Click here to go to the first RED TEAM post in this thread.   Thread: Ask David Mullen ANYTHING

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  1. #4201  
    Hi David, it would be interesting to hear what you have "learned" recently. I know top guys like you are supposed to know everything (lol) but I'm sure there are still days when you "learn" some new trick or way of using a light or camera angle in a certain situation etc from one of your heroes that you begin to incorporate. For example, I think I remember reading an interview with Janusz Kaminski where only recently did he "learn" to use chinaballs and has begun using them and has never messed with them much and never knew how useful they can be. I thought that was quite interesting and surprising to hear from this "titan" of cinematography.
    So in the same vein I was wondering if there's anything that you learned relatively "recently" in your career or started to do that you have never done etc.
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  2. #4202  
    Oh and since no one else is availing themselves of this amazing thread and it seems to be slowing down, I will ask a 2nd question in a row if you don't mind. It is along a similar vein as the first above, though feel free to answer only one or neither ..as your whim may dictate:

    David can you list the most seminal and important 'realizations' or epiphany moments you've had as a cinematographer that have instantly taken your craft to a new level? I'll list mine in my short development over the course of the past year or two that have instantly put me on a higher level

    for instance

    1. the biggest "leap" into a new level of craftsmanship came when I learned about facial "modeling" and contrast ratios. I.E. that faces need to be lit with a modeling in mind which constitutes having to either light from the side to increase contrast ratio, or use negative fill in certain situations, etc, etc.

    2. The 2nd biggest thing that came along my development was the active realization that eyelights are things that are CONSCIOUSLY chosen and used by cinematographers (at least in most/many cases) and not just accidental remnants of the lighting setup. Once I started consciously incorporating eye lights into my work, it has taken on a new level of "professional" cinematic look to it.

    Can you discuss some of your "milestones" in this regard in your professional career that you felt hit you in this sort of epiphany moment?
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  3. #4203  
    Hi David. I have read through this entire thread so hopefully there’ll be no repetition in my questions.

    The first is about running a set. On low budget and freebie shoots there is often a less-than-competent AD, and when coupled with an inexperienced director this can make for a slow set where I often feel my own work is negatively affected - if the AD was doing his or her job better then I could make things look much better. Much as I’d like to imagine myself as a Zen-like bastion of patience I actually have the tendency to become a bit arrogant and start running the set on these occasions. Sometimes I go too far and worry that I have undermined the AD’s (and sometimes even the director’s) authority, which I know I shouldn’t be doing. Do you have any tips on how to think about and/or deal with these situations? How do you tend to work with ADs?


    My second question is about HMIs coming through windows to recreate sunlight, and the effect of the actual sunlight in the rooms in question. When I started out using small units I noticed that the feeling of the light in the room would change as the sun changed position or came in and out of clouds because the units were not that bright. So I would rig blackout tents or partial blackout tents around the units outside the windows. I do this less often now but over time I have noticed that no professional set seems to do this, whereas I would have imagined that the resulting improvement in continuity would make it an attractive technique. I’m guessing it’s because the effect of real skylight blending in with the HMIs adds authenticity?

    Thanks!
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  4. #4204  
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    Hey David.
    I Know you worked with the Alexa before. Did you try the Epic? How does it compare to the Alexa? If not which do you like better the MX or the Alexa?
    Epic M owner #01129
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  5. #4205  
    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Dmitriyev View Post
    So in the same vein I was wondering if there's anything that you learned relatively "recently" in your career or started to do that you have never done etc.
    The last big thing I learned was a maybe five years ago when I discovered Source-4 Lekos and that I could create a soft source from any direction or space if I covered it with some white cloth, or taped a white card to it, and hit it with the Source-4 Leko cut to the area I wanted. Recently I was in a restaurant at night looking out towards some big windows at the street, and any lights I added were reflected in the glass, but I needed some ambience added to the room. I ended up putting a Leko on a mount on a pancake and pointing it straight up at the ceiling, then closing the doors to create a narrow slit of white -- in the reflection in the glass, it looked like a fluorescent tube was in the ceiling. Another time in a similar situation, I used the Leko blades to create a bright rectangle on the ceiling that looked like a light fixture in the ceiling in a reflection.

    Another recent lesson was to not be afraid of physically moving a light or dimming it during a camera move to get it where you need it.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  6. #4206  
    Quote Originally Posted by Mohamed Younis View Post
    Hey David.
    I Know you worked with the Alexa before. Did you try the Epic? How does it compare to the Alexa? If not which do you like better the MX or the Alexa?
    I used the Epic on "Big Sur" last spring. The footage looked fantastic. Alexa footage looks great too, somewhat flatter and wider in dynamic range, but also softer and milkier at times, especially in low-light. Of course, the milkiness is correctable in post, but I find myself having to make sure I don't get fooled into thinking I have more shadow detail than I really have because once you set the blacks back to zero in post, the image will look more contrasty than it did on the monitors.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  7. #4207  
    Quote Originally Posted by Lorenzo Levrini View Post
    The first is about running a set. On low budget and freebie shoots there is often a less-than-competent AD, and when coupled with an inexperienced director this can make for a slow set where I often feel my own work is negatively affected - if the AD was doing his or her job better then I could make things look much better. Much as I’d like to imagine myself as a Zen-like bastion of patience I actually have the tendency to become a bit arrogant and start running the set on these occasions. Sometimes I go too far and worry that I have undermined the AD’s (and sometimes even the director’s) authority, which I know I shouldn’t be doing. Do you have any tips on how to think about and/or deal with these situations? How do you tend to work with ADs?
    The director, DP, and AD are sort of the Holy Trinity that set the pace of a production and the tone of the set, so they HAVE to work together and be in sync. There really isn't any alternative, each relies on the other two for anything to get accomplished, and it rarely works when one tries to do the other's job.

