DP Shane Hurlbut, ASC On His Enthusiasm For Tech, Lighting and Education
Shane Hurlbut, ASC is a very focused man. After securing a degree in film and television from Emerson College in 1986, the cinematographer quickly found himself learning grip and electrical work on movies like Phantasm II and Teen Witch. Since then, he has expanded his portfolio to include lead camera on nearly twenty films, including blockbusters like Need For Speed and Terminator: Salvation. The latter he shot with director McG, who just worked with him again on a film called The Babysitter, which is in post production. Hurlbut also completed the drama Fathers and Daughters with director Gabrielle Muccino late last year. It will premiere domestically in theaters this July. The film stars Russell Crowe and Jane Fonda.
As of the time of this piece, the hardworking Hurlbut was answering these questions from Prague. He’s currently working on a film “under top secret wraps” that will include even more time shooting abroad in Beijing and Nice, France. Last year, he also shot television for the first time, shooting all six episodes of the first season for the AMC television series Into the Badlands. The series secured a massive third place in all-time ratings for a cable series show debut and has already been renewed for a second season.
“The story grabbed me from the first page of the script,” Hurlbut says excitedly about the show, “and working with the latest tools like the MōVI and the RED 6K Weapon gave me the chance to bring the story to life. I was able to light as if I were shooting on film, bringing out colors and elements that drove the story surrounding this damaged world in which our characters lived. Being able to roll into a location and work with low light levels using Chimera softboxes to shape reality put the image right where I wanted it.”He goes on to say that the show has been one of the most exciting things that he’s ever worked on, which is saying a lot for a guy who has tracked active duty Navy Seals through Cambodia.
As the youngest cinematographer ever to receive a nomination for his work on the 1998 television film The Rat Pack, Hurlbut has been a bright star in the organization since the age of 34. Despite his many successes, he says that his membership there is still a crowning achievement for him as a cinematographer. “It inspires me to give back to young filmmakers just as these same ASC members gave back to me as my career was starting out,” he says. “Cinematography wouldn’t be where it is today without the ASC being such an influential force. Every time I go to the clubhouse or to an event with the ASC, you see so much passion for filmmaking; the drive from all of these men and women who have dedicated their lives to storytelling at the highest level.”
“Cinematography wouldn’t be where it is today without the ASC being such an influential force. Every time I go to the clubhouse or to an event with the ASC, you see so much passion for filmmaking; the drive from all of these men and women who have dedicated their lives to storytelling at the highest level.”
The intimate form factor of the Canon DSLRs allowed the camera team to immerse themselves in the action, and some of the action sequences even included live ammunition.
As one of the early cinematographers to embrace the burgeoning technology of video-capable DSLRs, he’s also known for being on the technological forefront of filmmaking. Alongside Vincent Laforet and Alex Buono, he was one of the very first cinematographers to be awarded membership in Canon’s Explorer of Light program of celebrated image makers who have employed Canon technology in their work. In 2012, he was DP on Act of Valor, the only film to use a DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, as its primary capture device. Hurlbut and his team employed several of the EF mount cameras converted for Zeiss ZE and Panavision Primo lenses to follow the action as active duty Navy Seals acted out dangerous scenarios in a fictional narrative. The intimate form factor of the Canon DSLRs allowed the camera team to immerse themselves in the action, and some of the action sequences even included live ammunition.
Hurlbut finds himself on action films a lot. His approach to shooting obviously has to be nimble. “When I shot Act of Valor,” he explains, “we were told that we could only have 6-10 crew members in 75% of our shooting locations. I knew I had to find a camera system that the directors, producers and ACs could not only understand, but also shoot with. This was a unique film with active duty Navy SEALs starring in it. So I wanted the palette to be different, something you had not seen before, as well as moving a camera the way you had not seen it move before.”
“On Fathers and Daughters,” he continues, “I chose the Canon C500 because I wanted the look and tone of the movie to feel like it was through the eyes of an 8 year old girl. The color had to be alive, slightly surreal, drenched in golden tones of her memories of her dad. Certain cameras do this inherently, without much post manipulation. This is what I gravitate towards and why my tests are so in depth. I am trying to find the soul of the camera, what it does really well, then exploit its unique abilities.” For his work on Need For Speed, Hurlbut put together a nine-camera blind footage test before settling on solutions from Arri, Blackmagic, Canon and GoPro.
