Details, Details…


Actor Elizabeth Ho in character and in trouble.
Actor Elizabeth Ho in character and in trouble.

I spent another enjoyable hour on the set of Kilo today and found it just as interesting as on Sunday, perhaps a little more so due to the fact that the crew were filming an interior scene. Kilo had taken over the Homestead tavern for the day and somehow managed to cram sound, lighting and camera equipment and crews into the same cozy space as actors, directors, and the odd volunteer photographer.

Any fellow photographers reading this know that what we do is all about the light, and as someone who works almost exclusively with whatever light is available at a given moment, I was again amazed and impressed by the art and science of lighting a scene on a movie set to create a mood and contribute to the story. I’ve tried to show above how the scene looked on the monitor and thus what the Red video camera was recording, and I hope the Kilo crew members don’t cringe when they see this photograph. But on my monitor, it’s pretty close to how I remember it, and more to my point, quite different from what the naked eye saw unless, perhaps it was the cinematographer’s and directly behind the camera. From whatever angle I viewed the scene above, it never looked like it did on the monitor.

The lighting is an important element of the visual design and must be appropriate to elements of the story such as the plot and the current emotional states of the characters. In this scene, Officer Lee has lost a kilo of cocaine and is scrambling to replace it, fearful that her career is over, or worse, that she’s headed for prison. This is no scene for daisies and sunshine.

I happened to take the above photograph because at one point the cinematographer, Aaron, asked me to get a shot over his shoulder, a still of what his camera was seeing. I hopped up onto a bench and did the best I could while crouching behind three people, but I couldn’t get far enough to my left to avoid the black reflector you see in the upper right corner of the above photograph. That image is pretty close, though, to what the audience will see in this scene when viewing the film. Out of view of the camera was all the stuff shown below and quite a few people who at this moment were outside enjoying a little elbow room:

My camera shows much more from here than the Red does.
My camera shows much more from here than the Red does.

I had some insight today into one probable reason why big budget films sometimes build their own sets. Working in an actual bar, and having to fit into a limited space everything required to make a scene happen, is quite a challenge. When I arrived, I was standing against the far wall, which at that point was out of frame. But when the next scene came up, the camera moved to the position shown here, in the lower left of the image, and everything that had been stacked out of the way was suddenly in the way and had to be moved. It occurred to me that in movie time, it was probable that one scene would directly follow the other and that only a moment would elapse between one view and the next. The actors, though, have to pretend that the time it took to move the cameras, lights, extras, etc etc didn’t happen and deliver the first line of one scene as if no time had passed since the last line with the previous camera angle.

Somewhere in there is a sound engineer.
Somewhere in there is a sound engineer.

Another element of being on set that was different today was the importance of remaining silent. As this was an interior scene, the mics would pick up even small sounds, so I had to be careful not to shoot when the camera and sound were recording. The last thing I wanted was to embarrass myself and those who’d invited me by making some noise at the wrong time. It doesn’t sound like a big deal as I write about it now, removed from the situation. But at the time I was pretty nervous, due to the extraordinary efforts so many people had put into making the scene just right.

I’d parked in a 1-hour spot because it was the only nearby shade I could find and I had Charlie, my German Shepard in the truck. So I’d set my iPhone’s alarm to remind me when an hour had passed. Of course it went off during the penultimate take, nearly giving me a heart attack that my worst fear was about make me a film set pariah. Fortunately I’d turned the ringer off, so the phone just vibrated in my pocket. Whew!

Co-director/writer Phil Lorin and Elizabth Ho in rehearsal.
Co-director/writer Phil Lorin and Elizabth Ho in rehearsal.

One of the most interesting things I observed was a set of details I’d never considered before. In this scene she was speaking to her partner off screen as she ‘observed’ characters key to her scheme of replacing the missing kilo of cocaine. Director Phil Lorin helped her work out with her just where she was going to focus her attention off camera so she could be consistent when ‘looking’ at one character or another. She picked out objects in the room that would represent her different points of focus and memorized them.

As she ‘watched’ what they were doing, she focused on the predetermined objects to further the illusion that she was looking at actual people rather than at a wine glass, the middle clamp of a reflector stand, and a beer tap. I’m just making those up of course, I don’t know what she chose as her targets. But as she and the director were working them out, Lorin was looking at her on the monitor and saying, “Okay, looking at Juan, now at Kevin, now back at Juan…” As she tried out her spots, Lorin would say, “A little higher, a little more to the left, okay, good for Juan.” And once the director was happy, the actor memorized the spots so she could go to them consistently during the actual take.

This is just one example of the many details involved in making the action on screen believable. And again, I was amazed at how so many professionals worked in a confined space to make the entire project happen. I have no doubt that Kilo is going to be a fantastic film. Having seen some of the behind the scene magic will make it that much more enjoyable to watch.

If you missed it last time, check the official site here.