in line. The sun will always be there but how we match that light is under a massive revolution at the moment.

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-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

Summer movie explorations reach out beyond genre

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Summer Movies At The Arclight

Over the weekend I saw several films in the local theaters and spent over fifty dollars in the process. At the Arclight, I spent $27.50 and at the AMC I spent $24.00 and these were discounted tickets because my wife and I are seniors and in addition we are card carrying members. Now the theaters were clean and the seats were very comfortable but paying that much to see movies is a travesty and it’s no wonder that the box office volume is declining every year. I can wait one or two months and pay five or six dollars to watch the same movies on cable in the comfort of my living room without driving, dealing with crowds in the mall, paying for parking, and additionally paying $4.00 a gallon for fuel to get there. I liked both of the movies, but neither lent itself to the big screen nor needed explosive sound in order to be enjoyed. In fact both would have been more enjoyable on my screen at home. I went out on the weekend out of habits learned as a young man when dating was a common pleasure for a Friday or a Saturday night. However, then I could have taken my date out for a hamburger, drink, and seen the movie for considerably less money probably half the cost at least.

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As I said before, I liked the movies, though I thought that both movies had very unlikely plots but, even in spite of this fact, both were quite entertaining. I thought that the intellectual premise of Lucy to be rather far fetched but as a Sci-Fi genre it was a bumpy but fun ride. Two problems kept getting in the way for me truly enjoying the story. One was excessive and graphic killings with blood dripping from people whenever it was possible to do so and the second was interminable wild driving through the streets of Paris for seemingly no plausible reason. Both were gimmicks to keep the “teenager” audience interested perhaps because the filmmaker didn’t believe they would understand the scientific premise of the film. My thought was that he tried to keep them interested with eye candy in stead of substance that excited rather limited intelligence. I do believe that this pandering to the twelve year old mental capacity is being seen more and more in our story telling. I read an article a number of years ago that explained that the premise of early television writing was geared to this age group because that was considered the predominant audience level of education.

 

The Complexity Of Genre

All dialogue had to be tailored to fit what was considered to be the majority of the audience’s comprehension of word usage. I personally have a tendency just to turn off these scenes because they don’t push the plot or the character for me and usually have very little to do with the ultimate outcome of the story. Scarlett Johansson starred with Morgan Freeman, and as far as I’m concerned I could watch Ms. Johansson read the newspaper and be excited. Scarlett’s portrayals have always been quite edgy (“Under The Skin”), and this was no exception to that rule. She kept me in the film despite all the eye candy distractions, though I’m not sure the average audience will understand the philosophical implications of the film, it moves constantly forward keeping the audience on its edge until the conclusion. A good Sci-Fi film which is fun to watch but flawed by pretentious driving sequences and unnecessary blood and gore…I’d give it a B+.

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Woody Still Entertains With Great Characters

“Magic in the Moonlight” was a Woody Allen gem with eclectic characters especially Colin Firth’s portrayal of the pessimistic egotistic magician, Stanley. I think he was writing about himself as usual but that wasn’t a surprise. It was beautifully filmed and the costumes were grand. What was a surprise was the young woman played by Emma Stone. She seemed so natural and genuine amongst all these rich ego driven people that I was rooting for her from the start. I didn’t catch the obvious trickster because I kept wanting her to be really a spiritualist and I don’t believe in them as much as Colin’s character. Now Emma Stone, in the past, has played characters who died in much of her career and her achievement at the end was a lovely twist that probably wouldn’t really happen in life but it was a nice conclusion to Woody’s tale. The movie was a ball of fluff but very romantic and pure Woody Allen dialogue that always generates a smile in my heart. I think I probably would have rather seen it in the comfort of my living room but it was a birthday gesture to my wife and we held hands throughout the movie just like teenagers. That alone was worth the ticket price. However, on my scale, I’d give it a B due mainly to the fact that I believe opposites seldom attract in the manner written and the believability of this scenario has little creditability.

Battleground (1949) Directed by William A. Wellman Shown from left: George Murphy, Van Johnson

Hidden Gems Are Worth Looking For

I did view another movie on television a reprise of an old black and white movie made way back in 1949 that I thought was an A+. It was a film called “Battleground” starring Van Johnson and John Hodiak. It was made by MGM and was their largest grossing film of that year. It also garnered two Academy awards, one for cinematography and one for writing. It also was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actor. This film was made during a time when most people thought that the public was weary of war films and that another story about WW II would die at the box office. This film however is a true masterpiece of the human condition. It was about men and their capability to persevere under horrible conditions. The greatness of the film comes through the very clear rendering of the human being, and hope he deals with adversity. As far as I’m concerned it’s a masterpiece of writing and it’s not cluttered with gratuitous combat or senseless action. The audience sees mens reactions to combat and death around them without seeing the grotesque images of them dying before our eyes. As I have said before I enjoy good stories about real people engaged in life’s trials and their solutions to the problems that stand in their way.

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-Michael J. Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

Comparing Lights In Our New Lighting Lab

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Uprtek MK350S-AIBC1

I’m in the process of trying to set up what I have termed a “Lighting Lab.” By this I mean a place where lighting technicians can set up new manufacturer’s products and compare them with similar instruments by a competing manufacturer. The room will have requisite meters available for the customer to make readings with incident, spot, color temperature, and the new buzz word CRI meter, There is a great deal of confusion with regards to the new LED fixtures. When one searches the net there is a plethora of information that is clearly outdated. In one such article I read that there are no LED’s with a CRI above 90 and that is just blatantly false. I read LED lighting instruments almost every day now with ratings above 94 CRI and actually more stable than present HMI’s and fluorescent fixtures being used everyday.

Most of the misinformation stems from the early 1 x 1 Litepanels introduced in 2005 which didn’t have a great deal of consideration for CRI. In 2005 most of us were unconcerned with CRI and considered only color temperature and brightness as the primary element of a lighting fixture. These early 1×1’s had a very low CRI, actually in the mid seventies in many cases, and it didn’t seem to matter to the gaffers using them. Most rental companies acquired a number of the instruments, established a rental price, and began to put them into the technician’s hands. One could obtain daylight or tungsten 1×1’s in either spot of flood and CRI wasn’t even a consideration that anyone spoke about. It wasn’t until 2009 that I began to hear rumors about inaccurate color rendition. SMPTE did a study somewhere around that time and came up with clearly obvious color discrepancies and that started the buzz. In 2010 we did a color test with a Director of photography using plasma, LED, tungsten, HMI, and fluorescent systems that were available using a RED I camera and color charts. The results were conclusive. Certain colors changed hue depending on what instrument illuminated the chart.
The changes were I have to admit pretty subtle but that fine difference could be trouble when a client’s logo had to be the color they expected. From that point on, lighting technicians began asking about CRI more often than color temperature accuracy and it did make sense. Color temperature was already quite varied in the HMI instruments. I don’t think I ever went out with HMI’s that all had the same color temperature. Once I made the mistake of mentioning to a DP that fact and from that time on we had to make gel pacts for all HMI’s so that they all illuminated with the same color temperature. I’ve seen HMI’s vary 1,000’s of degrees especially new globes that haven’t had time to burn in for several hours. Just generally HMI’s color temperature varies with each globe installed. Fluorescent fixture change color temperature over time and most rental houses do not check color temperature on these rental items. If an instrument is labeled daylight the rental technician assumes that it is 5600 degrees and the same goes for tungsten systems with the 3200 degree assumption.
One of the things I’m hoping for, in establishing this lab, is that it will take the assumptions out of the equation and valid comparisons can easily and simply be conducted. When considering purchasing a Litepanels Inca 6 put an Arri 650 Watt tungsten instrument side by side and make accurate readings. Were all familiar with what a tungsten fixture can do in the field and the Inca needs to compare favorably in order for one to justify the expenditure. All the data expressing the savings in amperage consumption or the greatly reduced heat signature means nothing if the light won’t match what one is used to getting out of the instruments presently in use. The lab should greatly reduce the unanswered questions one has regarding newly manufactured instruments and dispute or confirm the prevalent web info that seems to be proliferating the blogs.
The other element the lab will be able to show is the difference between cheap LED’s and the high priced spread. There is always a question as to whether one is spending more than necessary in order to obtain a product. There is in the back of everyone’s head the question: “Could I have purchased a cheaper instrument and still got my money’s worth?” Putting the expensive equivalent alongside the cheaper model allow the buyer to both test and evaluate the strong and weak factors of both. I’ve been looking at a Fresnel instrument from China that is LED based and is equivalent to a 1k Tungsten Fresnel, however, to its credit, it can be battery operated, it has a DMX control, it has a built in dimmer, and is bi-color. The Mole 1K Tungsten Fresnel is priced at $669.00 from B& H and the Taiwan LED is retail priced at around $950.00 so the difference in price is relatively similar but the advantages of LED are quite considerable when making comparisons. The heat signature alone is a game changer for me and when adding the dramatically reduced amperage draw I’m sold. The instrument now has to perform the same job that the tried and true 650 has done for me for twenty years. That’s when the LAB comes in to play. There is nothing like putting your hands on a fixture to tell you whether you’re going to be comfortable working this instrument on location. All the questions then come to the surface as you begin to manipulate the light. Such things as weight, sense of durability, flood and spot movement, evenness of light pattern, and finally is the quality of light matching one’s expectations all come into the picture. Matching side by side instruments in a controlled environment eliminates much of the insecurity of purchasing and will clear up any misinformation that might be present in your thinking. That’s what I hope the LAB will do for our customers. The client answers their own questions directly and doesn’t have to rely on manufacturer’s brochures for detailed information. “Read it and weep” as the saying goes and the lab with the meters available for the customers can make that thought a reality.

