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Eternal Sunshine- “Meet me in Montauk”

Hizzah! Do you hear that? Yes that is the sound of success! I finally figured out how to post a video sweet baby Jesus. Alright, lets get on with it…

Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one of my absolute favorite films, as it is to many others. It takes us on a nonlinear trip down memory lane, literally, by following the memories that Joel (Jim Carrey) has of his former lover, Clementine (Kate Winslet). He decides to erase her from his memory, and as the procedure takes place while he sleeps, Joel revisits his relationship with Clementine from the last memory backwards, which allows him to see the better times.

(skip if you know this movie/part of the movie)
This clip is one of his first memories of Clementine, where she breaks into a house on the beach and sets up an exciting spontaneous adventure for her and Joel to embark on, however, he walks away. He is exploring this memory as it is being erased, and the ocean is flowing into the beach house that is falling apart, as if his memory is crumbling. Simultaneously, Joel faces his mistakes- fear kept him from the liveliness and happiness of their relationship. And so instead he attempts to recreate an alternative choice- if he at least said goodbye, things would be better…leaving him with the clue, “meet me in Montauk”…

The lighting for this scene is a really good example for “less is more”. To keep a real sense of the danger, spontaneity, and excitement of breaking an entry, Gondry plays with the darkness as opposed to the light. The characters are almost in a spotlight in contrast with the inky black night using flashlights/maglights to illuminate the actors. The room has somewhat of a blue tone, wreaking of regret, almost like a dreary sadness. The narrow circumference the maglights encompass give a very claustrophobic feel- tight as if we are in the confines of a surreal memory. But at the same time the flashlights put us in the abandoned house- in the moment- and we are experiencing the same feelings Joel is conflicted with in his encounter with this free-spirited woman. The lights shining on his face almost overexposing his features illustrates that at this moment, he is being put on the spot. He is faced with a choice of living on the edge, or running away from his fears, the unknown. The light is on him the entire time, and when she runs up the stairs she disappears because in his memory, he sees no more of her. She is gone and he walks out, but you hear her voice which is his conscience creating her presence. Joel is still in the spotlight as the memory casually crumbles, the light following his feet pacing around the snowy beach, reflecting on the black waves ashore flooding around him.

This is where Gondry plays with the presence of darkness- Joel’s face in shadows narrowly escaping the spotlight. The shadows and the dark corners of the house and fudgey black ocean represent some sort of abyss. The fact that the whole scene is in nearly complete darkness also eludes to the fact that his relationship with Clementine will lead to the unexpected, the spontaneous, the unknown. He wanders evading the confrontation and finally the spotlight wildly corners him into revealing to himself what he really felt at that moment. Regret. The use of darkness shapes the scene to feel like a surreal memory, and the use of minimal and amateur light illuminates the emotions Joel has, looking back and accepting his regret.

Two Ladies and a Hill

(I’m having a hard time embedding the film, but here’s the link. But go watch it! It’s cute 🙂 )

Two Ladies and Hill is a really cute and funny short film about the exciting adventures little old ladies, Hilary and Elizabeth, go on while they still can. It starts off with Hilary standing near a curved dirt road looking disappointed as she waits for her friend to show up. She begins to think that she is no longer coming, but lo and behold, a smaller old lady comes huffing around the bend on her bicycle, she looks like she’s barely going to make it but slowly and surely reaches her friend and locks up her bike.

“Oh Elizabeth, do hurry! Or there won’t be any left by the time we get there,” says Hilary, slightly annoyed with the slow Elizabeth. This statement creates the story and curiosity the audience feels. What are they looking for? or What are they going to do?

The women begin walking up a hill through nature and we catch scenes of the trees around them and constantly hear bird sounds. There is a longer shot of a seagull flying above them, mixed with even more bird sounds, so the audience thinks (or at least I thought) that the women are going up the hill to see some birds. Throughout the film Hilary is seemingly annoyed with her dear friend Elizabeth, because Elizabeth is so slow, and our curiosity grows as we want to know what they need to hurry up for. The ending takes a twist, that I’m sure you will all love, and were not expecting!

I think that the reason this film works is because the concept of the story is so simple. These little old ladies need to make it up a hill to find something before it’s too late. Because it’s so simple, the story is told through the great acting of the two ladies, and through the mixture of nature shots  and shots with Hilary and Elizabeth. The only possible problem that I found with it, is that I think the bird chirping sounds were a little bit overdone, but they were overdone for a reason: to fool the audience. Because the ending is so great, I think the bird sounds can be forgiven.

