On the challenges of shooting on-location with variable lighting and large casts
And that’s a wrap! Thus concludes the first episode of the Night Zero serial comic series, “Ashes”, and soon will begin the second episode, “Quarantine”. Although part two won’t begin until January 19th, stick around because nightzero.com will still be getting it’s thrice-weekly updates.
The serial comic is just a scratch on the surface of the post-apocalyptic world, and this gap between episodes is the perfect opportunity to present some other perspectives of life after infection. Coming up next week is a piece of short fiction about a one-man “search-and-rescue” business, and then a stand-alone comic story of love and loss. Add in a few one-shot photographs, and we’ll be back to Marion and Claire before you know it.
The office sequences that wrapped up this episode, which I consider to be a sort of ‘epilogue’, were a very different beast from what we’d been shooting up until that point. This was June, before the Marion-flashback sequence and before the warehouse fire, so the office was actually our first indoor shoot, and the first with more than two non-infected non-deceased characters.
Filling out this scene and subsequent scenes in episode two, to date we have done four shoots in this location, and not until the most recent one did we finally get light rigging on location. Everything in this scene is lit entirely with practical and natural light, just as the rest of the episode. But here, instead of having to diffuse the sun and redirect it, we had to compensate for aggregious backlighting through the use of reflectors and HDR “background” shots– for every frame we shoot with actors on-camera, we shoot the identical frame with just the background. Not only does this provide us with a full-focus frame, but it allows us to mask out the backlighting and tone down the contrast for a more consistent image.
Of course, the sun is just one of the difficulties in shooting these office sequences. The location itself is a real office suite in downtown Seattle, complete with a secure lobby, RFID keycards, access-limited elevators, and plenty of locks and bolts. We made a concentrated effort to stick together, but if anybody arrived late, or needed to fetch something from outside the shooting office, our keycard-equipped location manager would have to escort them back. Every time. But absolutely worth it, for those views.
Another difficulty we encountered is with the expansion of the cast, because the more people you have, the harder it is to get them all together at the same time. It actually wasn’t until our third shoot in this location, at the end of September, that we had all six principles at the same time. Thanks to diligent shot tracking and storyboarding, we were nevertheless able to shoot the entire sequence as we wanted, using the cast available each time, without compromising our shots.
In the next few weeks, I’ll talk more about the pre-production process we’re going through to produce episode three (a very dark and brutal episode, entitled “House Calls”), and have some guest blogs from other cast and crew members. If you’ve got questions you’d like answered, send them our way, and enjoy the photos.