LIGHTING DIAGRAM #23 – THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO

            Happy New Year…!

            Jeff Daniels’ character Ted Baxter (a 1930’s movie star who has stepped off the screen and into real life) tries to explain himself to several other characters.  This scene takes place in an empty church.  Find it at the 00:45:17 mark on the DVD.

            This scene provides an example in which Willis mixed color temperature in a pretty radical way.

            On the right side of the set you’ll notice a bank of HMI’s, which are obviously daylight sources, balanced for 5600˚K.  Exactly opposite is a Mole Richardson 4K Baby Softlight (4K Ziplight), which is a tungsten unit balanced for 3200˚K.  All of the action takes place between these two sources, with some added foreground fill delivered by the 6K HMI’s that are bounced into the church’s rotunda – and a second tungsten unit (the 9-light, placed some 50′ away).

            I don’t recall any alarms going off in my head when we shot this scene; the blend of temperatures seemed reasonably neutral to the eye.  But you’d imagine that the use of an 85 filter would warm the tungsten-lit portions of the shot to an unacceptable level… and it didn’t.  Now here’s the interesting part: the tungsten and daylight printer lights are so closely related that I can’t imagine either one delivering the right balance onscreen.  I suspect some further manipulation was visited upon these numbers before the release.  Nonetheless, the result was quite pleasing.

            Willis also used a Tiffen Low Con #1 in front of the lens, a filter he didn’t usually call upon.  The effect of this filter is not to directly lower overall contrast.  Rather, it fogs the black and shadow areas by spreading light from the highlight areas; this degradation of the image creates the “appearance” of lower contrast.  When Purple Rose of Cairo was shot in 1984, effects such as this had to be baked into the negative at the moment of exposure.  Today, the amazing tools found in the DI suite allow us to make infinitely more refined adjustments to contrast and texture as part of a non-destructive workflow.

            Which is certainly not to say newer means better.  Track down this film and have a look.  It’s beautiful…

1.1.2021

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