At about ten to five in the afternoon I got the call to come right away to the Hilton Hotel in Beverley Hills to film a very influential person delivering a commercial message directly to camera. My producer and I were shopping at an outlet store a good hour away. Yes I know, shocking the shopping thing, but like always it was not just about pushing the red button and saying action. In-fact, I was not at all prepared for this important moment.
Here I was, about to shoot one of the world’s most iconic TV personalities and suddenly I found myself in uncharted waters, unprepared and with no idea what to expect. So we hit the road back to LA and while 93.1 Jack FM was blasting away, I was introduced to the script. The freeway that's actually never free of cars, was working in our favor for we were making good progress and in a short time we were back at our hotel. Packed at record speed and off we were. Word came quickly that the gaffer was stuck in traffic and in my head I started making plans how we were going to light this without him. Fortunately I had some simple lights with me that would have to do. One battery operated LED, ten small camping lights, some candle lights and one reflector. Surely nothing special, however it was then that I remembered that we still had a borrowed 40 year old Kino Flow in the back of our rented car. The light belonged to one of the talents we filmed the day before and somehow ended up in our car during the wrap. This thing really saved my fate.
It was a weird sinking feeling when I finally saw the shooting location. As a visual element it was not appealing to the eye to say the least, and with no sign of our lighting/gaffer I had to figure this one out by myself. These are the moments when you have to rely on your experience and pull an elephant out of a hat. Move one table. Then the chair to the corner. And you keep on going until all are out of the frame. Then slowly bring in only the bare minimum to put the puzzle together.
Part of the script was the topic of light. I knew that the only way was to basically fill the frame with light. But without my lighting guy this would be a challenge. The bed lamps had these funny shaped glass balls that I placed directly in front of the lens. It gave a cool ‘out of focus’ flare effect. I went a little over the top, but my options were deteriorating by the minute. Then suddenly the door opened and his entire entourage marched through the door. Time was up. Good evening Mr King. Honour to meet you.
The make-up artist made it just in time and bought me a few extra moments. While Larry King was reading his lines for the very first time and getting some powder in the face, I duck-taped the boom-pole onto the half open door that somehow was the perfect angle for my need. Sound check 123… ooo, I hate those type of sound checks. The levels are normally never the same than performing the actual script lines and experience told me to make the levels softer than his “123 sound check". Sir do you mind to please look at the camera so that I can check focus? Thank you. Camera rolling, sound checked, standing by ... And action....
His powerful voice filled the dodgy little hotel room... That mesmerizing strong voice that we all know so well from years of CNN Live talk show. By the way, I was right with the levels.
We were once accused of having the text too wordy but there was no time to change anything. Just keep on going, Sir. I was told that he will do one take only. One time, one angle, one frame size. Man, how can I even express the pressure during a situation like this. There are so many things that could go wrong. The list is endless. Sometimes one could simply just forget to press Record. It happens to the best cinematographers.
Once he swallowed a word and suddenly it gave me the slimmest hope that we could maybe do one more take. "Was that ooo right!!” Mr King announced. Not really a question, I thought and with a slight uncoolness in my voice I gently approached the unthinkable. Sir, that was fantastic thank you very much, however do you mind if we do it one more time. Would love to change to a 85mm. He surely had no idea or couldn’t care less what I was on about, however agreed to give one last strive towards perfection. And so he did it flawless the second time around and I even had time for some small creative lighting choices.
And that's it. We shook hands and suddenly he was gone. As if he was never there. Although there was some evidence that something was going down here. It looked like a bomb exploded in the little room. Not one bit of furniture was in the right place anymore. I was exhausted and felt like I just lost 6 months of my life. Then a knock on the door. The lighting guy arrived. Oo well, what to say to that..
- Always during shooting window, have your gear ready and batteries charged.
- Stay calm and rely on your experience.
- Use practical lighting and offer space in your car for the gaffer’s lights. You never know when it could come in handy.
- If your first light setup does not work, change it and change it fast... And then stick to your decisions and make it work.
- Don't be afraid to ask... They can only say no.. But if they say yes it just might help you to secure that next amazing job.
- Lastly, there is no such thing as a normal shooting day. Things change unexpectedly all the time and you need to be able to adapt and be flexible for change.
Normal - it's a function on a washing machine - nothing more.