Enjoy the film! Also I can’t wait for adventures like these when I’m a little old lady 😉

Paper Man (2009) 

Given that the main character in my short film is a fiction writer with serious reality issues, I watched an independent film called Paper Man, written and directed by Michele and Kieran Mulroney.

The plot and characters are very-well developed in this film. There are two main characters, Richard Dunn (Jeff Daniels), who has had an imaginary super hero friend named Captain Excellent (Ryan Renolds) for forty years, and Abby (Emma Stone), a teenager who lost her twin in a dual-suicide attempt at age 8 (Abby states that her sister and her made a pact to swim out to the ocean together, but she chickened out and swam back to shore; her sister Amy drowned. Abby mentions that she doesn’t even remember why they were so unhappy and why it wasn’t something that they could just get over.) Her only friend is a boy of the same age named Christopher, who is madly in love with her. There are very in depth subplots and as the audience one doesn’t understand what Richard, a child-less man in his mid-thirties with marriage problems has in common with a teenage girl with unresolved psychological issues.

There is a particular turning point in the film, a major twist in plot that I chose to concentrate on. Abby reveals the secret no one except Christopher and her knew; Amy committed suicide. Abby and Richard are asleep when Captain Excellent and Christopher enter and meet for the first time in the living room. Until this point, Christopher has been portrayed as a creepy stalker friend who is in love with Abby. However, in this scene he reveals himself to Cpt. E as Abby’s imaginary friend who has been with her since the death of her sister.

The room was barely lit by a few floor lamps, so the fall off speed of light was high and there were shadows cast onto the characters faces. I was drawn to how the imaginary characters were shown as potentially menacing before their stories were revealed. The sound track had a child-like lullaby playing with a music box; while wind chimes and ocean waves layered in the background created an eerie tone. The camera was shooting from a low angle, so the characters appeared to tower over the sleeping pair, Abby and Richard, on the couch. Another favorite element throughout the film for me was the imaginary characters’ costumes. There is a juxtaposition illustrated best during this chosen scene. Cpt. E’s character is more imaginative, he’s an action hero (He is lit brighter than any other character. There is even a reverb on his voice and thunder rolls when he shakes hands with Christopher). He is tall, muscular, wears eyeliner, and his costume is bright red, blue and yellow, which resembles Superman’s costumes. Christopher, however wears all black, he is a small scrawny emo boy. I think this illustrates the difference in the Richard and Abby’s ages, and is a commentary on how today’s youth are different from ten to thirty years ago.

The link above will take you to the scene that I am referencing; enjoy.


Thank you YouTube

By Paul Sowards:

So I did not realize that this blog post was due the day we didn’t have class. As such I’m going to make up for it by doing two posts. The first is a lighting setup breakdown and the second is a cool trick one of you may like to try in your video.

Inglorious Basterds Red Dress Scene:

You only have to watch through the first 00:47. The uploader interspliced some footage from earlier in the movie, so disregard the quick shot of Ms. Laurent running in the field. We’re just concentrating on the Red Dress.

I’m going to start easiest first, with the extreme close-up from 00:07-00:14. She is backlight by a single lamp with no scrim, probably some sort of barndoor or flag(s) to control spill. The light on her face is almost certainly softened with a scrim or gobo, and almost certainly controlled with a snoot.

The next shot I will attempt to reverse engineer is shown from 00:00 to 00:07, and 00:20 to 00:29. I didn’t remember this as being so tricky but upon closer inspection it looks pretty precise. Ms. Laurent is lit from her left 45 degree angle above. What’s interesting is the highlight around the rim of the window. I am going to assume that this window was built on a set and that the street scene outside is cgi or more set. I only assume this because the light appears to be coming from outside the window. I don’t know any better so my guess is one light feathered about 50% towards the “inside” of the actress. To get the aforementioned window highlight it appears that the barn door or whatever was used to control the light is opened up towards camera right. Color temp of this light looks like a standard 3000k. the only reason I think this is a one light setup is because often when trying to figure out a unique lighting design it’s easier to explain highlights and fill in terms of two or more lights when it may just be clever bounce and control.

The last scene in this clip is the following close up where Ms. Laurent pulls down her vail. This is a low power light with a snoot and scrim. We have a hair light from behind, more powerful, no scrim. It also has a much bluer temp so maybe the first one was a 1/4 CTO. I think the fancier HMI lights let you vary the temp so who knows. There appears to be one more light for the backdrop, posing as ambient.

