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How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting Night Scenes for ‘Inner Demons’

How I Shot That (LAFF Edition): Shooting Night Scenes for 'Inner Demons'

Chapin Hall was the cinematographer for Seth Grossman’s “Inner
Demons.” It was his first feature length film. He had previously worked on
multiple films as camera operator and digital imagining technician.

[Editor’s Note:
Indiewire reached out to filmmakers with films playing at the 20th LA
Film Festival (June 11-19) to ask them about how they shot their indie,
and what advice they had for other filmmakers. We’ll be posting their
responses throughout the run of the festival. Go HERE for the master
list.
]

What camera and
lens did you use?
For many reasons, the Red Scarlet was pretty much production’s choice
before I came on-board. In preproduction I did test the Ikonoskop A cam dll and
was very interested for the RAW output and small form factor as well as the
ability to shoot with lightweight zoom lenses. It unfortunately proved to be
too much of an unknown quantity for everyone involved and didn’t have a well
tested post workflow yet. So we ended up shooting on the Scarlet.

Seth Grossman, the director, and I felt strongly that we wanted to shoot the
film on zoom lenses, much the way our characters shooting a documentary-style
reality show would do. With the large Super 35mm sensor the lenses get larger
though, especially zooms with a large range of focal lengths. The compromise
was to shoot the whole film at 2K, cropping the sensor, on Super 16mm zoom
lenses made specifically for documentary shooting. We achieved a very
beautiful, unusual look from using old Canon zooms on the cropped sensor. The
ability to zoom from wide shot to close up in the same shot was both natural
for the film’s style and a boon in terms of time management.

What
was the most difficult shoot on your movie and how did you pull it off?
The
night work. We had a few big night scenes in unforgiving locations. We always
made the most of them by getting creative, simplifying, working toward
solutions that kept the momentum up and prioritizing director/actor time on
set.

The hardest night scene for me is a sequence about midway through the film
where several characters walk through quite a long section of dense dark woods
before arriving at a candle lit field with a big tree in it. The normal
solutions would be a large crew, big generators, aerial work platforms and
enormous lighting units. We had none of those things. We were a small film with
limited resources, even less time, and a tiny crew. The gaffer, CJ Baker, used
every single light available to us, hidden somewhere lighting little bits here
and there; behind a bush, backlighting some fog and grass, pointing up into
trees, you name it. Just enough to trick you into thinking you were seeing
something out in the darkness.

When it came to the big candle lit part of the scene, our fabulous art
department was able to dress as many cheap battery operated tea cables as the
could find into the set to give us a natural ambience.

The saving grace came from our director, Seth Grossman, who really pushed for
me to light the foreground and faces with on-camera lights. It was natural to
the characters, the setting and the scene. Combined with the little bits of
detail in the background, the sharp falloff of the camera light really adds to
the suspense and drama without looking too much like Blair Witch and other films
in the genre that use the same convention. It became a solution we used
extensively in other parts of the film.

What’s the one
thing you wish someone had told you BEFORE you started your movie?
Just make the time to get the B-roll and cutaways as
you go. It seems like a great idea to go back for it after on an insert day,
which is what we had to do, but it’s hard to re-find what you need, remember
how it fits into the film, etc. Once you lose the momentum of principal
photography, there are so many details and times of day and established set
dressing or whatever that prevent you from really getting it the way you would
want.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Bad sound is never a
style: as a cinematographer our job is making beautiful images but sometimes
that can get in the way of other parts of the film. The best lesson of shooting
a lot of documentaries is that the sound IS more important. Bad, shaky, grainy,
too dark video — that is a style. It can work for the film. But bad sound — it
just bad sound. It’s never stylish not to be able to hear what you need to
hear.

What advice do you
have for aspiring or first-time filmmakers?
Find the time to do it well even if it means
having less crew and equipment. It’s easy these days to be seduced by the new
hot camera or whatever else but the real substance of any film doesn’t depend
on the technology you use or how many lights you have. It all comes down to
telling a great story and having as much time as you can afford gives you the
breathing room to concentrate on what matters.

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