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Arri Alexa and Rosco LitePads Come Through for OnLive’s First National Spot

The project started out as a web-only teaser. When the client saw it they added another shoot day and turned it into a national spot. Here's why, and how.

By Art Adams | June 11, 2011

Director Eric Peltier's original script called for a series of mysterious shots set in a dark house lit only with a weird flickering light. The light is eventually revealed as coming from a TV that has turned itself on, and eventually the OnLive logo appears. The spot was meant as an online teaser to prime the pump for a more aggressive OnLive digital ad campaign. As we were working on a bit of a budget the director cast his own home, a beautiful old house in Berkeley, California, as the hero location. On the first shoot "day" we pre-lit during the afternoon and then shot until about 1am.

Gaffer Alan Steinheimer.

As camera assistant Paul Marbury built our Arri Alexa in the late afternoon, my gaffer, Alan Steinheimer, who had not yet worked with one, stopped by to take a look. The camera was aimed into the living room of the house, which was unlit but for skylight coming through a wall of windows on the far side of the room. The monitor showed significant detail both in the dark living room interior as well as the sunlit exterior. It was only due to fast action on my part that Alan's jaw narrowly missed hitting the floor with great force. "I've never seen a camera do that before," he said.

Director/editor Eric Peltier.

My primary concern at the beginning of the shoot day was to create a gel pack that felt like moonlight. Every HD camera camera responds to color in its own way, and often in multiple ways depending on the color matrix chosen, and I didn't have a sense of how the Alexa saw blue daylight when white balanced at 3200K. I tend to prefer moonlight that's more cyan than blue as some of the prettiest blues have a bit of green in them, and sometimes the addition of green adds a "silvery" quality to the light. We did some dusk color testing with the camera pointed at a white ceiling into which we aimed a 2k open-face tungsten light, which we then covered with 1/2 CTB to see how the tungsten-balanced Alexa responded.

The resulting blue cast was pretty subtle, so we doubled the 1/2 CTB gel and added 1/4 plus green to it. This got me a bit closer to what I'd been looking for but I felt the blue was still a little muted. Instead of adding more blue we doubled the plus green and got a rich, almost silvery moonlight that felt emotionally correct for the spot. That determined our moonlight formula, which became uncorrected HMI 5600K light with the addition of 1/2 plus green gel.

Both the Alexa and the Sony F35 handle blue with great subtlety, and that's a trait I greatly appreciate. In days of old certain cameras, Sony cameras in particular, were way too responsive to blue, to the point where anything with blue in it would simply turn blue. A cyan tie or a purple lampshade turned the same shade of bright blue. The release of the Sony F35 and F23 saw a much subtler handling of blue hues, where objects that contained blue no longer simply became blue, and Alexa does equally well in this area.

Director Eric and I line up a shot.

Our shooting plan was to start inside the house, just inside the front door, and gradually work our way into the living room, where the mysterious flickering TV set lay in wait. The character of the flicker was meant to be abrupt and harsh, and initially I toyed with the idea of using small tungsten lights on dimmers to create the flicker effect. Tungsten filaments take time to heat up and cool down, however, and I sensed the attack and decay weren't abrupt enough to sell an electronic effect. Tungsten lights flicker well enough to create convincing fire effects, but we needed something much, much sharper for a flickering television. It occurred to me that the best way to achieve this would be to hang a video projector over the TV and feed it from the same video source. The TV wasn't bright enough to illuminate a room on its own so the projector would push the video image deeper into the room in perfect sync with the TV.

Director Eric loved the idea and we acquired a video projector within the hour.

First, though, we did some shots in the vestibule just inside the front door, looking through some glass pane doors into the living room. As budgets have been somewhat reduced in the last year or two we've been adapting to methods and techniques that are more "budget friendly"; in this case we traded a dolly for a custom-made 4' slider built by local grip Todd Stoneman. By using wide angle lenses (primarily a Duclos 12-16mm T2.8 zoom) and putting something in the foreground of every shot we made excellent use of all four feet.

In this shot you can see hints of flickering projector light on the ceiling.

We lit the room primarily with a 4k HMI fresnel placed outside the living room windows. I think we also had a 1200w PAR outside the off-screen window on frame right. We used the fresnel for hard shadows that raked the living room furniture through some very nice multi-paned windows along one wall, while the PAR-which casts much less distinct shadows-merely contributed to the overall ambience. I think in this shot we had an additional small PAR aimed through another window at the sliding door.

As bright as the living room looks in this shot the only light placed inside the room was the video projector. This allowed us to use wide angle lenses without a lot of tweaking and relighting.

We shot a number of inserts around the inside of the living room--a couple of laptops sitting on a table, stereo headphones draped over the arm of a chair-but the one additional shot from this night that made it into the final :30 is that of a collection of toy robots:

In retrospect I probably could have defocused the projector a little to make the flicker more mysterious, but it's a pretty darned cool shot just the way it is. The robots are lit with a whisper of additional light from a single 3200K Kino Flo bulb taped to the edge of the shelf.

The rough cut containing these shots was so successful that the client asked us to return the following week with an actor to shoot additional footage, much of which replaced the most of the shots we captured on the first shoot day. With the exception of camera assistant Paul Marbury, who wasn't available and was ably replaced by Rod Williams, the original crew returned and we repeated our fairly simple lighting setup. This is where the fun REALLY begins. Turn the page...

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