I would try to say something about how the lighting design in this scene works with the narrative of the movie but I’m having trouble making those connections. Something about high contrast and empowering the subject. Maybe I need to read more of the textbook.

Cool Color Balance Trick:

So we all know that our cameras can balance for whatever temp we want. If we aim our marker at a coffee lid it gets a good white to work with, and whatever color our ambient is becomes white. During our lighting demo someone asked if we were going to put the gel over the lens. You can do this but everything will be blue. And not in a good way.

But what if you put the gel over the lens, balance, and then remove the gel? Everything that was white will now be the opposite of blue, and everything that is blue will be white. Huh? This is because the camera is now balancing for what it thinks is white. Is this useful? Well…

Say you have a scene that involves both ambient and the Arri kit. Say this scene has an appreciable amount of ambient, like the sun coming in through a big window. Or maybe we’re on a deck. Or you’ve figured out how to power the kit outside. Whatever. Say you’ve been patient and waited until golden hour but the light is a little flat. Maybe it’s overcast, or maybe you’re lazy and are shooting at 2 pm. We have a couple ways to pump up our ambient. We can color grade in post but its tricky and now we’re essentially be guessing for the skin tones. You would think that’s easy, but it took Kodak 50 years to make “new” Portra. We can put the 1/4 CTO over the lens but now both our ambient and our subject are orange. Not very flattering, and too low contrast to look natural. If it was light through a window we could try to gel the window itself, but we need a lot of plastic and the result might not be very noticeable. So let’s go with the crazy option.

If we white balance with a blue gel in front of the lens, and then put the same gel on our lamp, the lamp is now “white.” or the sensor thinks so anyways. Which means the the light on the subject is white. The ambient, however, meaning the sulight and anything not covered by our Arri lamp, will be a crazy orange-red. Not blue, but the opposite. If you used an orange filter you would get purple skies, yellow would be magenta, green would be, uh, blue maybe? Either way it’s going to be the opposite of the filter, plus the natural blue of the skies. If you want to get real creative you could use two lights and not gel one of them. Or gel it a different color. I don’t even know what happens when you do this, probably academy awards. The neat thing about this trick is that it takes about ten seconds to accomplish and you get the effect perfectly in camera. I hope this isn’t too confusing.

Cliff notes: Put gel in front of camera. Aim amera at lamp. Preset balance. Put same gel on lamp. Aim lamp at subject. Note wild skies.

AmĂ©lie takes a scary ride and falls in love

This scene is from one of (almost) everyone’s favorite film, AmĂ©lie. This is the scene where she takes a ride into the haunted house (perfect since it’s October! hehe) and has her first intimate moment with the guy she is falling in love with. The lighting in this scene is crucial to setting the emotions AmĂ©lie is feeling, because although she is in the spooky haunted house you can tell that she begins to feel something for Nino.

To create this feeling the lighting is play between foggy greens and yellows lighting up the haunted house, and a soft and warm light for AmĂ©lie. The beginning shots must have used lights with green gels to light up the walls and create a fill light from above. The yellow lights among the walls light up the different layers of the walls, to show the space of the haunted house and show what types of lights a real haunted house would use. By coming from below they don’t interact with AmĂ©lie or create extra lighting on her. After she comes out of the fog she is lit from the front, probably by bounced light. The angle in which the light is bounced from changes as the angles are shot. When she is facing the camera the light comes from the front to light up her entire face, but the colors are still warm and very soft. Then when the camera is angled so you see the side of her face from the top (0:31) she is lit from the side as if the light is coming from the haunted house’s skeleton prop.

Overall I think the lighting is very beautiful in the entire film because it is very warm and rich without being  too overwhelming. It is very soft and that is what helps the audience warm up to Amélie, and believe in her innocence. This scene in particular is very well done because of how the lighting lays between creating the feeling of the spooky haunted house, and creating a warm moment between Amélie and Nino.

AmĂ©lie takes a scary ride and falls in love

This scene is from one of (almost) everyone’s favorite film, AmĂ©lie. This is the scene where she takes a ride into the haunted house (perfect since it’s October! hehe) and has her first intimate moment with the guy she is falling in love with. The lighting in this scene is crucial to setting the emotions AmĂ©lie is feeling, because although she is in the spooky haunted house you can tell that she begins to feel something