Movie Scene Recreation- Hail Cesar- Confession Booth Scene

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I don’t know where I first saw a confession booth, but it had to be in a movie, probably not one that was appropriate for a young girl under 10 to be watching. Anyhoo, as a youth I was raised in the Roman Catholic faith. I remember going to Sunday school being prepped for the Catholic sacrament, Holy Communion, which would prepare me to fully participate in mass and partake in the Eucharist. Before we could do that, me and a bunch of other nine year olds had to confess our sins to the priest which was a part of this sacramental preparation. I remember waiting in the main worship area of the church, hoping to go into a confessional booth- I found the idea of confessing face to face to be overwhelming. I mean what sins was I supposedly committing at 9?!?! After waiting what felt like forever, it was my time to go. I was so disappointed to see that I was going to be doing my mandatory confession face to face with the priest in a well lit room devoid of the solace and privacy of a confessional booth.

Since I was denied having that confessional booth experience when I was a Catholic, I find myself drawn to it from a filmmaking experience. There’s just something so intimate, secretive, and mysterious about them and to boot they make for great visuals. So when I came across this screen grab from the film Hail Caesar!, I had to give it a try.

I do not have access to any churches not that I think they’d be amenable to random filming in their house of worship, so it was the DIY route. One thing I love about my corner of Dallas is that people discard the most interesting things. Walking my dog around the neighborhood, I found a perfectly good grate that would serve as the confession booth screen. I did try to use just the grate on a C-stand in my living room aka the video studio, but it was a monumental fail. This set up would require an enclosure to block all the ambient light that was coming off my lights. It also would need a hard, small light source to create the shadows (like the sun does which is actually.. a small,hard light source) from the grate and not the larger soft light sources which are what my light kit entails. So it was onto creating an enclosure. One of the many things that I appreciate about my husband is that he seems to have whatever I need. I came to him with this confession booth idea and he came back with a very big box and a can of black paint.

I’ll be honest, I’m not too handy when it comes to prop construction. Thankfully, the hubs is! With his help we created this DIY confession booth. Now that the prop was created, it was all eyes on me to try to bring this scene to life using the gear and prop I have which is very different than the ones a big Hollywood production has. Anyhoo, the key to this scene is a hard, small light source. Have you ever noticed on a sunny day how the sun’s light creates some real interesting shadows on the sidewalk from fences and stuff? Well, that’s because the sun is hard light source and a small one- I know you’re thinking small?!? But yes, although the sun is large, it’s far, far away from the Earth so it is considered a small light source.

The Savage light kits that I have are a small light source (check!), but they are not a hard light source meaning that they do not have enough wattage to create the shadow from the grate. So it was using the OG itself, the sun, for the main light source by positioning this DIY confession booth close to the window where the sun was coming through. I also wanted to give another bump to the light so I added a small, hard LED light source inside the house next to the window source. One thing I immediately noticed was the size of the grate pattern. In Hail Caesar, the grate pattern is quite large whereas the my free one was very small. Since my grate had a small pattern it was difficult to see the pattern’s shadow on my talent’s shirt even with the hard light sources. So we real quick added some black electrical tape to create a large pattern and presto!

I’ll be honest and say that this was a really hard lighting set up. When I looked up who the DP was for Hail Caesar! and found out it was the master himself, Roger Deakins, it was no surprise I was having a hard time. Roger is a true painter of light in a scene. Studying the scene grab, the light appears to be coming from the hard light source outside of the confession booth grate and is at a distance so that it is lighting up the actor’s face as he turns towards the grate but then falls off. There may be the use of flags to cut down on light fall off near the light source itself and/or within the booth.

My recreation didn’t have nearly enough fall off on my talent so I tried using DIY flags of a hand towel and cereal box to create fall off as well as get additional light on the talent’s face. I found that the setting sun and the LED light did not provide the key light on the talent’s face that we see in the scene grab. So that is why I was supplementing with another light source focused in the booth.

In the end, I had a lot of fun making this scene and it was quite the challenge with the limited tools I had. There were so many variations of light that I couldn’t decide which one was my favorite. Which one do you like best?