Two Commercial Lighting Breakdowns (Ursa Mini Pro)

COMMERCIAL #1

The challenge for this commercial spot was to find a location that could pass for a police interrogation room. The budget for this spot was very small so I decided that with a little elbow grease I could turn a corner of my basement into this set.

The initial problem with the basement is that it has very low ceilings of only 8 feet in height and I guess because I live in a log cabin, there is a lot of wood paneling which doesn't look very police-like. The drywall was also painted this horrible peach color by the previous owner.

The putrid pink/yellow mess of a wall.

The putrid pink/yellow mess of a wall.

The corner we shot into with the wall now painted a solid gray. You can see at top of frame how low the ceiling is.

The corner we shot into with the wall now painted a solid gray. You can see at top of frame how low the ceiling is.

After deciding which corner to shoot into (I chose the one above with the window) I ran to Home Depot and picked up a can of gray paint for $18 and painted the shit out of that wall. I dragged this old table in from outside and drilled in a cabinet handle I picked up for three bucks. This would allow me to handcuff my actor to the table and make it seem a little more authentic.

The final touch for the set design was the prison bars across the window made from a bunch of metal cylinders I found outside. I think they were once part of a stand that allows you to stack up your wood for winter heat.

One of my favorite images from the commercial. Just some plexiglass and blinds hanging from the arm of a C-Stand to make it look like a doorway into this room.

One of my favorite images from the commercial. Just some plexiglass and blinds hanging from the arm of a C-Stand to make it look like a doorway into this room.

For lighting, I started by blacking out the other two windows on the reverse side of the basement and then checked exposure with my Ursa Mini Pro to see how much light I had spilling in through the window visible in frame.

Because that window is at actual ground level and built under a deck, the amount of light coming through it would serve as a nice fill. I strung up a large piece of burlap folded in two outside the window to further reduce the amount of light coming in as I settled on my key to fill contrast ratio.

The first light I put in place was a top light that I just purchased a week before we shot. It's a top light made by Alzo Digital - basically a round softbox you can hang from the arm of a C-stand or with a scissor clamp from a drop ceiling. I purchased four daylight balanced LED bulbs with it and decided to use all four.

I wanted a top light interrogation look, but with the ceiling already so low, I knew this meant I would need to cast an actress who was short and that my bad guy would not be able to stand up in this scene for any reason.

The Alzo Digital top light - not bad for $300

The Alzo Digital top light - not bad for $300

I used a knife and piece of cardboard to cut up a window blind pattern (I'm sure you've seen this on Film Riot like ten times). It works better than actual blinds. I have a 1K fresnel going through the blind pattern to give me some texture on the back wall.

The whole setup - top light in place with a C-Stand, fog machine on ground, window blind pattern on a stand and just off camera a 1K fresnel going through the pattern. There's a small gelled Pro light that we used only for the product close-up shot.

The whole setup - top light in place with a C-Stand, fog machine on ground, window blind pattern on a stand and just off camera a 1K fresnel going through the pattern. There's a small gelled Pro light that we used only for the product close-up shot.

You can see here that the actress is leaning in under that top light. Pattern on the wall behind the criminal gives some visual interest and adds another layer of dimension to the scene.

You can see here that the actress is leaning in under that top light. Pattern on the wall behind the criminal gives some visual interest and adds another layer of dimension to the scene.

Adding some haze to the scene gave just the perfect amount of atmosphere I was looking for. We spread most of the haze to catch in the light playing on the wall. It's subtle but there and if softened the highlights which was desired since ultimately this is a commercial and not an actual gritty cop drama.

This was shot on the Ursa Mini Pro in 4K ProRes HQ and graded in Davinci Resolve (no LUTS).


COMMERCIAL #2

For the second spot, which was shot on the same day using the same crew and some of the same actors, we moved outside into the forest where I had previously built a set for a music video.

This commercial called for a witch's lair so I took to Pinterest gathering as many visual references as I could find. I wanted the main attraction of the set to be this witch's hovel with your typical witch's cauldron over a flame alongside it. 

A pile of rocks and a piece of burlap across the door of the wikiup are the final steps.

A pile of rocks and a piece of burlap across the door of the wikiup are the final steps.

Shot from the finished product

Shot from the finished product

I watched a few Youtube videos and about 6 hours later I had built this wikiup from a shit load of broken tree branches as well as this tripod to hang a cauldron from. (The fire pit was already there from previous shoots)

As we cut into singles I knew I wanted the fire pit/cauldron behind the witch but I also wanted something of visual interest behind the Little Red Riding Hood character (and yes, I'm aware that it should be a wolf and not a witch)

A forest prison I built last summer for a music video is off to the left on the above images so we went with that. I also built this cage but time really ran out to hang it from a tree somewhere so one of my crew just jammed it in between some poles of the makeshift prison.

We shot this toward the end of the day, starting with our witch's good look, then breaking for makeup, and then shooting the beginning of the spot. We were really running out of light at that point on what was already a fairly gloomy and overcast day.

I wanted to pull the witch and her crazily teased hair out of the background so we hit her hard with a backlight (with the only battery powered light I had available - an Aperture Amaran)

At this point I'm shooting wide open at T1.5 at ISO800 on the Ursa Mini Pro

At this point I'm shooting wide open at T1.5 at ISO800 on the Ursa Mini Pro

This piece was also graded in DaVinci Resolve but unlike the first commercial, after balancing the image I decided to use a LUT from the IWLTBAP pack for the desired grade.

CONCLUSION

A lot of planning went into the making of these spots and although I wish I had more money and more time to shoot them, I'm pleased with how they turned out.

So good? Bad? Meh? Let you know what you think in the comments and if you'd like to see some before and after grading grabs.