“9+1” Production Journal: Days 4 & 5

Rigging master Chuto prepares a lift to provide our main lighting source for the scenes on location in the exercise club. 18K fresnel and 6K fresnel with warm sun color. Couldn’t have shot the scenes without this rig.

I keep reminding myself that shooting dramatic television is a marathon, not a sprint: it’s important to maintain perspective and understand that not every shot is going to be a masterpiece. On some days, delivering solid content to the editors and keeping the show on schedule are enough to qualify as success. But in the interest of growing from one’s mistakes, I’ll talk a bit about the difficulties we encountered today.

We shot multiple day interior scenes at an athletic club, both in the main training hall and in the dressing room. Generally speaking, gyms are difficult to make look good on camera, and gym dressing rooms are particularly challenging: they are usually small, windowless spaces with monotone palettes and low ceilings. It can be difficult to find interesting angles, the small space constrains camera movement, and lighting options are limited.

We ended day two with an unplanned night shoot: a dialog inside a car parked outside the gym. The potential was there for a great-looking scene, but miscommunication between myself and the director (and our general fatigue after two brutal days) led us to shoot dialog coverage that was less than it could have been. We were in our 15th hour, and this is a good example of how long days can corrode the creative process. The viewer doesn’t know or care what circumstances you shot it in—only the result is judged.

One thing I (re)learned today: if you want a dialog scene in a gym dressing room to look good, it’s best to build a set. If you absolutely must shoot on location, I would look for a large, old locker room, perhaps at an old university or military base, that has windows or high ceilings. The bigger and older the locker room, the better. You can always make a big room look smaller on camera, but it’s very difficult to shoot in small spaces. Windows would allow you to use haze (for a steam effect), and that could add a lot of texture to the imagery.

One thing I’m grateful for today: the director is finally starting to allow blocking rehearsals in our on-set practice. Doing a blocking rehearsal prior to lighting has been standard protocol on every professional shoot I’ve ever worked on, but on this shoot it’s been a challenge to get everyone on the same page. Blocking a scene allows you to do a quick run-through with actors so that everyone can see the movement and anticipate challenges. The actors then go through hair and makeup while we light the set. When you don’t block the scene first, chaos ensues because changing actor positions often requires new camera and lighting solutions. Block, light, rehearse, shoot: deviate from this protocol at your own peril.

In collaborative creative work there will always be some difficult days. But at the end of the week, the most important question is always the same: how can next week be better?

The view from Kostava Street: long hot showers after exhausting days at work, Abby’s loving smile. Onward.

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