Shooting a low budget feature is a challenging task … and it can be a bit crazy too! There is so much to be learned throughout the process of shooting a feature film – especially for young DPs. As a long time proponent of lighting education, I believe that a thorough understanding of lighting can have an enormous impact on nearly every facet of the production process – from story telling and mood to scheduling and budget.
His painterly approach to composition combined with fluid, immersive camerawork has made him a go-to DoP for a number of high profile directors like Bennett Miller, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Rupert Sanders, Matt Reeves, Scott Hicks and even Spike Jonze. But nearly two decades of work with director and frequent co-conspirator Garth Davis, dating all the way back to 2000 with his first film, the documentary P.I.N.S., has probably had the biggest impact on his career. The two have worked together on countless television spots, Lion, plus the upcoming feature Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara in the titular role alongside Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. Mary Magdalene is also Fraser’s second film using the ARRI ALEXA 65 system. He says that at this point, nearly two decades into their collaborative relationship, he and Davis share a visual language.
Often with lower budget productions there is little time for pre-production and prep, and certainly no time for camera tests. Pre-produciton meetings can help to answer so many important questions and camera tests can help the DP to determine lighting and camera looks for the main actors. I’m also a big fan of rehearsals for the actors with the director, but lower budget projects rarely allow for this valuable time. Without prep time, testing and rehearsals, most everyone on the production is relying on their experience and their skill sets. In my case for this film, I had one day of location scouting with the director and producer, and then I returned from teaching lighting classes in Asia 2 days before production began. We had a camera prep session in my dining room and we were off to the races! Crazy – right?!
Understanding how to light for multiple camera angles (master, med shots and close-ups) is one of the biggest assets to have when shooting a film. By lighting your master scenes with your close-ups in mind, very little adjustments are needed to the lighting once you move in for tighter work. In the bar scene of our film, I rigged a Chimera pancake lantern (500w tungsten bulb) over the main actor’s table, and then used several Arri L-7 LED Fresnels for accents and colored back lights. Once the lighting was set, the director could work almost any frame without needing to stop for lighting. The large pancake lantern put out a very natural light for a bar table and also helped to bring out Mike Colter’s darker skin tones on camera. I’ve been lighting this way for many years … It’s a great way to work and it helped to keep the production on schedule throughout the film.