Hurlbut is almost as famous for his education work as he is for camerawork, as well. Since 2009, his website, www.HurlbutVisuals.com, has covered both the art and science behind Cinematography, from theories about where to place the camera to capture the scene to lens tests to understand what the characteristics of that lens will do to your image. He offers these as videos via his YouTube and Vimeo channels. Shane and Lydia’s latest creation is Shane’s Inner Circle, shanesinnercircle.com, a membership website that allows Shane to dive into incredible detail, bringing a Cinematography masterclass to the internet. He offers online instruction of how he walks through a set, from scouting locations, to building out a look to executing the scene of the script.
“I have been recording my tests for years, all the way back to my first work,” he explains, “but I never had the opportunity to share it until shooting Act of Valor, that is when everything changed. I was able to work with the production companies to set up tests and get copies of the footage to share with everyone online, giving the viewers an inside look at what is going on in my head when I look at an image.”
For someone so famous on the Internet, Hurlbut laughs as he says that his website began almost on accident. “I had just come back from an event where the Canon 5D Mark II was on display,” he says, “and I just couldn’t put the camera down. I was so intrigued by how Canon was able to capture such a powerful image in such a small body. I came home and all I could talk about was what you could do with the camera, where you could put it, how you could capture new angles and emotions in a story. It was over the dinner table one night where Lydia said to me, ‘You know, instead of just talking about it all the time, you should write this down and put it online in a website or something’.”
Hurlbut says they both shot out of their chairs and more or less started right then and there. “We never expected the response over the years and the collaboration that has come from the website,” he admits happily, “but it has been a very cool journey to connect with all of these people around the world looking for knowledge and education.” The website has been a labor of love for the two of them. Sharing knowledge is something that they are very passionate about, and similarly he considers his wife not only his muse but also his business partner.
The Inner Circle is not just about cinematography and storytelling. It is about leadership, motivating your crew, how to balance family and work, the whole package to having a long successful career as a visual artist.
“Her vision for this company was something I could not see in the beginning. Now it has grown into an educational powerhouse,” he says. “Shane’s Inner Circle is exactly what the title infers. You are Inside my intimate circle, all the secrets revealed, all the understanding of light, shadow, composition and emotion. When Lydia and I had this idea to create an educational resource that was more in depth and personal, we had no idea how strong our community would be and would grow. The Inner Circle is not just about cinematography and storytelling. It is about leadership, motivating your crew, how to balance family and work, the whole package to having a long successful career as a visual artist. I think that our Global Community is the future of learning.”
When asked if his approach to lighting has changed at all thanks to the incredible low light sensitivities being seen in modern camera sensors, he’s absolutely enthusiastic about how things have shifted in the world of lighting. “Yes, it is an amazing new world!” he says. “On Fathers and Daughters, I was using such minimal lighting to tell this story. It was so inspiring. To be able to turn a practical light on and have its light fall off perfectly in the room as well as lighting our actors. I shot a sequence in a bar, where I did not use one movie light, I used all the light elements within the bar. I used the Heineken green neon sign to key Amanda Seyfried, and then the Bud Light Neon to fill her shadow side, along with a beer refrigerator in the background that separated her out of the background! This is the future!”
“…I used the Heineken green neon sign to key Amanda Seyfried, and then the Bud Light Neon to fill her shadow side, along with a beer refrigerator in the background that separated her out of the background! This is the future!”
His absolute favorite location lighting solution is an 18K HMI Fresnel. “There is not much you cannot do with this baby!” he says. “For studio work, I find I use a lot of theatrical based fixtures. ETC (Electronic Theatre Controls) HPL-bulb Par Cans and Lekos are my go to units. The new Kino Flo Celebs have really changed the way I light with the digital sensors. Film had an inherent green layer in the blacks, which gave you wonderful separation even if you were only using one color of light. The digital sensors do not have this photochemical element, and they never will. So I use the Celebs to fill in the shadows with cold cyan tones which creates much more depth and dimension with digital sensors.”
He has a number of favorite Chimera lights, which he says that he deploys on every movie that he shoots. “My first go to Chimera source is the Pancake,” he smiles. “The most intelligent top light, key light ever made. With its lightweight nature and light control, it is rigged in every hallway and room that I lens. The Chimera Plus Softbank has been a staple for me since I was a gaffer. Its ability to contain the light without the use of several flags and C-stands… along with the honeycombs that control this super soft light. With these, you are able to paint with light exactly where you want your brush stroke to go.”
Our thanks to Shane for this incredibly insightful look at what goes into his work. Read more about what he’s doing on the hurlblog, and make sure to follow him on Facebook, Instagram, andTwitter!