· Day EXT


I’d prefer to shoot it over several days at the right time of day (assuming the weather stays the same each day). But that rarely happens. The best you can do is argue that things you can’t possibly manipulate with lighting and grip work (or camera angle) have to be shot at the correct time of day — you may be able to argue for certain shots to be done over two sunsets, for example. But if the scene is several pages long, there is generally no way to shoot it only near sunset, not with coverage. I had a long dialogue scene at sunset in "Astronaut Farmer" — we shot most of it on a porch in the shade so I could use some lights to create a setting sun effect. We then shot a reverse angle on their backs with the sunset in the background (we actually built a partial porch set for this shot in order to use a telephoto lens on the camera to get a big sunball in the background.) You can see our set-up here:

So it takes a lot of planning to do this sort of sequence but you need some help — it’s hard to create a sunset effect all day long if two people are standing in a wide-open space with no shade, for example.

I got the idea for the fake partial porch from watching "The Color Purple" when I realized that a shot of Celie sitting on a rocking chair on the porch in silhouette against a big sun ball would have required something longer than a 300mm lens, but the camera would therefore physically be somewhere inside the house to back up that far, since most porches are only 10’ wide or so. So they must have built the deck outside somewhere so they could back up the camera (not to mention, line it up with the setting sun.) Anyway, the lack of roof for our partial porch piece did not matter much in my case because the final shot was so silhouette. I’m putting some frames up to show you the sequence, not necessarily because it worked but because I can show you what I was dealing with. And while the real porch did point west, the house was in a valley surrounded by hills so the real sun was blocked by a hill well before sunset. So we built this partial set piece on a high hilltop to get a better view. But the bulk of the scene was shot on the real porch of the house, and in the morning to noon period when the sun was on the opposite side, so I could add my own sunlight effect on the shadowed side of the house. But I ran into a basic problem, that the porch was so open-ended that you saw the real landscape in the real sunlight in the background in the raking side angles. And the other problem I had was that originally I had a big 12-light tungsten MaxiBrute (or maybe a Dino) creating a realistic orange light on the porch from the right direction (dead-on at the actors)… but the actors found that they couldn’t stare into it, especially Virginia Madsen, who was very sensitive to bright lights in her eyes (one reason she was always shot in backlight outdoors, with almost no fill). So I ended up moving the frontal setting sun light behind her head as more of a backlight, and for Billy Bob Thornton’s close-ups, I softened the setting sun effect to make it more comfortable on his eyes. So the final effect was not as convincing as it could have been because the actors should have been staring into a bright orange light. Anyway, here’s some frames:
Real porch:
Fake porch on hilltop:
Now if this was a short dialogue sequence, I might have been able to shoot two raking shots near sunset with two opposing cameras and then gotten the silhouette shot at the end if I hurried up. But it was a long sequence so I knew I didn’t have that kind of time frame.

I did also shoot a magic hour dialogue scene in the movie that way though, the two raking angles in early magic hour and then the final silhouette wide shot at the very tail end of magic hour, because I needed more light for the close-ups than I did for the silhouette wide shot. But that scene was much shorter so I knew we could get it in a couple of takes.

There were two large soft reflectors on either side of the actors. I don't like to use lights for exteriors unless I really need to for matching. On 'Shawshank' we had some very dark days where I needed to bring up the faces a little but I did it mostly by bouncing the ambient light off large white reflectors of some kind, Gryphlons it would have been in those days or just polystyrene. I was shooting with a slowish stock so that exterior was probably shot at around 2.8 or 3.2.

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