Welcome to what is the hopefully the first of many cinematography Tuesdays! I hope that by doing this weekly (or bi-weekly, or however often I get the time to), I’ll be able to keep a knowledge bank of how I’ve tackled shoots in the past, which will with any luck be useful and informative to y’all reading this.
So far, my plan is to choose a still from a recent shoot that I DP’d and explain the lighting, composition, movement and the way in which this all helped to tell the story. Let’s get to it.
Hannah Grace, ‘Mustang’
Back in April, I directed & DP’d a music video for the singer songwriter Hannah Grace, who recently signed to Gabrielle Aplin’s label: Never Fade Records. Hannah’s label had put a callout for submissions on Creative Commission, coming to the table with a somewhat ready-formed concept that revolved around rising star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (Sing Street). After listening to the track, it was immediately clear that Hannah was making a powerful statement — she’d just about had it with people telling her what to be and doing what was expected.
The pitch that I submitted consisted of a video illustrating the process of realisation, that you don’t have to be what anyone wants you to be. Our lead character enters into a colourless, dull world without contrast, and is then subjected to injections of colour, both in his outfit, but also the world around him. After an initial bout of timidness, he soon grasps the sense of freedom that comes hand in hand with going against the grain. As the song builds pace and emotion, our protagonist finds he is expressing himself more and more flamboyantly. As the final chorus breaks, everything that the song has been building to up to this point makes way for an explosion of colour, and it’s this final scene that I’ll be breaking down today.
The video thus far had followed a steady progression from being dull and lifeless, and I wanted this scene to be as far detached from that as possible, the complete opposite. Plenty of contrast, plenty of colour, lots of movement and emotion. It’s probably easiest if I break this down into two sections: ‘lighting’ and ‘composition and movement’.
The key light in this scene comes from a snooded 800w Redhead on a tall c-stand, positioned as high as we could in the room shooting a strong, focused beam onto the right of Ferdia’s face, creating pretty brutal contrast ratio. We also diffused the lamp at the barn doors before the snood, so that it was flattering on his skin. It softened the feel of the light, but still remained really directional as I didn’t want it to spill into the room which actually had white walls. If I had my way, I’d have moved the light source further away to minimise hot spots on his head. Alas, the room was as tall as it was. For this shot I actually didn’t use a fill as such, as I wanted to keep Ferdia’s contrast high and didn’t want to spill any light onto the wall behind him.
The hairlight/backlight I used was a 150w Dedo. This did a great job at cutting Ferdia out, injecting some spontaneous flare and illuminating the flakes of confetti falling around him. Lastly, I placed a blue-gelled Dedolight to the left of frame in line with Ferdia, as well as a red-gelled Dedo to the right of frame. Both of these lights were positioned on “fill” and had their barn doors wide open. This injected some much needed colour contrast in the scene, and I love the way the colours fall off towards the centre of the frame, really focussing your eye towards Ferdia.
Composition & Movement
The framing and camera movement of this shot really followed on a natural progression from earlier shots. The video began on an extreme wide and worked its way in to begin to highlight Ferdia’s emotive performance. This was the tightest that the framing would get, heavily focused on Ferdia’s facial expressions. Following the theme of being set free, the camera movement was no longer shackled by the constraints of formality, and moved freely, mirroring Ferdia’s dancing. In terms of the mise en scene, hair, makeup and outfit really give that funk party vibe. We went full Bowie/Prince for this reason, his outfit almost taking on a life of its own. This scene was a celebration of freedom, and so confetti seemed fitting and injected some ‘magic’ into the room.
I hope this breakdown was informative. I didn’t break down the camera rig as for me it was one of the less exciting rigs I’ve built for shoots and didn’t play a huge part in the look of the film. In future I definitely hope to go into more depth in this area, and heck, if you want to know and you’re really pissed off that I haven’t explained it, tell me!
Until next time,