Director: Karol Escobar
DIrector of Photography: Jordan T. Parrott
I shot this short at the very start of September. The shoot took place in Philadelphia so the pre production side was a bit hectic. But I had a chance to come down quite a few times before principal photography. My crew stayed strong during the 4 overnights and I couldn’t have done it without them; Justin Hawkins (1st AC), Dan Pennington (2nd AC), Ron Spatafore (Media), Omar Addassi (Gaffer), Jaime Nudd (Key Grip), Anthony Strube (BBE), Alberto T. Mojica (BBG), Dan Houirhan (Electric), and James Woodbury (Grip).
An 1800s period piece inspired by the irish folk tale of Jack O’ Lantern and poem written by D. Lee Brandt. It is a quick linear time frame of Jack (Ellis Walding) confronting the devil (Mike Douthwaite) and his ultimate sacrifice to save himself, only to be condemned to roam the Earth as the undead. The feel was one of a dark fairy tale / fantasy. The director, Karol Escobar, did an astonishing job of getting it all together and making it work. A lot of elements went into this production.
When Karol and I spoke about feels and color tones, she quickly gravitated me towards Pan’s Labyrinth and Sleepy Hollow. We re-watched both and knew that Pan’s Labyrinth was more of the right feel to this short. When it came to camera movements, I gathered ideas from that film and quickly supplemented my own directions with the composition. One thing Karol and I agreed upon right away is that we like our close ups close. I just had to make sure additional blocking and movement was covered in the wides or mediums.
The color tones are a very important aspect to this story. We had 3 distinctive locations that had to be separated. The outside graveyard scenes had to be motivated by candle flicker. However I didn’t want to warm up the faces too much. I like it to play at around 2800k. I also don’t like my blues to be HMI blue. For this project I needed the output out of my 4k so I kept it bare. However, my other tungsten units had a faint Mist Blue for our backgrounds. I wanted an element of separation between blues so back lights were often an Old Steel Blue.
Knowing that I had two big scenes that covered a large exterior; lighting choices could not be miscalculated. Omar and I discussed our lighting needs and made the right calls. We didn’t have time to flop any large units or even sub them out. I had to crank my ISO to 1600 for the wide exteriors. For the above frame grab, I had a 4k bouncing into Griff for the background. 5k punching in with Mist Blue for back edging the grave stones. I had bare bulbs scattered around the cemetery on flicker boxes and those helped my exposure in the backgrounds. For their Key light I had a bulb hidden under the tree and for this frame grab, the fire light of the lantern provided great light to separate them.
Anyone who has worked with me before knows that I hate most LEDs on the market currently. I stick to Tungsten and HMI units. I had Anthony build me a custom tungsten ring light on our last project together. I had him bring it knowing it would work perfectly for this short. The above shot is actually not using the ring light but is with bare bulbs. One constant fill in a half dome china ball and the flicker light is a frosted bare bulb. That is why you see two eye lights in the right side eye. The flickering bulb was only hitting the key side and the constant came over to fill in the other side.
For another scene, I had a reason to really warm on the skin tones as the whole scene takes place in a fire pit (designed by Karol and engineered by Mike Douthwaite). Two rings of fire satisfied my exposure needs so I used them as is for lighting the scene. For the devils light, I added an additional tungsten unit with 1/8 O into Muslin to heighten the flicker effect. The fire itself was giving me a F2 reading incident on the devil. The additional unit dimmed up at the end to provide an extra stop more. I kept all my key lights at around a 1.4/2 split; underexposing by 1/2 stop mostly. The above shot was all fire light. The ring of fire wrapped more around his left giving me that key side acting as an edge light. This scene had to be really warm to separate it from the following scene:
This scene was with our angel, Beverly Rivera, and it had to have a strong contrast to our fire scene. We went with a speciality blue gel overhead and kept the tungsten source punchy for the wide. I cut the smoke out to separate it as much as possible. The fire scene was a warm, chaotic atmosphere and this scene played cold but soothing. One scene lit from a low angle, the other from right above.
This shoot I used the Ziess CP2s which performed well. I shot the whole shoot wide open at a T2.1 and they were still razor sharp. Not my style for lenses thats for sure. I usually like shooting around a 2.8 but I know I didn’t have the lighting power for that extra stop for most the scenes. So I choose to maintain lighting quality oppose to F stop priority. I used a 1/8 Black Pro Mist for the whole show so it would ease up the sharpness a bit and that helped.
The church scene was a large set up as well. I had 3 steadicam shots that spanned the whole length of the church. The grab above is from an ending frame of a steadicam shot. I had three lights lined up over head so the actors would come in and out of overhead light. I had a 1.2 Par for each side window and a 1.8 for the center window pane. This shot starts outside the church and focuses on the ground. As we see our lead actor’s feet drag against the floor, we tilt up and enter the church as we follow him being dragged in. The HMIs were bare with no gels. The 1k Fresnels were overhead to the side on the balcony. These had some opal on the barn doors to give me some spread.
All too often, nowadays, I think cinematographers feel the need to go soft with their lighting. Yes I like soft. Yes I like my book lights. But I like my fresnels more then pars and harsh lighting is more risky and fun to play with. I generally went pretty hard on most of my setups in this piece. I actually tried to get ugly back lights going. Those back lights that creep around too much between a kicker and a back light that intrude too much on the fill side. The frame grab below actually had the back light on the same side as the key (and further back) but the key was very sidey and low. This is where Anthony’s ring light played. So you have this angle that hits the cheekbone mostly leaving the rest of the face in darkness; even the key side is dark. As long as I had the one little twinkle of an eye light, I was sold on the positioning for this shot.
This project exceeded my expectations. Thanks to my crew and Karol for making it happen, and trusting me. I’m excited to take this short into color correction and fine tune it just a touch more before it starts going out to festivals.