Recently, I offered to help a friend with a short film. We shot in a children’s park that was just a slab of concrete with jungle gyms and only one tree, which ended up working out for us because it meant no branches casting shadows. While that saved some shadow problems it didn’t eliminate all and we immediately ran into a couple problems in terms of production.
First, one of our lead actors was sick from food poisoning. Since there were only three actors and no extras the director had to step up and play the part himself. This was something we did right. We knew right away that the lead actor wasn’t going to be able to make it and adjusted. But then I found out that he was the only one in contact with the supporting player the script revolved around. Not a problem, the guy might have been ill, but he was responding to our calls.
We’d started filming at 8 a.m., the script was only three and a half pages so we were planning to be finished by noon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any flags or silks, but the director didn’t mind. He liked the harsh shadows we were getting on the actors’ faces. Partly I think that was due to the fact that time constraints meant we had to shoot that day with no chance of reshoots so he was doing his best to take it all in stride.
By 11:30 we had everything in the can except for the conversation that required the third character and the shots from part of the conversation that required her in the background. I asked the director to figure out where she was and we all decided to take five and have a snack while he found out. When he got off the phone and told us that she wouldn’t be there till two is really when I should have spoken up. The sunlight was going to change completely. He asked if we would all mind waiting till then and we said sure. I didn’t think about what was going to happen to the light, which was my big mistake.
Two and a half hours pass of us sitting in a children’s park and we get a call telling us that she actually isn’t coming at all. The time is now 2.pm. the lighting is drastically different from when we started and the space has changed significantly. The children’s park is now populated by, well, children. Unfortunately, we needed to finish shooting and scheduling conflicts meant we had to shoot it all then. So we did. And if you pay attention during the edit you’ll notice the changes of lighting on the actors face from the first half of the conversation to the second. You’ll also notice the surprising addition of a multitude of extras in the background all playing on a jungle gym.
I wish I had spoken up and suggested shooting a version of the short film without her right at 11:30 when we were on a roll. It would have given the director the option if she did show up to shoot it over and if she didn’t then well we would have had the same lighting throughout. I also wish that I’d had the tools I needed to really shape the light. So the next time you’re on a set as DP remember to always be thinking. Don’t let yourself get too comfortable and definitely remember to keep everyone informed that the sun moves.