DVP Weeks 7 & 8
Our task was to reproduce a scene from any film of our choosing. The focus was on the use of lighting and mise-en-scène. Our lecture covered a series of very useful tips and techniques that should be considered when lighting a set or location. We were shown examples of how light is used in films to create a certain atmosphere or to suggest implications about a character or place. Some of the more prominent examples were Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’; ‘The Night of the Hunter’ starring Robert Mitchum, and the German expressionist horror symphony, ‘Nosferatu’. All these movies are shot in black and white and therefore lend themselves to a strong use of chiaroscuro.
We were encouraged to interact with some film lights that had been brought into the lecture, so that we would become familiar with them. After being given examples of different angles and positions that the lights can be placed in to, we were shown how to illuminate a set, location or subject – back lighting, under lighting, three-point lighting, key light, fill light, edge light…
All these techniques are used to create a particular atmosphere, depending on the mood and setting of the scene.
Lighting is incredibly difficult to get right and it is a true skill to master.
The set design is also very important and must be considered carefully. The background in a shot can make or break a scene depending on its content. Mise-en-scène can be used to express a particular mood or atmosphere; it can add to the plausibility of certain scenarios and also represent themes or ideas that lie in the film’s subtext.
Alfred Hitchcock used both lighting and mise-en-scène to great effect in his films. Our group chose to recreate a scene from ‘Rear Window’, the 1954 film starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. In the process of imitating the scene, I was given a true appreciation for the art and skill that goes into lighting some of cinema’s most magnificent shots. Initially I felt like we might have bitten off more than we could chew, as the lighting in the actual film is absolutely amazing – especially in the sequence our group had chosen to imitate. For those familiar with the film, you will recall the scene towards the end of the picture, in which the villain discovers the nosey hero and makes a bee-line to his apartment to confront him. Alone and wheelchair bound, the protagonist can do nothing but await the antagonist and attempt to delay his attack by blinding him with flash bulbs.
The set design and verisimilitude of the interiors are excellent in ‘Rear Window’. We used a spare lecture room and shot the sequence over two sessions, each lasting approximately three hours. This does not include the time spent in the logistics of moving equipment and props to the location. We were lucky enough to be able to borrow a wheelchair from a local supermarket and added some special effects in ‘Final Cut Pro’, in an attempt to emulate the dazzled point of view shot seen through the antagonist’s perspective after being temporarily blinded by the camera flash. It was good fun and we gained a lot from it. Although the finished result is far from perfect, I feel we did well with the time given to produce and it was certainly a valuable learning experience. I would do a lot of things differently if attempting it again. It would, for example, be good to go back and dub the audio track to gain more clarity in the dialogue and to cut out the annoying background hums and buzzing. The lighting and mise-en-scène in our version is an amateurish tribute to the essence of Hitchcock’s classic. We used desk lamps with acetate for certain low lighting; cardboard perforated with a tiny hole to act as a pin light, we also used the big set lights to recreate the flash effect. A few props were dotted around the room such as a baseball mit placed on top of the small book cabinet. On the windowsill are a pair of binoculars as well as a decoy crow as a salute to ‘Hitch’. We covered a photocopier with a dark throw and the white board with a blanket. We also placed a quilt over a table to make it look like a bed.
Here is the result of our work: