When do you go on the dollies?
Charters: If we go on dollies, itís because weíre on the
11:1 [24-275mm T2.8 Primo] or the 3:1 zooms, at which point the
camera weighs 90 pounds and isnít feasible for handholding. Weíre
totally on fluid heads, and weíre able to shake it up pretty well.
There is always a bit of tension in the frame because itís never
still. Having shot one direction, we then turn around 180 degrees
to shoot one pass in the other direction. In the course of those
10 to 15 takes in each direction, weíll get 12 variants because
of the way itís handed off. We sometimes might need a complete
pass on an actor and not move from him. There is a lot of contribution
by all players in the field. Theyíre totally on their own and making
decisions all the time. Nobody has to wait around while I sit on
the camera to light. Weíd never get through the day if that happened.
Rather, Iíve begun using a digital still camera, a Canon 10D, extensively
on set while my gaffer, David St. Onge, and I are lighting.
How does that facilitate your lighting?
Charters: Iím using a meter less and less, because when
I set the 10D up at 1⁄50 of a second and at 2.8 at 400 ASA,
I know what Iím going to get in the lab in terms of contrast ratios,
which tend to be challenging with the African-American members
of the cast, Dennis Haysbert and D.B. Woodside. Theyíre a challenge
at times because we are often in fairly dark environments, [but]
Vision Expression has wonderful latitude in the shadows. Our dailies
look pretty flat, which is the way the digital still looks until
I put it in Adobe Photoshop and start running curves on it. With
that, I can immediately see our show, because we do the same thing
with gamma controls in the da Vinci at Level 3.
When we gamma-correct and shift things, the show takes on a whole
different visual tone. Senior colorist Larry Field, my timer, is
totally tuned in to what works for us. All of the magic happens
in the online timing to give the images an aggressive, rather grainy
look. I think the grain helps with the nature of our show. It can
be gritty, but when we need to have the glamour quality, richness
and detail, those are there on the negative, so Iím really glad
weíre on 35mm. I donít think we could do 24 in 24p [high-definition
video]. My biggest problem with that format would be the physically
aggressive nature of how we shoot and the restricted depth-of-field
control. We use the shifting depth of field as a key storytelling
tool. Fortunately, in prep, Stephen Hopkins was adamant about us
being on 35mm. 24 thrives on its filmic quality.
Is there anything youíre doing differently this season compared
to the previous two?
Charters: I think there has been a refinement over time
of the operatorsí ability to acquire the timing and the information
from the cast. Guy and Kiefer [Sutherland] have an amazing, organic
relationship in terms of timing. Kiefer is a very precise actor.
Heíll present you with a scenario for his physicality in the scene,
and after that, he wonít vary from it. Guy can precisely tag things
right when they happen. The operators never wait for something
to happen in our frame. They arrive just in time to show it to
you, and theyíre off it just as soon as it dies. Thatís something
that has to be learned.
It seems as though the handheld agitation has mellowed somewhat,
compared to your use of it in the first season.
Charters: We now have a different principal director, John
Cassar, and I think you may be right; there is a little less of
that. The first season had a lot of shock value, but now weíve
settled into a sort of uneasy quiet.
In terms of coverage and framing, do you have to take into
consideration the multiple paneling that is done during editing?
Charters: Weíve never been slaves to what the editors do.
They feel let down if they donít have a little collection of oddities
that would be discarded in normal edits. They love to try to box
them and make them work in a mysterious way. With Avid, itís very
easy to reposition the whole frame or a portion of it, and they
do blow into our frames sometimes.
How would you describe your approach to lighting interiors?
Charters: Itís predicated on the need to film in practical
locations. We even treat the sets as practical locations. We have
a brilliant production designer in Joseph Hodges, and because he
designs in a 3-D program, he can do an accurate render of how his
built-in lighting will work. His set dressings will light situations
in ways that maintain believability. There are existing practicals
all over the place, and we use those to formulate the way weíre
lighting. In the CTU set, David and I light with both hard and
soft sources. High in the grid are a collection of theatrical Source
Fours, which punch up the practicals that hang down and create
pools of light for the actors to walk through. At operations desks,
actors are lit by computer screens and by small Ikea desk lamps
that are positioned all over the place, and we source off those.
We are hot on small, illuminated 35mm slide viewers and a new LED
unit made by Panel Lite. We use drop-down bars for our close work,
using XL Chimeras with honeycomb grids, because weíre always doing
at least a 180-degree pan at some point in the shot.
In reality, you have to light an overall environment.
Charters: Yeah, basically. I donít know what itís like
to shoot a master and then cut and relight a close-up. [Laughs.]
Occasionally things get a little muddy, and Iím not always totally
thrilled with the lighting by any means, but the immediacy of being
able to cut between two simultaneously shot cameras at quite divergent
angles is compelling. There is an enormous amount of believability
when you see characters walk into that location and stop, and theyíre
still lit. I try to make that happen, but sometimes I canít, so
thereís a tradeoff; I negotiate, and weíll stop and fix the close-up.
Whatís important is that itís believable. What we do in the show
is not beyond the realm of what goes on every day in some part
of the world, so we want to treat it like that. If itís an office
environment, we want it to feel that way.
We have a good complement of Kino Flos. Our favorite light is
one my gaffer built for Chimeras several years ago. Itís a small
plate that has four 200-watt Pepper bulbs with switchers so, we
can use one to four bulbs. We use an XS Chimera with four different
grades of grids, which creates a nice, quality of soft light that
we can control when we change the grid. We can throw 20 or 30 feet
to give a nice soft pickup. In CTU, there are usually three to
four of those working in key points. The unhappy thing is that
theyíre not easily cut and shaped, but they do wrap beautifully
for the women. We also use a lot of Source Fours with patterns
in them and Source Fours with shutters to create sharper edges.
Do you track the actors with light, even when they cover long
distances during a take?
Charters: Iíve got the stage on a dimmer pack, but weíve
never brought things up and down as we move, because you generally
canít with two cameras. Even though it may work for A-camera, B-camera
will still be holding back, doing something else. We occasionally
need to be a little more careful with Dennis and follow him. The
trickiest moments are when he shares scenes with his Secret Service
guy, who is quite fair, and weíll often hide a 9-inch Kino Flo
on his desk. We usually suggest the source of that by bouncing
one of those Ikea lights harder into his papers. Iím always making
sure thereís a white letter on top!