AIBC uprtek MK350S-2
This afternoon I will begin a series of video blogs on specific LED manufacturers and their LED products that I feel as though are viable for our industry so look in on the LAB and the blogs with the awareness that our industry is definitely changing and you might want to get as much information as you can find to make your choices for the future. Welcome to the Birns And Sawyer Lighting LAB.
-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

 

Getting It Right With The Zaila

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A View From Behind The Meter

raybeams

I was asked several months ago to estimate a lighting set-up for a company that was primarily doing their sales and marketing through the internet. The woman who had called was trying to get an idea how much of an investment would be required to set up a room where they could record product demonstrations and interviews for social media exposure. The company was in the process of setting up their offices on Venice Boulevard just a stone’s throw from Centinela Avenue. I told her that I would need to see the area that she wished to be the production studio and when there at her location I would question more and listen more to her detailed expectation of their needs. She invited me down to their facility the next day.
I made the trek over the hill, since our office is in North Hollywood, and I made sure that I avoided the high traffic times since that is always a nightmare to try and make that trip during those rush “hour” times. I say rush hour but in reality it’s like a rush three hours any more. Anyway, I arrived at the location at around 11:00 O’clock and could see rather quickly that the office space was involved in a rather heavy reconstruction. There were painters, plasterers, electricians, and carpenters all working feverishly to renovate the buildings interior set-up. I went in and met the woman who had called and she ushered me into a relatively small space probably 12’ by 18’ with a front window looking out across a wide sidewalk onto Venice blvd. It was in the process of being plastered and new electrical wiring was sticking out of every socket. She indicated that they would like to use the room to shoot product videos and interviews with product spokespeople for those products with the eventual intent of uploading the material to the web. They had a Canon 5d camera with a lens that appeared to be a 24-to 105 zoom on a tripod at one end of the room. She had many questions about what they would need both in the final make-up of the room and what lights would be necessary. Since it appeared that they were about ready to begin the final painting and carpeting of the room I began by offering my opinion as to the room decoration. I suggested a blackout curtain to eliminate the ambient daylight coming from outside running on a track that followed the top edge of the exterior window. That would allow them to have outside light when they weren’t shooting and completely controlled light when they were. I recommended two other steps that would make their lives easier in the future. Paint the walls a medium flat grey and the carpet with a salt & pepper grey and black small pile carpet. This would allow any color to stand out against the grey and the background wall to practically disappear behind the subject in question.
At this point she admitted that at some time in the future she would also like to include a green screen in the room set-up. This immediately changed the set-up in my mind. The interview & product camera direction would have be the 12’ width and the future green screen would then be able to run the 18’ foot length. That is because generally one likes to have more space behind the talent on green screen set-up to mitigate the green back spill reflection from the screen that falls on the talent. I always found that the further away one can position the talent from the screen the less spill. I measured the height of the room, the width, the length, and then carefully measured the distance to the any electrical outlets. I checked where all the ceiling beams were situated and suggested they not wallboard the ceiling until the rig was in place. The last thing I did was ask her what would be the ballpark figure that she wished to come under for the full set-up including pipe rigging and labor to install. She indicated $6,000.00 as her desired cost outlay. We were done for the moment and I retreated back over the hill to Birns & Sawyer where I sat down at my desk and began to put the whole project into a workable rig that she would consider as acceptable.

Nila Zaila LED Light Kit

I emailed her a bid for the whole project the next day and put the cost in at $5,000.00 plus labor at around $500.00. She sent me back a positive saying how fast could I install the system I returned to her that I could have it all in place by next week. It was a go. Now what I was suggesting was a four LED system using the daylight NILA line of instruments. The Zaila specifically was the instrument that I believed would work in the set-up as she had outlined. The Zaila is a small compact unit with barn doors and diffusion filters. It is closely equivalent to a 200 HMI but a considerably less amperage draw. A small chimera as an additional element to the Zaila which would perform the job of key light was added to the mix. The final element was the light weight aluminum pipe grid attached to the ceiling and reaching down 3’ 6” from the 12’ ceiling. This was also part of the package estimate. All four of the lights drew less than a total of 4 amps and they were flicker free at any speed. The instruments are designed for an average life of 20,000 hours and have a two year warranty. They are also designed to be DMX controllable.
I was now ready to install.

Zaila LED Delux Kit
On Tuesday the next week a fellow employee and I arrived at the location after assembling all the elements the day before. Nila facility is in Alta Dena only 30 minutes away and the speed rail is in Burbank less than fifteen minutes away. All elements were gathered, packed into a van, and the equipment as well as the two of us started our installation at 9:30 AM. The pipe grid went in first. Two 6’ pipes and one 8’ pipe made up the simple grid in a rectangle with one long side open. The instruments went in and all cables were zip tied to the speed rail. All systems were now plugged into the circuit with the wall dimmer. I positioned the lights so that an area of about six feet square was covered. The client could walk into the room close the blackout curtain bring up the wall dimmer to full and shoot. Clean, simple, and very user friendly was my objective and by the end of the day it was accomplished. The client now shoots regularly and was very effusive in their praise for our work.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

Making That Green Screen Work For You!

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A View From Behind the Meter

  IMG_0195 

A friend of mine, at Woodbury University in Burbank, presented me with a problem to solve. He had been tasked to set up and shoot a PSA for children in order to encourage them to eat vegetables. There was very little money and he was going to shoot in the sound stage at Woodbury for which he was stage manager but the big element was that Sesame Street puppeteers were going to donate their time for the project. He asked me if I could work with him on the project and wondered whether I had any ideas of how it could be accomplished.

IMG_0232

 

First of all this was an obvious green screen application with the puppeteers needing to work against an observable image of the backgrounds for the story. These backgrounds would be shot in advance and projected on a monitor in front of them. A secondary consideration was that the executives had to sign off on the finished product on the day of the shoot. So the problem was without much money working in a University sound stage using only the equipment available plus what I could bring to the table how do we make this happen?

IMG_0200

Initially I went by the sound stage to seewhat the university had available. The stage is a working teaching facility and one of the first all LED sound stages in the educational community. It is not large but very workable and has Litepanels Sola 4’s and 1’ x 1’s rigged into the grid running completely on DMX cat cables controlled by a consul dimmer. There were also 4’ x 4 bank Filmgear LED Flos, Filmgear Power LED 160’s, and several Panasonic Af-100 cameras. This was a good beginning and I added a 12’ x 12’ digital green screen with frame, a Power LED 240,  two high rollers, and finally some 2’x 4 bank LED Flo’s. Lastly I brought in two 42” monitors, an AJA Key Pro Mini playback device, and a Panasonic Compact Live Switcher, the AW-HS50N, with the requisite cables for linking all systems. The switcher was the key element in that it has a capability to key out the green and replace it with a background plate entering through one of four SDI inputs. The object of course was to have both the executives and the puppeteers view the composite live on the two monitors as the show was shot allowing the Sesame people to view their work and the executives to okay each segment.

