Process shots, rear projection, blue screen, green screen, virtual\augmented reality, LED walls…
The history of cinematography is a chronicle of change; the ways with which to introduce a specific background or item within a shot are hardly exempt from that. With the current technology advancing at an insane pace, it’s easy to consider what you’ve employed up to now as old fashioned – even though it continues to do the job well.
But I must admit: I’ve never been the biggest fan of greenscreen work, especially for television presentation. I’ve photographed my share of it, and the aversion usually has to do with the quality of the compositing, regardless of what facility handles the material. The problems are generally less pronounced in poor man’s process done for a nighttime environment, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on today. It’s once again a very simple example of what you can do with very little. Minus the greenscreen, this effect is achievable by any student willing to try.
Poor man’s process is the name given to a method of shooting people inside moving vehicles without leaving the comfort of your soundstage. There are thousands of examples, but a good one can be found in The Godfather when Michael Corleone rides with the vicious Sollozzo and the police captain, McCluskey. The rise and fall of the lights combined with their gentle movement will fool you into thinking they’re actually on the road. The success of these shots is aided by the fact that the audience sees a few ‘headlights’ through the back window. There are no autos, no streetlamps or signals, no storefronts…nothing. If a view of some cityscape beyond the car’s interior was needed, a rear projection system – state of the art at the time – would had to have been called in.
In the clip below you’ll see a night scene shot inside a taxi as it rolls through the streets. The moving background was accomplished with pre-shot greenscreen plates that were superimposed after the live action photography of the two women. While shooting, all the actors and crew saw outside the car was a 20’x20′ frame of greenscreen material that was strategically placed for the lens.
Note the greenscreen’s distance from the car. The further you can keep it from your subject, the better off you’ll be. Reflected green light that hits the performers will create problems for the effects house that builds the matte. Exposure of the greenscreen is generally guided by their demands as well. As I recall, here was lit to the key level.
As for lighting the actresses, I established a base illumination at about three stops under key. By never dimming it lower than that, I was able to retain detail in the faces even if all the other units went dark at the same time. Every other lamp was free to dim up and down at will; a nice rhythm was found during rehearsals. It’s also good to give some life to the lamps. Each one was wired through a dimmer; the grip department assigned a few bodies to wave flags and nets across the beams as well.
As stated above, I have my reservations about greenscreen work but in this case it worked out nicely. And another salute to the fabulous principal photographer Cynthia Pusheck, ASC for doing such an amazing job on the rest of Good Girls Revolt!