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    Lighting a dining room in a mansion
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    I'm in pre-production for a no-budget short black comedy I'm going to shoot in mid to late August. It's set in a secret restaurant that serves human meat. Everyone but the protagonist acts completely normal about it.

    I managed to get permission to film in a mansion for three days, six hours each, and the main day scene will be in the first floor dining room, shown in the attached picture:

    dining_room.jpg

    I want the room to seem opulent, but not particularly moody. That's reserved for the kitchen scene. Here's a reference pic that shows what I'd be happy with:

    reference.jpg

    3 will be seated mostly along the left, with the hostess appearing on the right, in front of those glass double doors that lead to the solarium, and I'm shooting from various angles. The protagonist will be standing when returning to the table for one shot, seeing his. We don't have free reign to put up tape or cat poles, etc, and we need to completely clear out our equipment each day.

    I'd like to confirm what I'm doing makes sense and get advice on anything I can do which might result in a better product and/or make life easier.

    There's light spill all over, but I'm able to block out most of the ambient light. I can close the thick window curtains. I can tape duvetyne behind the glass doors, but it's cheaper and maybe quicker to set up my large photo background frame with a black sheet over it in the solarium (rather than messing with a ladder, as the doors are 10 ft/3.3m high). I'm thinking, throughout the three days, I can try to get whatever wider shots I need (including the window and the glass doors) when the light is about right, and then otherwise angle it so it's just solid walls in the background, or tight and blurred. I thought about maybe hanging something that looks right on the photo background, or maybe even the green screen, but I figure I shouldn't rely on that looking right.

    I would have wanted to have the overhead light on, but I'm planning to have it off for simplicity's sake.

    For lighting, I have a Rayzr 7 300-Daylight (a pretty bright LED fresnel), a Lowel DV creator 1 3-light kit (with 3 tungstens: 750W broad light, 500W light, and a 200W light), and a lot of 20x24" rosco color correction/effect gels. When everything is closed up, I was planning to bounce the LED set to wide beam off a white board. Then use color correction gels over the tungstens coming from the solarium and from the other side, although I'll have to soften those too. I'm wondering what are some go-to strategies for softening lights are that maybe I'm not considering. All are dimmable. I'd be nervous about using all four lights. I'm not sure if I'll have access to a breaker box.

    I'm shooting on a Sony a7sii and have 24mm,35mm, and 90mm lenses. I'll probably be using the EC1 Beholder gimbal stabilizer for some shots. I'm planning to crowdfund and spend up to $2k on this film, but cast and crew are working for free, and I own my equipment.

    My cinematographer and I, and a small crew including an experienced grip and a sound guy, have some experience, but I'm sure it's going to be tricky, and I probably won't have much opportunity if at all to experiment beforehand. Any advice is appreciated, and I'll add another picture, or an overhead diagram later if you guys think it'd help.


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    I think your challenge is blocking.

    These locations eat light.

    If you are keeping the windows out of shot (or it is night) then all should be good.

    Shooting against those windows.. well your recce shot demonstrates the problem.

    --

    I was on the set of Sense and Sensibility.. they built full black boxes tents outside with large HMIs in them to control the light.

    --

    If you keep the windows out of shot then a regular setup, a lights (a razyr) though some diff should do the trick as the key (in the getty pic it is 'downhill of the talent', cheat it in for the CUs, the light coming in the windows may help too (you may have to control it with diff/showercurtain/muslin if you fully block it you may find the location too dark for your package.)

    Sprinkle the tungstens about for mood and put that chanalier on if the scene needs it

    --

    The mirror is trouble too.. becuase you may see the crew and also need to light anything seen in the mirror.

    The back room must be controlled too - diff down the EXT and get your tungstens in there to give 'depth' ??

    S


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    You could get some 5w bulbs in the overhead


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    Thanks Morgan! A bunch of useful tips.

    I was planning on having the window in one shot, just at the right time at dusk. I'm thinking I can also time 2 other shots around then to show the backroom, so I don't have to hide it all the time.

    Replacing bulbs in the overhead light fixture is definitely not going to be allowed, although I think it is on a dimmer. Wouldn't using it as a light source screw up my color grading? I like the idea, as long as it doesn't make noise, of having it on just for ambiance though.

    I was planning on having my 10x12 foot black photo background on a frame setup for blocking the back room (behind the glass doors). I'm a little nervous about light coming in from other entrances too, so I was just planning on closing the doors.

    That's an interesting point about not having enough light. The Rayzr is fairly powerful, and if I diffuse rather than bounce it, I think it might be enough, plus the a7sii does pretty well with low light also, so I think it should be okay. But I certainly can leverage the window light while it's available, so I can plan the wider shots, or those that show the back half of the dining room, during the day. Interesting.

    Will have to definitely do overheads to get a feel for how to avoid the mirror. Great tip on "depth" in the backroom. I'll think about what I can do there, thanks.