    Hopefully a lot of these issues are worked out in pre-production as you (the DP) go over the schedule and scout locations and discuss the style and coverage needed, and how long things are going to take.

    I generally have a good relationship with AD's because I recognize that my work perhaps takes up the lion's share of time during the day, so I can easily slow things down if I'm not careful. So I appreciate the responsibility of the AD. On the other hand, I don't want my work to suffer because I'm having to compensate for time lost by other departments because of a lack of coordination by the AD department. Now sometimes there's not much you can do when an actor takes twenty minutes to come out of their trailer when called, etc. But most of that stuff gets noted on the production reports anyway so you won't be blamed. And things do go wrong, equipment breaks down, background noise can ruin a take, etc. I've always felt that any schedule built on a best-case scenario isn't worth the paper it is printed on. I'm much more of the "hope for the best but plan for the worst" sort of person.

    The best AD's are just as committed to creating a good and artistic final product as the DP and the director are... other AD's feel that their job is to stay on schedule even if that means the work suffers. I get along less well with those types of AD's (though I haven't met many) because they are making a schedule, not a movie, and their names are not at the head of the credits, unlike the actors, director, and DP whose compromised work is out there for everyone to see and criticize. But the better AD's know that their job is to allow the lead artists to do their work, as long as those artists are responsible in turn about the time restraints.

    It's called the art of collaboration.

    So if you are working with incompetent AD's, all I can say is that I hope your producer catches on and replaces them.

    But you have to break the habit of trying to do other people's jobs for them because in the long run, people resent you always being a know-it-all, even if you actually do know more than they do. People stop hiring you after awhile. But it is your responsibility to get the producer involved if you feel that there is a lack of organization and coordination, and that it is affecting the work. But it's all politics, you have to tread carefully and with great diplomacy, and make it a group effort to get back on track, you can't trample over people.

    In the end, it may just have to come down to avoiding working with that particular director or AD in the future, after you do your best for them and finish the job.

    I probably don't fight enough for myself and the integrity of my work, I perhaps try too hard to be the team player, which accounts for some of the mediocre work I've done in the past, but on the other hand, my work is fast and my productions stay on schedule and I keep getting hired, and most of the directors and producers are happy with the results, so I guess I'm doing something right... I guess I'm just trying to say that it's a balancing act and no two people are going to handle it the same way, some fight more with everyone to keep the quality of their work up, and that ultimately benefits them because the work is good for everyone to see, while others fight and stop getting hired, so it is self-defeating because no one ever sees their work. So you have to find the right balance.

    My second question is about HMIs coming through windows to recreate sunlight, and the effect of the actual sunlight in the rooms in question. When I started out using small units I noticed that the feeling of the light in the room would change as the sun changed position or came in and out of clouds because the units were not that bright. So I would rig blackout tents or partial blackout tents around the units outside the windows. I do this less often now but over time I have noticed that no professional set seems to do this, whereas I would have imagined that the resulting improvement in continuity would make it an attractive technique. I’m guessing it’s because the effect of real skylight blending in with the HMIs adds authenticity?
    It's a tough call because sometimes you get a natural lighting effect that looks wonderful but doesn't match the other shots in the room, but you embrace the happy accident when it happens and live with a little visual inconsistency. Every DP has to learn how to be consistent, but once they learn it, they have to unlearn it again and embrace the unexpected and the accidental even if it leads to visual inconsistency... because the last thing you want is to be consistently mediocre or boring. You don't want every shot brought down to the lowest common denominator.

    A technical example would be if you had to slip some h.264 8-bit 4:1:1 720P video (like from a GoPro) into a Red project -- for consistency's sake do you shoot everything at that lower quality level? Or do you live with a momentary inconsistency and quality drop rather the lower everything to match? Do you shoot everything to match your softest lens or your most underexposed shot? I think there are limits, you don't want bad shots to stick out like a sore thumb but you don't want visual consistency to be the main driving force, not if it drives you to match the worst shots in your project.

    So first, regarding HMI's, I try to get them to look fairly sunlike in color and balance, even if the real sun is much more powerful and sharper, etc. than the HMI can possibly match. But if the real sun comes into the room for awhile, I just have to decide if I can get the coverage that looks in that direction to capture that real light, and after it is gone, be then shooting some other angle... or maybe a close-up where I can more easily fake the real sun.

    But if something great is happening in the room with the real light, then generally I'd try to take advantage of it while it lasted and then deal with the consequences of matching... rather than make my life easier by getting rid of the real sun.

    But it just depends because sometimes the real light isn't what the scene requires or maybe instead of looking great, it looks bad on the actors or something, hence why you end up flagging it.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  8. #4208  
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    hi david,

    if you had the choice would you prefer to have the walls of your sets painted in darker tones to make it easier to light your subject and keep them the focus of the frame?
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  9. #4209  
    Quote Originally Posted by scott william View Post
    hi david,

    if you had the choice would you prefer to have the walls of your sets painted in darker tones to make it easier to light your subject and keep them the focus of the frame?
    Yes, in general, unless it just doesn't make sense, story-wise. A hospital corridor may look a bit odd painted near 18% grey in level. There are always exceptions, it depends on the visual design of the scene. But on the whole, for your typical bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, etc. it's easier for me when the walls are near midtones, not very light.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  10. #4210  
    Thanks for your comprehensive and thoughtful answers, David.
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