The American Society of Cinematographers

Loyalty • Progress • Artistry
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Return to Table of Contents March 2015 Return to Table of Contents
Presidents Desk
The Affair
Power Rangers
Page 2
ASC Close-Up

Lighting the large interior posed its own challenges. Shooting in a historic building always means you have to respect the structure, and no rigging can be attached to the building itself. Also, we only had the actors for the long dialogue scene for one day, so we needed to be able to shoot quickly and in any direction. Building up large truss towers or the like was out of the question. I knew I wanted to have some sort of controlled soft toplight for the interrogation, and to play with the color contrast between the old-world warm-toned building and the futuristic glass cube inside it, so I turned to my key grip’s favorite weapon: the Max Menace Arm. Adding a custom 6-foot extension to the basic Max Menace, we attached a daylight-balanced Kino Flo Wall-O-Lite and were able to fly the skirted soft light 20 feet above the talent. The design of the Max Menace allows a single operator to easily crank the arm up or down, and it can support substantial weight (as noted on a chart affixed to the device).

For scenes set in this low-light environment, I decided to utilize Red’s new customizable OLPF modules and fitted our twin Dragon cameras with Red’s Low Light Optimized sensor filters. This option really comes into play when the mysterious Green Ranger, Tommy (Russ Bain), launches an attack on the guards and Rocky in an apparent attempt to free the Pink ranger. As if on cue, the lights in the building cut out and begin to flicker as the Green Ranger dispatches all the guards in short order with his gleaming futuristic sword, leaving just Rocky to deal with his former partner.

For the remainder of the film, I had all the available electricians hand-flicker individual Kino Flo ballasts, which were several 4-foot 4-bank Kinos set as edgelights and floor-level up-glows on the actors. The existing architectural lighting, which consisted mainly of dimmed-down beaver-board-mounted Par cans uplighting the arches in the balcony, remained unaltered.

Another key action set piece in Power/Rangers features the Black Ranger, Zach (Gichi Gamba), and is recounted by Rocky in voiceover. In the sequence, we see the Black Ranger’s adrenaline-fueled exploits after the ranger unit has been disbanded. As Zach sinks into a downward spiral of hookers and drugs, Rocky explains, he eventually takes on mercenary missions for the rangers’ old enemy, the Machine Empire. One of these missions constitutes the blood-splattered action scene in the middle of the film. The sequence begins with Zach jumping out of a military cargo plane and crashing through the roof of a North Korean military compound, and then he unleashes a healthy dose of “Morphin’ Time” on the hapless Korean thugs.

The Korean-compound interior was shot at the Sun Chemical warehouses on the outskirts of downtown L.A. Because the location features dozens of glass skylights, we opted to shoot the entire fight scene at night in order to control the light coming in the windows. The interior space at Sun Chemical is very sparse. There are no actual lighting fixtures remaining in the building. My idea for the fight scene was to create some interesting shafts of warm sodium-vapor light coming in through the windows, ostensibly from towers outside. To augment that, I’d create a more industrial feel inside with rows of ND’d-down fluorescent fixtures fitted with cool-white bulbs.

To rig the warehouse space, I called upon Russell Griffith, who I knew had a storage container full of 8-foot fluorescent “shop lights.” To mount the rows of fluorescents, I first had the grip department hang four 60-foot lengths of pipe from various pick points in the ceiling; this created a common-level straight line from which we could drop chains to suspend the fluorescents, which were spaced about 1 foot apart. Next, several production assistants and I cut rolls of ND.9 gel into 6-inch sections, just wide enough to wrap cleanly around a fluorescent light bulb, and clear taped the ND to every bulb in the scene. We had to gel about 64 individual tubes to get the ambience down to the level I wanted. But without the ND, the room would have felt like a grocery store. Finally, the art department, led by production designer Brett Hess, brought in some old tungsten scoop lights that we hung in the middle of the room. After a prescribed amount of haze was added, individual shots were augmented with some floor-based Kinos, a Kino backlight mounted on the Max Menace Arm, and judicious use of bounce fill and negative flagging.

We shot a funeral scene under the 6th Street Bridge in downtown Los Angeles, a scene in Zach’s high-end apartment, and a scene in an alleyway showing Machine Empire robots searching for the elusive Green Ranger.

The alleyway was created between two of the warehouses at Sun Chemical. I asked the art department to build out a sort of shanty-town fence wall to narrow the corridor, and then the grips erected a 20’ x 20’ greenscreen at the end of the alley so Ingenuity Engine could add a CG set extension offering a glimpse of futuristic L.A., complete with flying cars.

To light the alley, I started with a 20-by Ultra Bounce spanning the two buildings overhead in the middle of the set. I bounced a Joker 800 with 1/2 CTB gel into that for an overall, slightly underexposed ambience. Next, the electricians raised an Arri M18 gelled with 1/2 CTB and 1/2 Plus Green mounted on a scissor lift from behind the greenscreen to provide a hard backlight for the alley. The art department dressed the set with a handful of china-hat “street lights” (we dimmed tungsten bulbs way down on dimmers), as well as a few spot fires in trashcans. As a sentry robot spots Tommy in the rubble, I had a walking 4’ x 5’ greenscreen hide me as I operated two handheld Xenon flashlights as though they were the robot’s “eyes.” (Video of the making of this scene is included in the behind-the-scenes featurette; see link below.)

Cinematographers occasionally take on passion projects that kindle our creative fires. Power/Rangers ticked off every box of technique, genre, tone and storytelling that I was eager to tackle, and the gamble was well worth it. Joseph and I are extremely proud of the film, and we are deeply indebted to our crew and vendors for accepting compensation that was nowhere near what their contributions were actually worth.

Click here to watch Power/Rangers.

Click here to watch the behind-the-scenes featurette.

Christopher Probst is the technical editor of American Cinematographer.

 

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