The date was scheduled for a weekend to allow everyone to arrive, shoot, and get back home with the least inconvenience to all concerned. Now this all happened on the Cinegear weekend and I was scheduled to be in Birns & Sawyers booth both Friday and Saturday so I had to do everything by Thursday evening and let my friend fly on his own for the weekend shoot. As it turned out this is exactly how it came down. On Wednesday morning I brought in the green screen and the rest of the set-up parts. I set up the green screen and lit it with two 4’x4 bank LED Flo’s and two 2’ x 4 bank LED Flo’s both daylight and placed it a good fifteen feet from the puppet performance area to give me good separation. I did this to mitigate the back green spill from the lit screen. Next I set up the playing area. A 12’ duveyteen black was hung from a 16’ speed rail at about head height so the puppeteers could work from below and a monitor was set up on a table behind the black so they could view live their movements and read the script at the same time. The performance area was lit by the two power LED’s. The Power 160 through a silk as fill and the Power 240 clean as the key. I used two Sola 4’s as backlights with half magenta to aid in reducing green back spill. Using a few flags to eliminate unwanted ambient spill from the key and fill the lighting set-up was basically in place. The lighting and grip set-up day Wednesday was complete.

On Thursday I returned and placed the recorded background plates in the AJA key pro and plugged it into the # 1 SDI input port on the Panasonic switcher. I then connected the AF-100 into the # 4 SDI input port. Lastly I wired both monitors to the switcher output ports and programmed all ports to allow keying and compositing to take place live. The camera, switcher and the AJA have to be formatted the same for this to really work. Also the recording of the background plates has to be matched to that same format or nothing happens the way you’d like. We switched everything on and held our breath as the Chroma-key switcher took a sample of the green screen color on an evenly lit solid green frame. We then placed an object in the frame and keyed out the background green and to our delight there was the object on the live background plate being played back on the AJA. It was a beautiful thing. My job was finished.

I went to work at the Cinegear Expo and on Monday picked up all the equipment returning it all to Birns & Sawyer. My friend sent me the attached photos. Success is sweet.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

And The Oscar Goes To…

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Oscar_statuettes_1810272c

A View From Behind The Meter

 

            It is the middle of January and I’m in the process of trying to get to see all the movies that are up for awards. I’m not sure exactly why I’m operating in this manner but I have done it for about twenty years so I suppose it’s just from habit. I’ve seen Gravity, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and Nebraska and should go through Her, Twelve Years A Slave and Wolf of Wall Street by the end of this week. Almost every year I go through this ritual and on the “big night” I can weigh my choices with the Academy with a more educated eye. Most of the time I’m pretty accurate, as far as my guesses go, but there are always surprises and in rare cases a complete shocker. The Hurt Locker for best picture was one of the shockers. It was up against Avatar and I was sure that the academy would award the big Hollywood epic the prize but much to my surprise I was wrong.

            In 1979 I was also wrong, in that Kramer Verses Kramer won over both Apocalypse Now and All That Jazz , of which in my estimation both were better films. In the long run the films that become icons don’t always receive the acclaim they deserve at the time they were released and that seems fitting. After all art, real art has to have longevity, it needs to withstand the test of time and many films fade rather quickly into obscurity within a generation. The Apartment and Around The World in 80 Days come to mind since when I went back to view them ten years after they won the best picture I couldn’t for the life of me understand why they did in the first place. The 80 Days epic was up against Giant and The King and I and here again I think each one is, in my estimation, a much more formidable as well as long lasting film. I have watched Giant at least a half a dozen times and it still holds me. On the other hand I can’t make it through “Around the World” without extreme boredom and disinterest. Why Hollywood Academy members made that choice at that time still resonates with me as complete rubbish.

            One of the pet peeves that I have, of late, with the new format, is the number of films up for best picture. It would seem much more logical to have separate categories rather than more possibilities. I think ten pictures is way too many and type of picture is all over the board. Comedy and drama are almost impossible to measure up against each other so why not have a drama category and a comedy category rather than lump them in together. In 2009 Up was competing with Avatar and the Hurt Locker: an absurd competition. Up was a wonderful heart rendering animation effort that couldn’t stand a chance against the other two but there they were side by side in the overall best picture competition. In 2010, Toy Story 3 went against The King’s Speech which; again is a silly comparison. Animation Drama and Comedy are really very different forms of entertainment and shouldn’t be lumped into the same category. It is really not a fair competition, but that’s just my viewpoint.

            Some of the great films which didn’t receive the best motion picture in my estimation are:

(1.)   Treasure Of Sierra Madre

(2.)   Sunset Boulevard

(3.)   The Graduate

(4.)   Fargo

(5.)   Chinatown

(6.)   Cat On a Hot Tin Roof

(7.)   High Noon

All of these films are still exciting to view today and as far as I’m concerned should be in the Best Motion Picture category as the best of that year. Instead we have Hamlet, All About Eve, Gigi, and The Greatest Show On Earth, and having seen them all, I can’t believe they won. None of these films hold up today and all the others on the list will hold there own for many years to come. Go to the movies, and see the films and then judge for yourselves because your opinion is all that really matters.     

-Michael Rogers

Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

Gravity Or Marooned?

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A View From Behind the Meter

maron_stl_5_h_8x10

The major holidays of the year are over and we all must get back to work. This year should show some remarkable changes in both politics and the increase in economic growth in our industry. I’ve heard from every quarter that this last years box office topped any previous year so I would hope that this is an indicator to investors that one should put their money where it will do the most good. With this in mind, I would also hope that stories, good immersive stories, will emerge and the reliance on computer graphics would naturally take a back seat. I do believe that the computer graphic skills are incredibly effective but without good stories they draw attention to themselves and the audience, though awed by the graphics, are less than satisfied. Once I hear the response from a moviegoer praising the explosions and the awesome visual effects I know the story was weak. I think most of us go to the theater to see a story that takes us out of our present day life and puts us into someone else’s shoes. The experience is exceptionally cathartic when we have a good story and just a cartoon of life when all we remember is the graphics.

One such film was Gravity. I was particularly thrilled to see the depiction of space portrayed so beautifully by the filmnakers but highly disappointed by the story. It reminded me of the film Marooned produced in 1969 which received an Academy Award for special effects. It had a cast of actors that at the time was quite exciting: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Jansen, James Franciscus, and Gene Hackman. With all these fine actors it should have been at least interesting but it was just awful. It was the only Academy Award Film lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The story has many parallels to Gravity in that an astronaut, Richard Crenna, sacrifices himself in the same manner that George Clooney does but in the lampoon they suggest that he does so to avoid critical review. I believe both films suffer from the same malady, a poorly designed story. It is sort of like watching someone struggle in quicksand. There is certainly a conflict of survival and as an audience we can see the perils confronting the protagonist but after an hour of struggle we know the outcome but need to watch another hour of the same one note symphony. I wished for some sub-plots or twists that were unexpected but was thoroughly disappointed.  In Marooned I felt the true survivor did not make it and in Gravity, as much as I adore Sandra Bullock, she did not deserve to swim to the shore and survive, no matter how cute her legs looked in short shorts.

Last week I took a look at Intelligence and couldn’t get away from comparing it with Six-Million Dollar Man. It stars Josh Holloway and Meghan Ory and was created by Michael Seitzman. It also has one of my favorites in a small role; Marg Helgenberger plays the head executive in charge of the experiment. One immediately has to suspend one’s sense of reality because it’s really based on the same kind of fantastic that the Six Million Dollar Man had. There’s nothing real about this story at all. It’s all fantastical and future sci-fi special effects but unlike Six Million it has sub-plots, and I do hope that these sub-plots will propel the show out of the ho-hum to a thrilling search for truth. The main character, Josh Holloway, is married to a woman purported to be a known terrorist. It debuted as one of the most watched but dropped audience share rather quickly and now moves to its regular spot on Monday evening a very tough night for any show. It was very compelling but I can see a tendency to be a one trick pony and that will kill it for sure. Without good immersive stories that capture our imagination graphics and special effects only go so far. The television audience is a very fickle group and that’s why such show’s as Mash and CSI: Las Vegas were so impressive. They were able to hold an audience and entertain them for an incredibly long run. Good luck Intelligence you are certainly going to need it.     

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach, BIRNS AND SAWYER

Illuminating Ideas With Student Filmmakers

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LED Flo-box 4 Bank 4ft

            I spent a recent Friday from 10:00 AM to almost 3:00 PM at Los Angeles City College (LACC) speaking to students about digital cameras and LED lighting. Matt Miner, one of our Chief Camera Techs, handled the digital camera part of the seminar and showed the Arri Alexa and Red Scarlet. He began about 10:30 and went until a little after noon with a very detailed explanation on digital camera systems. I picked up after he finished and went through a dozen new LED manufacturers showing the pros and cons of each. We kept an open forum and fielded questions as they came up. It was a very spirited open forum and we delighted in answering the questions proposed. Most of the questions dealt with the advantages of each piece of equipment over previously designed products to do the same job. However, there were some questions that I reacted to rather forcefully in that as far as I could see the individuals did not truly understand what they were getting into by studying the film process.

