Red Dragon Commercial: A Multi-part series. / by Matt Mahoney

In this multi-part series I'm going to try something; I'm going to break down some shots from a commercial I shot recently and talk about the limitations we faced. I'll break down a scene per week and show you what I was able to do under the time, weather, and budget constraints that we all seem to face on every job. 


We were filming a large portion of this commercial in a house. 4 different scenes in one house. The house was beautiful, but with it came a small challenge: The square footage of the each room would make it a little difficult to shuffle in big lights & modifiers. This meant choosing a lighting package carefully. The budget didn't allow for a generator so what I planned to do was get the biggest lights we could run on house power and use them outside the house, giving more room inside for our actors, camera position, modifiers, etc.


The camera that was chosen for this job was the RED Dragon with Canon L series glass. The budget didn't allow for cine lenses. It was either spend the money on the cine primes, or a HMI lighting package. The spot called for a sunny day so I chose the lighting package. I ordered a 2 ton grip truck with 12x12's, 6x6's, 4x4's, an M18, 2 D12's, 2 575's, a kino 2x4, flags, nets, all kinds of good stuff to shape light.

The Scout:

Our first scene is supposed to be an early morning shot on a sunny outdoor patio where our actor/actress walks into frame,  picks up a laptop, and begins working on an app. It's always important to scout your locations before arriving there on shoot days. I always bring a camera with me and take reference photos. I bring a zoom lens with me and compose shots that I think will be a good starting point. I also send these to the director to see if we're on the same page. This is really helpful. Once I have my angles and compositions chosen, I work out what lighting I think I'll need based on the creative discussions I have with the director and/or the client. Here's my scout photo with our producer Yvonne sitting in for me. 

There's an awning that covers the entire area of the patio and the weather during the scout day was overcast. In the spot, this scene is supposed to be sunny so the awning here is going to affect how we achieve that look. Using my sunseeker app I could see that the sun would be coming in from the left side of the house early in the morning. There weren't any tall structures in the neighborhood that would be affecting the sun from hitting the patio. So I wanted to shoot this scene first thing in the morning so that we could get the sun low enough to act as our key light, and keep our ambient levels low enough so that we didn't blow out all of the white pillars, cushions, and concrete floor. With the sun as the key I wanted to hang a 12x12 silk to soften it, then shape the light with flags,bounce board. etc. As we would find out, the sun wouldn't even be an issue. 


When we arrived on the day it was overcast and drizzling. So the original lighting plan went out the window and I had to come up with a new plan. Instead of the 12x12 silk on camera left I put up a 12x12 solid in the same place to get some negative fill. This gave me the opportunity to put some contrast back into the scene. To get that contrast back I put up an M18 and fired it full power through 1/2 Straw into a 6x6 ultra bounce back onto our actress. Now that we had our contrast back, I moved in a 4x4 bounce board to fill in the right side of her face. The goal being to mimic that soft morning sunlight. 

I moved the camera to get in front of the actress and hide the rainy driveway that would have been visible if I stuck to the angle in the scout photo. The door to the house was painted black and just ate light. So we opened it slightly to get that sheen on it so the panel texture of the door played instead of the whole door being a black hole in the upper right corner of the frame. We rearranged the furniture to put some depth back into the shot and ended up with a pretty nice result. Here are a couple of frame grabs:

Our actress in between takes.

MCU shot. Here the bounce board is moved in closer to provide a closer key/fill ratio on her face.

Some of the depth is lost in these frame grabs. The shot was a dolly left to right with the foreground element being the back of a patio chair. 

For the close ups I just moved in the bounce board to fill in the shadow side of her face so the key/fill ratio was a bit more even. I wanted to get it between a stop and a stop and a third. Our actress looked great, we got a variety of shots for the director including some OTS shots that really set our schedule back due to technical difficulties (first days are always the toughest). After a slow start we had our first scene in the can. We moved out of the rain and indoors for the rest of the scenes. 

**Next up is a shot where we had a home bar double as a coffee shop.