Movie Scene Recreation - Filth- Part 1
If you haven’t checked out this 2013 Scottish dark comedy crime film, Filth, I recommend it. I didn’t always understand what was being said (that Scottish slang / lingo is no joke!), but I did enjoy the visuals by American cinematographer, Matthew Jensen and James McAvoy is on point.
One of the scenes that stuck out to me was the choking love scene pretty early on in the film. First, choking fetishes that are not part of a violent crime are rarely depicted in film so it was fascinating to see this portrayed. And the visuals were so wonderfully discordant what with the “hardness” of the fetish and the softness of the flower sheets and lighting. This scene is meant to take place during the day as he’s engaging in an affair while that woman’s husband is at work.
Anyhoo, this scene stuck out to me so when I wanted a movie scene to recreate, this one came to mind immediately. It also helps that this scene takes place in a home and 1 prop (a rope) that I had easy access to.
So why recreate a movie scene?
As a director of photography, my job is to bring the director’s vision to life be that for a commercial, a narrative film of any length or a music video. Often a director will have a moodboard or a reference film which is inspiring their vision. So it’s an important skill to be able to look at a photo or a film scene and be able to recreate the feel and mood of that reference image. It is IMPOSSIBLE to 100% duplicate a scene. You’ll never have the exact same combination of actor/talent, location, prop, gear, and time of day. So no need to worry about stealing someone’s idea. With that being said, the goal for me is to study the reference image and see if I can invoke the same mood and feel through composition, lighting and some set staging.
I like to study the photo just by itself instead of searching for behind the scenes photos to see how it was done. The things about this scene grab that stuck out are:
The light was a large, soft source that seems to be coming from one direction (stage right)
The light wraps around the talent’s face with no harsh shadows but also falls off the other side of his face (stage left side) to create depth
There is some light bouncing off the hardwood floor at the very top of the frame which creates
My light kit is bare bones as I’ve done a lot of work for corporate clients who tend to have their own equipment. I don’t need to see the behind the scenes photo to know that this film employed some serious lighting to light the scene. Since I do not own those large wattage lights, I had to make work what was in my arsenal which is:
Paper lantern lights from IKEA
Generic light bulbs
Savage LED lite panels
The room that I was able to use had a wall of 2 windows. I shot this in the later afternoon on an overcast day which I though would be perfect as a it’s a small room and when it’s super sunny the whole room is illuminated and it would be hard to get that fall off on the face as I do not own any flags. However, my first few attempts at using the window as part of the light source did not work out. Because it was overcast and later in the afternoon, the light coming through the window from outside wasn’t bright enough. It’s also a real small space on that side of the bed and I had a hard time getting light stands back there. After a few failed attempts at this angle, I decided to try the stage left side which is opposite from the scene grab. But hey, the goal is not identical duplication -it’s to recreate the mood and theme.
On the opposite side (stage left) I started with an LED panel covered with some DIY bubble wrap diffusion. This was a good start but it wasn’t bright enough. I needed more light. I then hung up 1 IKEA paper lantern and quickly moved to 2. Even though the paper lantern is a soft light source it is still possible to have harsh shadows- this is where light placement is key. Overhead and off to the side will produce a soft key light. As I needed my C-Stand for the camera, I used the ceiling fan to attach these lights to. It ended up being a perfect height away from the bed and the fan blades gave me control on moving the lights into a spot that was not so close to me. As I was the talent for this scene, I used my trusty, DIY smiley paper bag as a stand in for my face while adjusting the lighting. With the 2 paper lanterns up, the light was the right about of brightness, but there was no fall off into the shadows- it was an even luminosity. Light had to be taken away.
The first thing I did was to cover the windows. Although they were not strong enough to be the key light for this scene, they were still providing light. So I took a comforter and hung it up over the window and presto! The light on stage right definitely got less bright, however, it wasn’t enough. I needed to take away some more light while still needing the 2 paper lanterns + the 1 LED panel with DIY difffusion. So I made a DIY skirt. A skirt is a black fabric that you can put around lights / light sources to take away the spill of the light source to concentrate it on one area. As I do not own a skirt, I did the next best thing- towels! Using some clamps and bath towels, I made a makeshift skirt around the 2 paper lanterns. I would not recommend light colored towels for this- darker colors are best to help cut the light.
I also had on the 2 small desk lamps in the room on either side just in case. I do not believe that they really added anything but it helped in set up to have the lights on when I was constantly turning the set lights on and off. And they didn’t seem to hurt the overall scene so they were left on. Now that the light looked soft and had that fall off, it was onto the final tweaking of framing and mood.
A C-Stand is a large bulky metal stand with 3 legs that are really hard to hide. I really wanted to get some of the hardwood floor in the frame like they did in Filth but as the stand wouldn’t fit on the side of the bed near the window so I had to place it directly behind my head. And all the maneuvering I tried did nothing to hide the fact that there were stand legs in the shot. So I changed the framing a bit so that there was no hardwood background. I suspect the DP was just standing over James in this scene to get that birds eye view.
Now that the lighting and framing was all ready to go, it was show time! I had some rope in my car, you know, for car emergency stuff. So I chose the plain one that looked less cable-y and got to acting….which was the hardest part. I also did a variation on the pose just to see. Overall, I’m pleased with how these turned out given the circumstances.
Stay tuned for the next one!