 The first one that sent shivers up my spine was “How do you light a living room?” I almost laughed out loud at first, then I realized that the individual really believed that there had to be a quick method to success. I kept thinking of the continuous question of “how expensive is a house?” In actuality there is no viable answer to the question. Every house has its own unique value structure. Location, square footage, age, amenities all change the value and no two are quite alike so there is no answer to the question that would be appropriate. This individual believed that all one needed was a revelation of this magic lighting secret and all there future lighting problems would be solved. Wrong!!! Emphatically wrong in the basic thinking. I think I must have been in hundreds of living rooms with the Directors of Photography and the Directors but I cannot recall two that were ever lit the same. Each set up was designed by the circumstances of the script, time of day, whether it was a comedy or a drama, and finally what the director wanted to have the audience feel about the scene. When I asked the student what he wanted the audience to feel it was obvious they had never considered the question.

To me that was always the most important question to ask. Every image put before an audience will illicit a feeling and that feeling dictates the lighting design. Illuminating a scene is easy, just put enough light in the room so the camera can get an image and you are done. Lighting a scene, however, will require that the designer must understand the intention of the director and the director’s purpose in placing the scene in the movie in the first place. Does he want to keep the audience in suspense? Does he want the viewer feel comfortable and at ease? Or is the scene intended to produce anxiety? All of these simple directions will change the way a scene will be lit. There is no magic bullet that solves all problems. Imagine asking Rembrandt how do you paint a room? Lighting is like oil painting only one does it with light instead of paint. Each scene has its own character and influences the audience in so many varied ways that there is no formula. Ask yourself, how does one want the viewer to feel while watching this scene and you will get closer to the answer to the lighting question that should have been asked by that individual.

The second question was by a student relatively new to the filmaking process who asked which camera would show off his talent to the studios above all others. I had to step in and ask whether he had a wealthy investor for his projects. His answer was based on his belief that the big studio executives were all just waiting and watching for new talent to emerge out of the film school class each year. This concept was so far from the truth of his situation that I felt I had to intercede and bring him down to earth. Having a dream is one thing and that is good but believing the dream is a reality is subject to bitter disappointment. There are literally thousands of new film students that graduate each year and attempt to get into the industry. Of these, only a handful actually gets there and usually these get there through personal family connections. I stressed to him to learn his trade on the small screen first. Learn how to tell a story in pictures that will resonate with an audience and stop thinking that you’re going to walk out of school and walk into the major studios as if one were on an escalator to the big time. It doesn’t happen that way. It takes years of hard work and rejection by the handfuls which forces one to have thick skin and ultimately a bulldog tenacity. To believe that someone up top is just looking for you is the height of folly and can only lead to depression or something much worse.

 I went to school for film at USC in the sixties and I really didn’t understand how to make movies until I began working on the set as a technician in the seventies and watched other people involved in the process. It took years and thousands of rolls of film passing through my cameras before I grew to understand the nuances of what works and what doesn’t. I still, after fifty years of production experience, discover something new and worthwhile every time I step onto a location which adds to my education in the film process. Be successful on the little screen first whether it’s an I-phone or u-tube and don’t put the horse before the cart. Capturing an image is easy, almost everyone can do it, but capturing an image that excites the viewer consistently is very hard and even the best fail at it regularly. There isn’t a film maker that I know of that hasn’t created a real stinker in his or her career. They have all made really bad films, which died at the box office, as well as the highly successful ones that have promoted their careers.

-Michael Rogers

Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

BIRNS & SAWYER

It’s Almost Time For Our December Filmmakers Showcase

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Birns & Sawyer Filmmakers Showcase

Birns & Sawyer has been, and still is a starting point and final destination for independent filmmakers of all ages, which is exactly why we believe that celebrating the creative work from our local moviemaking community is so important. We have serviced countless films, from features to educational films to music videos and beyond, and on December 15th 2013, we’re proud to be showcasing the work of clients, friends, and members of our own staff at our December Filmmakers Showcase. We will be screening some very well-crafted and imaginative short films of every genre, and we can’t wait to share the experience with you. So, unlike most of our usual blogs, this is more of a unique announcement than a journalistic post.

As an historic company approaching its 60th year of business supporting filmmakers globally and locally, we organized this moviemaking celebration at the iconic and also historic El Portal Theatre. In support of the burgeoning NoHo Arts District and our geographic placement within the community of North Hollywood, we will be showing these fine films on the big screen at this amazing theater. The El Portal is both luxurious and beautiful, which makes it a truly awesome venue for this event.

The event will be from 6-9pm on Sunday, December 15th, and we’re making it free to the public, because that’s the best way to celebrate our filmmaking community at large. So please tell your friends, and come out to the movies… On us! It’s gonna be a great way to begin the holiday season, and a night to inspire you for the new year to come!

And now for some of the official selections…

 

OFFICIAL SELECTIONS


These are the selected films that we’ll be screening! More to come!

CORROSION  

-Justin Pugh

 

SWITCHBOARD

-Ambika Leigh 

   
THE TROLL
-Max Carlson

DRAMA (Bitter:Sweet/Serj Tankian)   

-Ramzi Abed

 

6 MINUTES WITH RAMZI ABED

-Jason Kartalian 

 

ANTIMUSE   

-John Goodner 

 

FOR THE LOVE OF NOTHING  

-Alissa Davis 

 

LAST DAYS OF CINERAMA   

-Mike Celestino, Robert Garren  

 

THE BOARD OF EDUCATION    

-Jared Abrams 

We have an OFFICIAL Facebook page for the event also:

 CAM10077

VENUE:
5269 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, California 91601

Sharing The Filmmaking Dream With Students

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A View From Behind The Meter

 filmoptimo17-80

            I spent Friday from 10:00 AM to almost 3:00 PM at Los Angeles City College (LACC) speaking to students about digital cameras and LED lighting. Matt Miner, one of our Chief Camera Techs, handled the digital camera part of the seminar and showed the Arri Alexa and RED Scarlet. He began about 10:30 and went until a little after noon with a very detailed explanation on digital camera systems. I picked up after he finished and went through a dozen new LED manufacturers showing the pros and cons of each. We kept an open forum and fielded questions as they came up. It was a very spirited open forum and we delighted in answering the questions proposed. Most of the questions dealt with the advantages of each piece of equipment over previously designed products to do the same job. However, there were some questions that I reacted to rather forcefully in that as far as I could see the individuals did not truly understand what they were getting into by studying the film process.

 The first one that sent shivers up my spine was “How do you light a living room?” I almost laughed out loud at first, then I realized that the individual really believed that there had to be a quick method to success. I kept thinking of the continuous question of “how expensive is a house?” In actuality, there is no viable answer to the question. Every house has its own unique value structure. Location, square footage, age, amenities all change the value and no two are quite alike so there is no answer to the question that would be appropriate. This individual believed that all one needed was a revelation of this magic lighting secret and all there future lighting problems would be solved. Wrong!!! Emphatically wrong in the basic thinking. I think I must have been in hundreds of living rooms with the Directors of Photography and the Directors but I cannot recall two that were ever lit the same. Each set up was designed by the circumstances of the script, time of day, whether it was a comedy or a drama, and finally what the director wanted to have the audience feel about the scene. When I asked the student what he wanted the audience to feel it was obvious they had never considered the question.

To me that was always the most important question to ask. Every image put before an audience will illicit a feeling and that feeling dictates the lighting design. Illuminating a scene is easy, just put enough light in the room so the camera can get an image and you are done. Lighting a scene, however, will require that the designer must understand the intention of the director and the director’s purpose in placing the scene in the movie in the first place. Does he want to keep the audience in suspense? Does he want the viewer feel comfortable and at ease? Or is the scene intended to produce anxiety? All of these simple directions will change the way a scene will be lit. There is no magic bullet that solves all problems. Imagine asking Rembrandt how do you paint a room? Lighting is like oil painting only one does it with light instead of paint. Each scene has its own character and influences the audience in so many varied ways that there is no formula. Ask yourself, how does one want the viewer to feel while watching this scene and you will get closer to the answer to the lighting question that should have been asked by that individual.

