Posts Tagged ‘independent film’

Shooting the Grocery Store

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Twice this week I have been up all night working as the DP for Filament Artists’ latest short film, entitled “Love at the Grocery Store.” The screenplay was selected as the winner of the Production Prize at the 2008 Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival and will premiere at this year’s festival on September 26.

Shooting inside a grocery store has its particular set of challenges and so I wanted to pass along some things to remember if any of your projects take you inside the same environment.


Most grocery stores are lit with fluorescents, meaning that everything will be washed with a flat, even, diffused light. If the tone of your piece calls for high-contrast lighting, you might want to see if the grocery store manager will allow you to turn off the overheads, giving you more freedom to light as you see fit. If this isn’t possible and you still want to create a surreal look with high-contrast, you can always light your subject with hard, direct light, that comes from the side, creating harsh shadows. The hard light will force you to stop down your f-stop. This should darken the background, while leaving your subject properly exposed.

Since fluorescent bulbs cast an even, diffused light, your subjects can come out looking drab, flat, and uninteresting. You will need some additional light to help create more natural skin tones and make colors that pop just a little more. However, reflectors alone won’t get the job done. They just won’t provide enough reflected light underneath fluorescent bulbs. And aiming a 1Kw or 650w tungsten at your actors will create an obvious difference in color and tone.

To give your shots a warmer look under fluorescent lighting, start by using your tungsten lamps and reflectors together. Mount a large piece of white foam core onto a c-stand and then bounce light from a 1Kw lamp onto your subject. The result is a soft, diffused light that isn’t overbearing, and yet one that warms up the scene a bit more. And I always recommend a little rim lighting to help your subjects stand out more from the background.

Bear in mind that the above solution assumes that you want a natural, warm tone for your project. If the mood of your film is a bit darker and somber, then you might like the sterile, flat, “blue” tone that the existing lights create.


Shooting under fluorescent lights can affect the white balance of your shot. If not properly monitored, the lights may cause the color of your shot to drift slowly from a cool tone to a warm tone, then back again.

However, I’d advise you to look back at our previous post for a more extensive look at shooting under fluorescents. To that article let me add that using a Kino light bank will be a big help. Kino’s do use fluorescent bulbs, but unlike the bulbs installed overhead in a grocery store, these bulbs burn at a constant color temperature. This will give your shots more accurate color representation while maintaining a consistent look with the rest of the lighting in the store.

Fluorescent lights might also appear green on camera. A green tone might work well for your project if the mood is more sinister and the location of your story more urban, decayed, or threatening.

Look for the comedy, “Love at a Grocery Store” at this year’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. The screening is tentatively set for 9pm at the Alabama Power Building.

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Lessons Learned From No-Budget Filmmaking

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Last night marked the end of production for my latest short film If Only. I think everyone is relieved that we have finally wrapped. This particular project was plagued with delays and some unexpected problems, but I feel confident that we will make a solid film with high production values.

I have made several short films over the years and I have learned a lot about no-budget independent filmmaking. So, for those who also share my passio, allow me to pass on a few lessons that will hopefully help you in your endeavors.

Don’t let the lack of money prohibit you from getting out and making films. If you have something to say, then say it. But also remember that low-budget

  1. Low budget doesn’t mean low production value. The fact that you have little or no money doesn’t autmatically mean that your film will look horrible. But you have to study the ins and outs of cinematography. Ask questions. Practice your craft. Learn by watching what others are doing. Solid execution will give the impression that you spent more than you actually did.
  2. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people. In 2004 I wanted to produce a short comedy. However, I was just getting back into production full-time and I didn’t know too many local filmmakers. So I decided to take on every behind-the-scenes role myself. I was the writer, director, producer, editor, cinematographer… I did everything, and as a result the quality of the film suffered. When you make it a goal to direct your film, recruit others to work in key positions. For example, having a talented DP on set to light the scene and run the camera will give you much-needed time to rehearse and direct your actors. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical details and neglect the performances from your talent, unless you have others working with you on set.
  3. Things will not go as planned. This is true of even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster, but even more so on low-budget short films. Expect the unexpected. A location will not be available when you need it to be available. An actor will have to reschedule at the last minute because of a conflict with his or her day job. You will get rained out. The police will tell you to shut the whole thing down. You will be forced to eliminate certain camera set-ups (or perhaps entire scenes) due to uncontrollable circumstances. That’s just the way it goes.
  4. Always have a plan “B.” This point is a direct result of point #3. When things go wrong, you need to have a contingency plan in place. If it rains and you have to be outside, how can you re-work the story to incorporate the rain? When the owner of a location needs to pull the plug on you for some unforeseen reason, what can you do to complete the scene? A good producer will help you think through these potential problems before they even happen, so it’s important to go over these issues in pre-production.
  5. Maintain a comfortable pace while in production. When everyone is getting paid thousands (or even millions) of dollars to be involved with a movie, you can afford to work everyone for 16 hours a day, six days a week. However, when you’re on a low-budget short and everyone is working for free, it’s important to remember that they are doing you a tremendous favor by being involved with your film. Pad out the shooting schedule so it isn’t too demanding. At the same time, be up front with those involved and remind them that filmmaking is a time intensive process. You can’t shoot a five-minute film in thirty minutes. Be respectful of their time, and be honest about expectations.

In my experiences as an independent filmmaker living in Birmingham, I have met a lot of gracious, wonderful people who are eager to see the production industry thrive in this region. And I’m certain that in your own film projects, you will be just as fortunate. Be professional, prepared, courteous, and respectful, and people will want to work with you again and again.

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“If Only” Production Stills – Days 3 and 4

Monday, June 1st, 2009

We started production on my latest short film, “If Only” on April 19. We were forced to postpone subsequent shooting days due to bad weather. Finally, the entire cast and crew was able to re-convene this past weekend in an effort to wrap up shooting. Things went along beautifully until we were forced to wrap early Sunday night. Fortunately we have been able to schedule one final day of shooting next month. Here’s hoping we don’t run into any more delays. Enjoy a few production stills from the weekend’s shoot. Thanks to everyone for their hard work. 

DP Michael Praytor lights the set












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‘If Only’ Production Stills – Day 1

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Sunday marked the first day of shooting for our latest short film, entitled If Only. We were able to shoot at Cafe Dupont in downtown Birmingham. I want to extend my appreciation to them for their hospitality. Also, I want to acknowledge my cast and crew who worked extremely hard to ensure that the shoot was efficient and productive. Here are a few shots from the first day of filming.








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Our Short Film ‘Collection’ Now Available Online

Monday, March 30th, 2009
Collection DVD

Collection DVD

Our short film Collection, produced in 2007, is now available for purchase online. Collection tells the story of Jason Burke, an introverted high school student whose world is shattered upon hearing the news of his older brother’s vicious and mysterious murder. The only lead authorities have to pursue is a series of numbers carved into the victim’s neck. Now Jason must cope with the loss while reconstructing the events of that fateful night.

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