A lot of my discipline as a photographer and videographer relies less on elaborate lighting set ups and more of learning how to improvise with what I have available in the moment. I went to a school with an underfunded Tv and Film program and we had outdated ARRI lighting kits without ballast or any of the fancy electrical equipment or generators available to a graduate of USC or AFI. My DSLR got better looking footage than the $10k cameras they supplied us with and was lighter and more mobile, allowing us to perform longer takes and have more kinetic action on location.
It frustrates me when people look down on someone with a 1080p DLSR or using natural light when they don’t even know how to use the environment to their advantage or even make an interesting frame with all their expensive equipment and 4K Cameras. It’s useful in certain situations yes, but I feel like the ability to get good results with almost nothing is a severely undervalued skill in photography and in the film and television industry.
It’s one of the reasons I enjoy shooting on location so much. Sometimes you can come up with a great looking shot in the moment just by seeing the way the light falls across someone’s face.
Okay, I just witnessed two media majors argue over Beauty and the Beast and it was glorious.
In our Mass Communications class, our teacher was telling us that Beauty and the Beast was once again a high-grossing movie for the previous week, and asked how many people had seen it. All of the girls’ hands, including mine, shot straight up and one girl sitting in front of me says it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. Another girl, sitting in the very front, responds with a nonchalant “I thought it was decent.”
“Wait, what did you say?”
“I said I thought it was decent.”
There’s a slight pause before the first girl says “Okay,” very stiffly.
There’s silence for five full seconds. Finally the second girl whirls around and says “Alright, listen. I used to be in Film Production, and…”
I don’t really remember what was said after that, mainly because I was laughing too much, but I do remember that the second girl brought up a few points that I acknowledged, and it ended at a kinda sorta stalemate.
Later, however, the topic of the PR at our Opera House came up, and our teacher asked that if we could do anything, what would we do to introduce opera to people who don’t know that much about it, and I whispered “Put an opera star character in a high-grossing film,” and one person turned around and grinned at me and it felt awesome.
The setting is deep in the “backyard” of a ranch location out in the motherfucking nowhere land of the hill country. It’s about as Texas as you can imagine. Prickly plants. Cows. Confederate flags. Dudes with guns. Dirt roads. Bad cell reception. Terrible studded designer jeans bought at the dollar store. This “backyard” is a 20 minute van drive from basecamp, which is at the main house next door. Walkies barely reach. Cellphones are in and out. The quickest way through was in a land rover through a very dangerous path through the woods.
The set itself is a beautiful dreamy little pond buried in clay cliffs decorated with cedar trees. The sun creates a golden glow at certain points in the day. Perfect for the camera. The rest of us, however…
At first, no bathrooms except back at basecamp (20 minutes from set) (they later got portas delievered).Food on the set, like crafty, was difficult because the fields near the pond were infested with bees. Like, actually infested. Not an understatement. Figuring out where to eat lunch everyday was a misery. If an emergency happened, we were in the middle of nowhere. Basecamp could barely hear us and there were only two vans making trips so if you didn’t get on the van, it could be 40 minutes until you’re back on set. Not only that, the neighbors were weird about the road the worktrucks were parked on and one guy got in our faces with a video camera threatening us.
As a result, this beautiful set cost us a LOT of shots. Like a LOT.
One more example. Dallas, 2016. The set is in a beautiful floor to ceiling plate glass 6th floor high rise, overpriced apartment in uptown. Full cinematic views of downtown Dallas. Tenants of the building did not want us there. The building restricted our abilities to get equipment in quickly by eliminating the elevators we could use and the entrances we could use. Loading was too steep for the trucks so they had to park in an alley nearby. We had constant supervision and constant complaints, including yet another guy threatening us (this time physically). We couldn’t talk normally in the halls, we couldn’t park near the building, and we had to lay down layout board on carpets designed for high density traffic and heavy loads. Again lost a lot of time and shots didn’t work.
When we plan production, we spend a lot of time on blocking and the script and what camera to use and lighting and casting. We discuss costume design and what crew to bring in. But we often skip one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process: seriously weighing the pros and cons of our locations. On indie films, our budgets are limited and we try to have producers or directors do the jobs of production managers and location managers. This is not good. Directors & producers should not be in charge of locations.
ONCE MORE FOR THE KIDS IN THE BACK:
DIRECTORS & PRODUCERS SHOULD NOT BE IN CHARGE OF LOCATIONS.