The second question was by a student relatively new to the filmmaking process who asked which camera would show off his talent to the studios above all others. I had to step in and ask whether he had a wealthy investor for his projects. His answer was based on his belief that the big studio executives were all just waiting and watching for new talent to emerge out of the film school class each year. This concept was so far from the truth of his situation that I felt I had to intercede and bring him down to earth. Having a dream is one thing and that is good but believing the dream is a reality is subject to bitter disappointment. There are literally thousands of new film students that graduate each year and attempt to get into the industry. Of these, only a handful actually gets there and usually these get there through personal family connections. I stressed to him to learn his trade on the small screen first. Learn how to tell a story in pictures that will resonate with an audience and stop thinking that you’re going to walk out of school and walk into the major studios as if one were on an escalator to the big time. It doesn’t happen that way. It takes years of hard work and rejection by the handfuls which forces one to have thick skin and ultimately a bulldog tenacity. To believe that someone up top is just looking for you is the height of folly and can only lead to depression or something much worse.

 I went to school for film at USC in the sixties and I really didn’t understand how to make movies until I began working on the set as a technician in the seventies and watched other people involved in the process. It took years and thousands of rolls of film passing through my cameras before I grew to understand the nuances of what works and what doesn’t. I still, after fifty years of production experience, discover something new and worthwhile every time I step onto a location which adds to my education in the film process. Be successful on the little screen first whether it’s an I-phone or u-tube and don’t put the horse before the cart. Capturing an image is easy, almost everyone can do it, but capturing an image that excites the viewer consistently is very hard and even the best fail at it regularly. There isn’t a film maker that I know of that hasn’t created a real stinker in his or her career. They have all made really bad films, which died at the box office, as well as the highly successful ones that have promoted their careers.

-Michael Rogers,

Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

http://birnsgear.com

     

The Evolution Of The Efficient LED

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A View From Behind The Meter

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          Since April of this year when I attended the NAB gathering at Las Vegas I have noticed a pronounced improvement in the quality and design of the new LED fixtures. New companies have exploded into the market place (at least they were new to me) and their products are cheaper and better engineered. It was at NAB that I first saw the Mole-Richardson’s entry into this arena and their emphasis on LED manufacture was obviously evident. At their booth almost 85% of the products displayed were LED based and I was told that their design staff spent the last two years exclusively working on these systems. Mole-Richardson has been the leader in motion picture lighting products since 1927 and I have always seen Mole lights on the set in any country that I’ve worked.

 Whenever I was thinking about purchasing a lighting fixture in the past I consistently used the Mole products as the gold standard. I still try to use the Mole standards when I speak about the performance of an LED light because everyone can make that comparison. When I speak about an LED fixture and say that it will perform like a Mole “Tweenie” everyone can understand that comparison. Mole has developed four LED instruments that I believe will follow in that tradition. The four instruments are as follows; The 100 Watt LED Tweenie, the 150 Watt LED “Baby” (which uses a 407 Baby Housing), the 200Watt 8” Junior, and finally the 10” Studio Junior. All of these instruments are Fresnels and they will perform close to 85% of the photometrics of their Tungsten equivalent.

 Now the sales pitch here is that a lighting technician can move into the LED world seamlessly. If you’re used to working with a 1K baby the 150Watt LED will perform the same job. As far as cost goes the tungsten 650 Watt light runs w/barndoor & diffusion around $950.00 and the 150 Watt LED runs $1595.00 so we are talking about almost double the price. That being said if you add up one globe a year replacement cost for just ten years and the cost matches that of an LED in that same period. The led light will cost more initially but it will last nearly 50,000 hours and that usually will mean ten to fifteen years of use for the average instrument. Simply put the LED light will be cheaper than the tungsten equivalent in the long run and I haven’t even addressed the main advantages of using LED lights. The main advantage, of course, is the efficiency of the instrument both in amperage draw to light output and the impressive lack of heat generation. Tungsten instruments produce 15% light and 85% heat whereas LED instruments produce 5% heat and 95% light. This is a huge advantage to the average technician. The production can light an entire house without using generators or distribution cable one needs to just plug everything into the 20 amp wall sockets of the locations house. The actors will no longer sweat through their make-up before mid-day and burn outs will be a thing of the past.

Lite Panels introduced their Sola 12, Z light developed the F8, Cineo and BBS manufactured a remote phosphor, Nila re-engineered their entire line and introduced the Zailia. In addition Hexalux, Fiilex, Dra Cast, and Carsu brought into the marketplace new and less expensive models of LED’s that will undoubtedly force the prices down for all the established companies. Almost every month this year I have been contacted by companies with new products and it has been almost impossible to keep up with the new kids on the block. This coming Wednesday I will go over in detail some of these changes in the LED lines at my monthly “Lunch With Mike” sessions. I will be discussing in depth the new Mole products as well as the Lite Panels and Nila innovations and making comparisons with HMI and tungsten light equivalents. I will match color temperatures and CRI values side by side with a new meter that measures these values in moments the UPRtek MK350 (which we also rent and sell). Come on in to Birns & Sawyer and let’s get down to business.

 ~Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant, Birns & Sawyer

 

lighting-workshop

Why I Love Birns & Sawyer

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Many of you don’t know me at all, or if you know me, you only know that I work for Birns & Sawyer, handling the company’s marketing and sales departments… Well, first and foremost, I am a filmmaker, and part of the reason I work at Birns & Sawyer IS BECAUSE I am a filmmaker! Since my teen years, I had been very well acquainted with the brand name of the company, and its legacy and incredible effect on so many of my favorite directors and cinematographers over the years. With my two BA degrees from Pitzer College, where I studies Film/Video Production and Creative Writing/English, I went on to work for numerous television shows and production companies as a Production Coordinator, Post-Production Supervisor, and even as an Assistant Editor, however it was when I directed my first Super 16mm color short film, “Nobody”, back in 1998 that I became truly addicted to the filmmaking bug… And subsequently, it was only when I started to work at Birns & Sawyer in late February of 2011 that I realized how much filmmaking was really at the core of my very being.

 

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Like many of my peers in Los Angeles, I have worked many jobs both on and off set in almost every department related to motion picture and television production and post-production, but for me it was always because I loved every single aspect of the process. My trajectory was always to write, direct, and produce my own films, and I went on to do so with numerous short films culminating in my 2001 Super 16mm short film, “The Tunnel”, which starred Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment fame and Mark Borchardt of “American Movie” legend. This film wound up screening at over 40 film festivals worldwide, and garnered attention from magazines and websites like MovieMaker, Ain’t In Cool News, and Film Threat. I went on to make several feature films after that including “The Devil’s Muse” (which starred Kristen Kerr, Cinque Lee, Julie Strain, and Dame Darcy, and featured an original soundtrack by David J of Bauhaus and Love And Rockets) and “In A Spiral State”, which were both released by Halo 8 Entertainment. These filmmaking adventures were inspired by the legacy of filmmaking mavericks that had come far before me and my small movie projects.

 

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In 2011, I answered a job placement ad for Birns & Sawyer, whom I was already very familiar with. When I actually landed the gig, and found myself at the main Birns & Sawyer facility in North Hollywood, I was thrilled to be working under the umbrella of a company that had been such an important force in the world of independent film for well over 50 years at the time. I also had already looked up the President of the company, William Meurer, on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and found out that he was the Gaffer on Rob Reiner’s classic genre-making mockumentary, “This Is Spinal Tap!”, which excited me to the core. I told Bill that I was so honored to be here, that whether I ended up working for the company for a day or a week or a month or a year or ten years, I was excited to do so. Then as I the first week progressed, I also realized that several of the other employees at the company had worked on lots of amazing films and tv shows that I’d grown up with, from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” to George Romero’s “Creepshow“!

 

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I worked hard for the company to bring their small sales department up as much as I could, and found myself getting more and more involved in the company’s day to day operations. Even as I was putting the finishing touches on a couple of my most recent feature film projects, I was finding that Birns & Sawyer was becoming a more and more important part of my life. I finished my dramatic film, “Telephone World”, and began the final mixing on the film. During this period, I was inspired to make a commercial about the company I was now working for, and I wanted it to reflect the historic and also quirky aspects of it, as well as highlight its new location in North Hollywood. I was lucky enough to cast some of my friends to create a micro menagerie of filmmakers playing themselves, from actor James Duval (Independence Day, Donnie Darko, Sushi Girl) to producer Robert Dudelson (Creepshow III, Masterminds) to no-budget movie director Dennis Woodruff and his Hollywood art car. I wrote, directed, and produced the commercial, and utilized our awesome staff to form my crew. We shot it on the Arri Alexa and the Sony F3, and it was a fun and successful shoot. The video then went viral on Vimeo and YouTube, and we began to use it as our first in-house commercial.