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    While not a lighting answer, I will add... Be sure to record plenty of clean room tone everywhere you are going to shoot sound.

    Also I would imagine you will not be allowed to shut off noise makers like the refrigerator and such. So be sure to record those to provide a noise reduction profile for post removal.

    I shoot in places like this all the time, and I would hate to see you get hosed come edit time after all your hard work.

    All the best!

    Dave


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    Your biggest challenge will be the 6 hours at a time schedule. I assume that means that you will have to take down any gear each day. That means you have to do minimal setup/teardown of equipment or you won't have time to shoot. Consider using some simple large paper lanterns on C-stands with arms. Load them with daylight or tungsten sources. I've seen people use LED ribbon lights wrapped around the center post as a low weight & low power light source, but the old school solution was to use photoflood bulbs. The lanterns will raise your ambient levels and if you can position them close enough to talent (like almost over the table) then the natural dropoff of the light plus the dark surfaces will create some natural contrast in the illumination. You can then use your Rayzr to do edge lighting or as a directional source. This is the fast way to go, because setup is minimal and repositioning quick.
    Mitch Gross
    NYC


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    It looks good the way it is. You've got that beautiful diffuse light from the window and some from the other room. If that stays relatively even through the day, I would use it, placing the camera on the window side. Open up those drapes and you have a nice soft 6x6 light source (assuming the sun doesn't shine directly in which it looks like it does not). I'm thinking you will have achieved most of what you are trying to do in your example with the light you already have. The shot you have shooting towards the window fails, but I'll bet it will look nice shooting from either side or from the window, especially if the room bounce fills their faces on the shadow side. If you want to shoot towards the window, your complicating things significantly. Leave that as the 4th wall.

    You may want to supplement the daylight with something, but I'd have to be there to make suggestions.

    I was discussing lighting with a friend in a coffee shop yesterday and we laughed about how great the light looked and how much effort it would be to reproduce in a studio. You may already have most of what you need.


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    Just for more detail, here's a view of the other side of the dining room that I found... I estimate it's about 18 feet long by 12 feet wide by 12 feet high.

    dining room.jpg

    Mitch Gross: Yeah, I agree that's the worst part. If I had time to play around, I might not have thought to ask people here for advice. But instead, I'm planning to feed the crew in the parking lot and have all the equipment ready to go, and I changed the script a bit to be able to film more outside. I'm also planning to recruit a couple more PAs and have overheads with a workable plan for all the shots. I'm nervous about it still, but I'm pretty diligent with planning when I'm nervous. I have a C stand with an arm and this would probably be an excuse to get another. I do like the idea of a lightweight thing craned overhead, and it's easy enough to find motivation for... I think I need to really figure out my angles. I think I can do most of the medium shots avoiding doors and stuff, but there are a few that are going to be hard to avoid. I do have three days in there though, and if I'm just trying to match the natural light, then it might be easy to just film with mostly natural light, the way Paul F is suggesting, and rely on the Rayzr and lanterns for everything else. What wattage of photo bulbs would you recommend? If I'm estimating the space to be around 18 long x 12 wide x 12 high?

    David W. Jones: Definitely. I think I might actually be able to shut off the fridge, and there's a fountain behind those glass doors I'm definitely shutting off. But definitely will get some room tone anyway. Last shoot I didn't pay enough attention to sound and I got scolded by the sound editor, so I'm planning to get my act together.

    Paul F:

    It does look good the way it is, I agree, but my three shoot days are 5pm to 11pm and sunset is going to be ... 7:47pm. So I think I need to do it the hard way. I was hoping that the Rayzr 7 would have a chance at lighting most of the room. I do want to film the window once, but I figure I can just wait for the sun to be dim enough then shoot it once. I really wish I could do it the easy way :/


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    Photofloods are tungsten 3400K and your natural light is daylight, around 5600K. So you should try to get some LED ribbons or highly corrected compact flourescents to stick inside the lanterns. Get REALLY bright ones, the highest you can find. In a photoflood I would go for 250w and 500w. Try to find similar output equivalent daylight bulbs.
    Mitch Gross
    NYC


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    Im not feeling what Mitch says.. or rather using the razyr - your most powerful light for edge.

    Id get a 4.4 diff panel and your razyr and place it bythe window (not infront of it!) for the wides and pull it in really close for any CU shots. Id use your tungsten (maybe some with 1/2 ctb) to have as backlignts and to lift the room.

    Camera blocking.

    Im assuming a 'normal shotlist' wide, m-CU OTS.

    Id shoot the wide(s) from the window end - - the wide is the challenge - everything else is easy - basically from 45 degrees from that mirror

    you can shoot from that room over the three to your protaganist (also get everyone to dump crap in that second room) cheat the diffed razr closer and pong something on the wall we have not seen for depth

    and then do a reverse in to that room again some deptlights in there

    the window never gets in shot unless you cross the line.

    done


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