An Ode to Night Shoots

I just spent my Saturday night shooting a short film for director Tyson Fitzgerald and his producer (and my good friend!) Sam Wasserman.  The film is called ‘The Bash’ and it takes place on the streets of Downtown LA in front of a movie theater and in an alley.

As I drove to work, I thought about how rewarding I find night work and how exciting it can be to walk in to work in the late afternoon and know it’s going to be a long night, but there’s a great possibility that we’ll shoot something that looks awesome.  Also, I get to hang out with a lot of friends on a night that I’m sure many of us won’t forget anytime soon, because the night shoots often seem more memorable than the ones we shoot during the day.  Driving in to work, I knew that the feeling of excitement would eventually turn to one of exhaustion and irritability, but I wondered how many other people on the crew get a sense of anticipation when they walk onto a night-shoot set.   Maybe it’s just me and I’m a masochist.

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As a DP on a night shoot, I get to re-invent the environment with lighting.  There’s a real magic to that.  Buildings glow.  There’s light and shadow and we have a lot of control.  The set can come alive in a way that’s very different than during the day.

On this particular shoot, we used a RED Epic and I had a great crew.  David Landreth was my 1st AC and Brandon Dolson did the DIT work, and they’re both good friends and reliable partners on set.  My friend’s brother, Darrin Stuckwisch came out as a 2nd AC\Camera Intern, and even though he’s new to film production, I appreciated his hard work and how quickly he picked things up.

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The alley shoot was tricky because we’re surrounded by tall buildings and it’s hard to hide lights and cable.  In our case, my gaffer Brandon Alperin and key grip Jason Webster worked wonders.  They got onto one roof with a scissor lift and hung a 10k and a 5k over the side of the roof with truss.  The generator was parked behind camera and up the street, so in order to not see the banded cable running to the deeper lights they had to run it up and over the roof, dropping down in the deep part of the alley so camera couldn’t see it.  We had 5K’s up-lighting fire escapes and streaming back toward the lens to create a glint of light.  Art department helped me hide a bunch of these lights by parking a car in the alley and having a bunch of trash and boxes on hand.

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Alperin suggested I try Lee #147 Apricot gel on our tungsten units in order to match the Sodium Vapor street light color and it was a surprisingly good match.  In fact, we attached a 2K Baby Junior on top of a street light with two Sodium Vapor lights already on it, and the color was indistinguishable.  I find I’m often learning new stuff from my crew.

It was a long night with a few stunts and fighting, but we did something like 35 setups and got it all done just before the sun came back up on the streets of Los Angeles.  Definitely a memorable evening and reinforces my love of night shoots, even after doing them for so long.

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About Graham Futerfas

I'm a professional Cinematographer working in Los Angeles.
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