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Now, some time has passed, and a new year is coming to a close, but we’ve made great strides at the company, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of that. We’ve been more and more present at local film events and festivals, and have been reaching out to more and more independent filmmakers and show creators with specially discounted packages, free assistance, in-kind support, and the right gear at the right time. We’ve also built up our relationships with other vendors and equipment rental houses, and are doing everything we can to support the entire California film community… As as well filmmakers all over the world. So, please stay tuned as we make more changes, get ready to launch our new website and subsequent smart phone app. I’ll also have more events coming up to share with you, and more adventures in filmmaking to come. Heck, I’ll invite you all to my next movie premiere (“Noirland”) in LA… It might be soon!

 

Ramzi Abed

Director of Marketing & Sales

BIRNS AND SAWYER

From Monochrome To Color, And All Points In Between

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A View From Behind The Meter

VirginSpring4

            While I was studying Theater Arts at the University of Miami I went to see an avant- garde motion picture by a then new Swedish film maker Ingmar Bergman called Virgin Spring. I was captivated. When the film was over I went to my car and literally fell to pieces. I wept in the front seat and at that moment I decided that if a movie could do that to me, I had to pursue motion picture production as a career. Soon I was going to the movies almost every week and saw such films as The Bicycle Thief, The Good Earth, Wild Strawberries, and a plethora of classical black & white productions that changed my life forever. The artistic visions created by film noir cameramen and their directors captured my imagination. Theater was still in my blood but the powerful emotional appeal of film was overwhelming. I say all this because while I was speaking to a group of students at one of the film schools I overheard someone say, “Oh I couldn’t watch a black & white movie.” I have to say I was struck dumb and all I could think about was how much this individual was missing. Going back to George Melies in the nineteenth century the images produced by the early film makers have been inspirational to hundreds of people including the present day. If you only start your film knowledge from the first days of color photography an entire fifty year span is lost. Contained in that group are some of the most revered films of our lifetime. Films such as Citizen Kane, It Happened One Night, 8 ½, Casablanca, The Treasure of Sierra Madre have been exceptionally instrumental in guiding my creative hand. Without these images my work would definitely have suffered. They say mimicking is the height of creative compliment. I watched and I copied.

            The colored versions of these wonderful stories always seem silly to me. First of all the colors are obviously limited and the contrast ratios are terribly distorted so that much of the drama in the shot is lost. Black and white has its own color. Dark and light are explored and the result is emotional contrast that promotes the story. In Fritz Lang’s classic murder mystery M Peter Lorie was discovered as a child rapist murderer and he never played that character again. The shadows of the downtown streets of Berlin are so exaggerated that in many scenes it appears to be surreal. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of the first horror films ever made and has been copied by most modern horror film makers whether they are aware of it or not. I worked with a present day film maker who by the use of a computer created the original sets and recreated the entire film on a green screen placing the characters on these same sets but in color. Personally I don’t think the added color did anything that added to the drama. In fact I would have to say much of the insanity was lost in the color adaptation. The two mediums of color and black and white have to be lit as differently as could be imagined. In black and white the concern of color temperature of the instrument involved is of little concern where as in color it is an essential concern. The color rendition index or CRI is also a great concern in color photography but not so in black and white. Hard light is very effective in black and white and generally not so in color. These differences allow a completely different approach in the lighting process. Contrast becomes a much greater concern in black and white since it is usually the way a cinematographer separates the subject from the background. In color, a backlight in almost essential in separating the subject from the background even with contrasting colors between the two. The eye is much more distracted in color photography so in most cases the background is lit with a two stop differential in order for the viewer eyes to concentrate on the primary character or prime subject. I happen to enjoy black and white photography. In black and white photography I concentrate more on the basic texture of the subject, the sense of everyday life is cleansed of distractions and I see the naked human emotions. I like that raw quality and when you look at older films produced in this medium the story seems to take a greater precedence. The characters are more crystallized and as an audience we easily see who the “black hats” are and who the “white hats.” are. Color photography works wonders in “The Wizard Of Oz” but in “Days of Wine and Roses” it is black and white photography that tells the morality play that we view so graphically. Do not make the mistake of believing there is no place for this medium in today’s productions because you will be surprised to find out you are very wrong.

Michael Rogers      

Lighting Consulant & Educational Outreach

BIRNS & SAWYER

The Emerging Cinematographers Emerge Victorious!

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A View From Behind The Meter

Shoot The Sky!

            On Friday our company Birns & Sawyer was one of the sponsors of the Emerging Cinematographers Awards and we were invited to a luncheon honoring these award winners. It was held at the ASC Clubhouse and was a simple but classy affair. Each year there are 10 craftsmen chosen, eight winners and two honorable mentions and these are chosen by a committee chaired by Jim Matlosz. Entrees are submitted from all over the world and choosing just ten out of the hundreds that are submitted is a vaunting task. Each year I have been truly impressed with the originality displayed and technical prowess achieved. This year has been no different. On Sunday the 29Th of September at the Director’s Guild screening room the projects are shown to a full house of avid film professionals. Many speeches are given and the awards are handed out. In addition to the awards numerous gifts are offered to the recipients including a Cannon film package for a year for free. We gave a bag of goodies including a director’s viewfinder and the film makers’ left the event hopefully with a kick-start that will propel them into the ranks of the great cinematographers of the past. Who knows perhaps among them is our next James Wong Howe or Conrad Hall. I certainly look forward to seeing their next endeavors with anticipation and encouragement. Listed below are the names of the award winners and the titles of their projects:

ECA-ICG-2013

(1.)   Eduado Fierro……………………….Eleven: Twelve

(2.)    Guy Skinner………………………..Your Father’s Daughter

(3.)   Kyle Klutz……………………………Vessel

(4.)   Mike Berlucchi……………………..140 Drams

(5.)   T.J.Williams Jr……………………..The Return

(6.)   Michael Lloyd………………………The Secret Number

(7.)   Camrin Petramale………………….Memoirs of A Parapsychologist

(8.)   Van Nessa Manlunas……………..King Of Norway

(9.)   Rob C. Givens………………………The Ride

(10.)         Andrew Shulkind……………..South Down Orchard

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On another note we are embarking on an educational outreach program that will offer to full time students a 50% discount to any student that sets up an account with us for their first rental and 25% thereafter as long as they remain a student. These letters are going out this week and next to the department heads and professors that I’m familiar with at all the film schools in Southern California. Over the past few years my experience with the film schools has shown me that the equipment inventory at many of these schools is very outdated. Some of the equipment that I’ve seen could be considered antiques. In any case our intention is to give the students access to the latest versions of cameras and lighting innovations that are being used by the professional industry. Once a student sets up an account besides getting the discount they can set up an appointment with one of our film techs to get personalized instruction on the camera they intend to use for their next project. This process will diminish the problems of damaged equipment due to inexperienced hands and greatly increase the knowledge of the emerging film professional. It has been a concerted effort on behalf of our staff to increase the survivability rate of the emerging film makers and these programs are part of that effort. We look forward to seeing the future work of the ten emerging cinematographers above and hope that hundreds more of you make the upgrade to a  working professional. We are here to help.

Michael J. Rogers

Lighting Supervisor   ~ BIRNS & SAWYER, INC.

 

 

Stay Independent… With Us!

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A View From Behind the Meter

One of the movies we supplied the gear for... GO FOR IT!

One of the movies we supplied the gear for… GO FOR IT!

            I spent most of my career working in the independent film marketplace. When I first started in Hollywood, during the early 1970’s, the unions basically had a closed shop, so I aligned myself with small enterprising independent producers. The relationships developed were mostly based on the fact that we both were obvious outsiders that still needed to make a living and pay the rent each month. Companies like Birns & Sawyer were our lifeline to equipment and information. “Easy Rider”, produced in 1969, as I remember was a film that was produced out of Birns & Sawyer; so when I first went to work at this company in 1971 the legacy was still very much alive. Denny Clairmont was head of the camera department at Birns & Sawyer at the time and he was an advocate of the independent filmmaker. That legacy is still very active in the minds of the staff and such movies as Carmen Marron’s “Go For It” and Youssef Delara’s “Filly Brown” have been produced in the present day as well as many others which we have given support all the way to completion.

             Many other companies can offer equipment cheaper and they also possess more inventory in terms of volume but few can help in the information end of the process. The idea is to aide the film maker to make a product that can be a “commercial success” on a limited budget. I stress the concept of “commercial success” because most of the people in independent production have limited experience and any information that will create viable exciting images is greatly appreciated by their audiences.

            I can not tell you how many new clients have come into my office and said that someone had recommended that they speak with me about their up and coming project. It is difficult for anyone to come to any company and ask for help. I do understand this dilemma but when I look back to my beginnings I thank God there were people that imparted information and showed me how to do a myriad of techniques in the industry. A technician at Chapman showed me how to manage a NIKE crane, at F & B Ceco I learned how to repair the Mitchell R 35 high speed 35mm camera, at Birns & Sawyer I learned how to collimate an Angenieux lens, and at J.L. Fisher I was taught how to work an 11 dolly for “Evil Dead II.”  In each case I was able to improve my technical skill and move up the ladder.

           Moving up the ladder allowed me to improve my client base and at the same time improve my financial reward. Helpful people within the organization, who had my interest at heart, not simply folks who just gave me cheap equipment, were the critical element that allowed me to be better than those around me. Making relationships with experienced film makers who had been in the firing line and returned unscathed were keys to success which eluded many of my peers along the way. I had huge competition for each job.  I asked and received help from every source that was available in order to win projects from other technicians. An inexpensive equipment package isn’t always the answer to solving your rise in the industry but knowledge of how to use that package is essential in your growth as a lighting specialist. That knowledge can be obtained by speaking to the experienced personnel at the rental agencies that promote such interaction.

We here at Birns & Sawyer are fully dedicated to make your success as effortless as possible.

Come in and check us out!

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant and Educational Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

Be Interested. Be Interesting!

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A View From Behind the Meter

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            Last week, I went to the ASC Breakfast with Paul Cameron, ASC as the guest speaker. It was very well attended as usual, and he said something I would like to share with all of you… When asked what was his best advice about the challenge of being a cinematographer was, he referred to a comment made to him as he was in the early learning stages of the profession. The comment was “be interested and be interesting.” It’s a simple statement but it encompasses a huge area of involvement. A cinematographer needs to be constantly interested in not only the project he is working on at present but the innovations that occur in the profession daily. Being truly interested means having a passion for your craft and in a constant state of learning. One comes close to obsession when getting involved with the process of film making and most of the great cinematographers that I have come in contact with possess that kind of devotion to the craft.

His work on “Man on Fire,” “Collateral,” and “Total Recall” were discussed with excerpts from each of the projects were screened for the groups discussion. As I watched examples of this man’s work I kept in mind his words “interested and interesting.” He accomplished both while I watched with great enthusiasm. His work was absolutely on the cutting edge and it’s obvious why the Director’s Tony Scott and Michael Mann hired him. He followed his words with action that proved his point. By the way the ASC breakfasts are well worth the expenditure and the insights gained are priceless. If one wishes to achieve greatness listen to those who have already attained that plateau. Be interested and you can’t help but be interesting.

            While on the way out of the clubhouse once the presentation was over I ran into a cinematographer which I gave an experimental LED car mount kit for his use on his last feature. He had come into my office and was talking about a feature he was about to shoot in Nebraska. There were a number of interior car shots and they needed to set up fast. It happens that I had been working on a complete LED car mount kit that was battery run and very bright. He could easily shoot in the daytime or at night because each light had dimmer controls and they were daylight LED’s. The system was handed over to him and he had just come back after shooting for three weeks with the instruments. The test that I had done on the instrument gave me a four hour run with two lights on a single charge. Having worked with the Kino-Flo car mount kits for years the advantage was remarkable and this cinematographer was of the same opinion. He will be bringing me back the kit tomorrow with picture and we will be putting the system up on our website for sale with user recommendations that are verifiable both creatively and economically. Speak to you all soon. 

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant And Education Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

Setting Up Lights For An Event Is Its Own Event!

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A View From Behind the Meter

Lighting the Burbank International Film Festival with our Film Gear brand HMI lighting instruments!

Lighting the Burbank International Film Festival with our Film Gear brand HMI lighting instruments!

    I was lighting the Burbank International Film Festival awards ceremony at the Castaways Restaurant on Sunday and, as I worked with my young crew, I noticed several procedural errors that I thought I should mention here. Now, I am semi- retired, and most of the crew were young relatively inexperienced, so I became a teacher as well as lighting director rather fast. One of the first things I noticed was the common habit of placing a tungsten lamp upside down on the stand. Now this may seem benign initially but the globe is designed to be base down with most tungsten instruments so that the heat rises away from the socket structure. If the instrument burns base up the heat instead rises through the socket structure and reduces the life of the globe dramatically. It also increases the possibility of an exploding globe and this can have hazardous results for the performers. Michael Jackson had this happen to him in a music video and it was probably caused by some such lighting error.

The 1K open face tungsten instruments are sometimes pointed straight down by naïve technicians and this also will produce a shattering explosion spraying burning glass in a wide arc below the light. Again as is the case with the globe upside down the heat rises and in the case of the 1k open face the heat is trapped by the reflector behind the globe. The DXW globe is designed for horizontal function not vertical and will only sustain a normal heat level with most of the heat rising in front of the reflector through the vents surrounding the instrument. The enormous heat build-up both through the socket and trapped in the reflector is the single most dangerous element with regards to tungsten instruments besides electrical wiring problems. The filament inside the glass envelope is almost molten when functioning correctly and the movement of these instruments while hot will usually result in what I call a blow out. A “burn out” is when the life of the globe is near its life expectancy and the filament severs, due to age, creating a black carbon soot on the inside of the envelope. A “blow out” occurs when the filament touches the glass envelope during the course of moving the light while still illuminated. In the above case there will be no carbon soot on the inside of the globe at all and the globe is damaged due to operator error not in the normal usage. Most rental companies will charge for a “blow out” replacement globe but not for a “burn out”.

The other problem I noticed while working Sunday was that each of the HMI lights were set up and turned on before a lens was placed in the fixture. This is a very bad habit to get into due to the high UV that is emitted by these types of instruments. For a period of time we used to call out that we were striking the light in order to warn people against looking in the direction of the light at that moment. This habit seems to have disappeared on the sets that I’ve been on lately but the UV hazard is still present. Having a lens in place at the time of strike will mitigate the problem greatly. Lighting is a wonderful profession and with all this enjoyment we mustn’t forget that there is an ever present danger while working in this field. I have seen my share of shocks as well as fires during the last thirty years and I don’t suppose that will change in the next thirty. Safe habits are essential and the application of those habits must become instinctual if one wishes to step through the minefield of dangers ever present in this profession.

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant And Outreach, BIRNS AND SAWYER

Revolutionary new Canon 70D Now IN-STOCK!

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In the world of competing camera technologies, cameras are quickly developing and reshaping the way we capture images, both moving and still. Just as the Canon 7D and 5D Mark II revolutionized the way that DSLR Cameras operate and function, and changed the landscape of independent filmmaking by giving young filmmakers a new means to an old end… A new camera has surfaced, once again thanks to Canon’s team of bold visionaries… Behold the new Canon 70D with some of the very best auto features in DSLR history, and many innovations in the capture and stills and video.

Available today in sales!

Call for the best price!Z_Canon70D_beauty

LEDs, Humans, And The Science Of Light

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A View From Behind the Meter

BriteShotLED


I have used 3200 degree tungsten lighting from my first days lighting stage productions in a Children’s Theater in Miami Florida down to this day. One of the reasons was that when I started, it was practically the only systems available. There were no HMI’s or Kino Flo’s and LED’s weren’t even in the imagination of the lighting engineers who manufactured lighting instruments at the time. I embraced the technology because it was there and it was all that was there. Having spent so many years working with these familiar instruments has made me very prejudice towards anything new and different in the lighting field. I think this is probably a natural phenomenon of the human condition.

I actually encountered Mole-Richardson instruments in 1971 when I first came to Hollywood and those were the regular ten K’s and five K’s with the original tungsten bottle globe. These globes had iron filings in the glass envelope surrounding the filament to clean the build-up of carbon deposits on the inside of the globe. They were large ungainly and exceptionally hot. It would get so hot on the stage that the art directors would complain about the perspiration from the electricians in the rigging dripping onto the freshly painted sets. Since that time I have seen the metamorphosis of these instruments into the streamlined products we work with today but undeniably they are still just as hot. The presence of such heat is one of the drawbacks of this method of lighting.

Besides heat there is the ever-present amperage draw problem. A one thousand watt instrument draws 8.3 amps. That means one can comfortably put only two on a 20 amp circuit. These same tungsten instruments are 85% heat and 15% light. We are really using a refined heating coil to produce photons. I always hear the term warm light when technicians refer to the 3200 based lighting instruments and they are absolutely right. It’s as if we are lighting the room with burning logs. 85% heat is highly inefficient and goes against the direction of the modern green technology that is present in out thinking today. I loved the Mole and Arri tungsten lights for at least a half a century but I have to admit they are becoming dinosaurs in our industry. Just as film cameras were eclipsed by digital cameras so will the tungsten light be eclipsed by the LED technology. It is an inevitable outcome of the conflict.

Here at Birns & Sawyer we are in the process of selling our tungsten instruments and obtaining an inventory that encompasses LED technology. We are selling our Mole Babies, Tweenies, and Baby Juniors and replacing them with LED equivalents. We are selling at exceptionally low prices so as to move them in rapid order. Our tungsten rental inventory is being asked for less and less, especially in the larger wattages, and therefore we are engaged in replacing them with modern systems. We are replacing them not because they can’t do the job required but instead they do it with such gross inefficiency that it is becoming less cost effective. The cost to the producer will eventually become apparent as that awareness becomes common knowledge. Two very hot 1K tungsten lamps can be replaced in a room setup by ten LED lamps in the same 20 amp wall socket with little or no heat build up. To me the handwriting is on the wall and my prejudice, however warranted, must stand aside and make way for the future of lighting. We will be lighting with LED’s in the near future and it behooves me to learn how they differ or how they are the same as what I have been using this last half century.

Michael J. Rogers

Lighting Consultant

Birns & Sawyer

Painting Moving Pictures And Much More

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A View From Behind The Meter

toland-howard-bergman-intermezzo

I was talking to one of my co-workers this morning and we got into a discussion of classic painters. We both thought that artists whether they were aware of their influence on our society or not didn’t change the fact that their work has profoundly changed the way we look at the human condition. I’m sure that Michelangelo had no idea that in the future people would line up for hours just to walk through the Sistine Chapel and gaze up for maybe fifteen minutes. For me that gaze has never left my consciousness. I am not a religious man but those images will forever be seared into my mind and I certainly give reverence to the artistry involved. We continued talking about painters and painting but the thought struck us both that Michelangelo if he were living today he would probably be a cinematographer. His experimentation with light and imagery would make him a natural media artist today. After reading some of his letters back to Florence I found it amusing that even this great artist had difficulty being paid for his labors. The Pope and his ministers even called him a cheat for asking too much money for his labors. Sounds a little too familiar doesn’t it?

In any case the recognition of our great classical painters as painters of light today makes a lot of sense. They used what was available to create images that would stimulate the viewer and allow the imagination to take flight into the realm of majesty. They believed they were doing God’s work and were inspired by divine spirits. Today some of the great cinematographers do that for us in the media we call television, still photography, and feature films and speak of their passion as inspiration. I think there is probably little difference between the two. In the late thirties and early forties Greg Toland produced the imagery for Wuthering Heights and Citizen Kane. These images will connect with audiences perhaps as long as The Pieta and David and in truth have probably already been seen by more people world wide. I stood in front of both the Pieta and David along with many adventurous souls but in comparison over two hundred million people viewed Citizen Kane in one night on television from the comfort of their living room. We forget how influential our media is worldwide and how that influence changes the perspective of the viewer forever.

When I traveled to the Shan States of Burma (Now called Myanmar) I remember an incident that I cannot forget and I speak about it often. While on a tour of a mountain village in North Eastern Burma I noticed a large gathering of villagers at a house up on a high hill. When I inquired of our tour guide what was going on he said that a satellite antenna was set up and they were receiving a broadcast from American television. I walked up to the hilltop and did see about fifty people seated around a television set mesmerized by the brilliant color images from the U.S. What was on the screen was an episode of Dallas. Larry Hagman playing J.R.Ewing, in his cowboy hat, was talking to Barbara Bel Geddes in the sumptuous Texas oil man’s living room and most of the people whom I spoke to from that group who watched the show believed this was how Americans lived. The influence our simple television productions have on the rest of the world is explosive both in the political arena as well in the personal aspirations of the individual. These images may not be as creatively great as Raphael or Van Gogh but the society of the world today will respond to J.R. with much more understanding and identification than anything viewed in the Sistine Chapel. Who knows, two hundred years from now, might we be looking at these painters of light called cinematographers as classical artists of their time and revered in the same manner as Michelangelo.   

-Michael Rogers, Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach, Birns & Sawyer

The Reason We Make Those Pictures Move

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A View From Behind The Meter

From the set of the "Where It's At" commercial directed by Ramzi Abed

From the set of the “Where It’s At” commercial directed by Ramzi Abed

The industry has seen dramatic changes in the last decade and the information surrounding those changes is vast and for most part very confusing. The film industry for almost a hundred years used film cameras with simple pull down claws and registration pins as the base technology. Film emulsions changed but the process of capturing an image remained the same through out most of that time. The process was understandable and predictable as well as easily taught to the emerging young filmmakers. With the advent of digital technology anyone can capture an image rather cheaply, and YouTube is filled with people doing just that. The success of each creation is measured in how many hits the video received not, as in the past, how well crafted the image was conceived. Somehow along the line, it seems as though there has been a loss in the art of conception.

The fascination of watching a girl leap off a garage, miss the pool, landing instead on the hard concrete damaging her hips and legs permanently is almost criminal. Millions of people played this tragic series of images as it went, as they say, ‘viral’ on the internet. When I filmed the Vietnam war in the mid sixties there were numerous images of war that I captured on film that have never been shown to the public and as I remember these graphic horrors I’m certainly glad they have remained behind closed doors.

Perhaps my sensibility is old school, but I do still see this industry as a way of showing beauty and majesty to our civilization that will give our population hope and understanding in their daily lives. It’s easy with the tools of today to capture an image that could become popular but it is the artist that makes that image reach our hearts and our imagination. The digital age has given young filmmakers amazing tools that allow them to see their work inexpensively with an immediacy that was unheard of thirty years ago. The tools are there for the taking. I think it is time for story tellers to take these tools and create images as well as stories that reach the intellect and hearts of the viewers. All I’m seeing today is large scale computer graphics of super humans fighting each other in impossible scenarios that truly leave me cold. It is just eye candy without substance pandering to people’s prurient interests but offering no life values.

Michael Rogers      

Lighting Consultant & Educational Outreach

BIRNS AND SAWYER

A View From Behind The Meter

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A View From Behind The Meter

Last Wednesday, I conducted a discussion with a group of technicians at my monthly luncheon session on the new UPRtek MK350 Color Meter. As we were discussing all the terms connected with lighting such as ANSI, CCT, F-stop, LUX, and CRI, I realized that I spent the majority of my career ( Almost 55 years ) never considering CRI ( Color Rendition Index ). Now it’s not that CRI isn’t important, but it has only become a buzz word since the introduction of LED’s. This meter allows me to look at every lighting instrument, and record its spectral graph and all the pertinent data: CRI, color temperature, LUX, in a dramatic detail display. I had been using Tungsten based lights since my first lighting experiences in Children’s theater in 1958 and worked with the first HMI’s and Kino-Flos that were manufactured, never considering their color rendition. The only consideration was intensity and coverage. I managed all the rest with gels, scrims, and grippage. The color was a responsibility of my eye. I only searched for the best possible image that I could produce in the least possible time.

In concert with the DP, we decided if the scene needed additional color or corrective color in order to make a good looking image. With this in mind, I went back to the lighting products that I had been using for the last thirty years, and began measuring them with the new meter, discovering that HMI’s had color temperatures all over the place, very inconsistent, and fluorescent lights had green spikes. These anomalies included tungsten which had large color temperature variances and in some cases almost no blue color rendering at all. Yet with all these problems we somehow produced beautiful images that both pleased and delighted audiences. It was obvious that even with the most perfect instruments you still need someone with an artistic eye to create images that will resonate with an audience.

The UPRtek MK350 meter is an exciting tool and an important one especially when considering buying a new lighting instrument but all the skills that make a fine lighting artist are still necessary for truly artistic images. That principle will never change!  

Michael Rogers

Lighting Consultant

Birns & Sawyer    

 

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