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  1. #101  
    I slowly navigated my way through the creative process of modifying -- not outright changing -- the look of the show. Season Two will not look stylistically different from Season One, by design. HBO was very happy with Season One and didn't want a lot of changes. I was hired as the "second" DP and Jim Glennon, ASC, from Season One, was hired as the "first" DP, so I had to follow his lead.

    My only mandates from the producers and HBO were: (1) make the day exterior backyard set on the soundstage look more believable for outdoors; (2) flatter the cast a little more while keeping the naturalistic tone of the show.

    So I shot some tests of the backyard set, which had a new 180 degree backing of mountains (the old one had some seams that were visible in the sky -- we moved the welded part into the mountains) and some more trees to break it up. They seemed happy with my tests. The key really was to increase the contrast of the lighting and be logical about where the "sun" was coming from.

    Jim Glennon tried to avoid any diffusion filters by using the old 20-100mm Cooke zoom wide-open -- that was their approach in Season One. I tested some really mild diffusion filters, the lightest we could find, as an emergency back-up. Jim suggested we switch from Kodak '18 to the lower-contrast Kodak '29 (Expression 500T), which was a little softer-looking. He hadn't used it before (some DP recommended it to him) but I had shot some big sections of "Akeelah and the Bee" with it so was used to it.

    Jim shot most of the first episode of Season Two, all except the last day, when he fell ill. I shot his last day and then the second episode, and when he didn't recover, I shot the third episode. Haskell Wexler shot the fourth episode as a favor to Jim and on the last day of that shoot, we heard that Jim had died at the hospital.

    Bill Wages, ASC came in on the seventh episode to take over as the co-DP. So stylistically, our approach kept being subtlely modified by each new DP that came in. Bill shot three episodes, Haskell one, Jim the first one, and I shot seven out of the twelve.

    Bill and I sort of ended up using larger, softer lights than Jim used. Jim wasn't such a fan of the big single-source soft-light approach ("boring" was what he told me) -- he liked to "sculpt" faces more, fill from the same side as the key, etc. But Bill and I used big soft sources partly as a way of being more flattering while being natural-looking (Bill comes out of documentaries and has a very realistic tone to his lighting). We also experimented with some mild diffusion as well. Bill Wages was more bold about letting things fall-off in the background, which I liked personally, but I was recalling the first few notes we got when we started the season about not letting the backgrounds fall-off, so I was playing that a little safer.

    That's the odd thing, you get studio notes about not doing certain things (like "don't let the walls go dark") and then later when you have to do it anyway for some reason, sometimes no one notices, so then you're not sure how much to believe the original notes you were getting. The fact that Haskell Wexler and Bill Wages were coming into the situation fresh and therefore doing some new techniques that hadn't been approved before, and they seemed to be accepted, freed me to incorporate some of their ideas into the approach of the show.

    Bill and I are also bigger fans of the "hot spot" in the frame, that uncontrollable, overexposed bit of bright sunlight coming into a set, which adds life and realism I think. Jim did that much less often. Jim, though, did teach me to fill from lower than the key, which helped soften the shadows of the bags under the eyes.

    But this is all subtle only-a-DP-will-notice sort of stuff. I think you'll find a general consistency between all the episodes.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  2. #102 Availability of David Mullen or other seasoned DP's 
    Senior Member Rudi Herbert's Avatar
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    If I may David,

    Here's a hypothetical question for you. What would it take to bring in an artistically-oriented, technically-proficient, indie-friendly DP who has now paid his dues and is in demand for high profile jobs into a small production in Europe for about 2 months? What steps would I need to take, what contacts to make, who to call, what is the path to getting my project considered by someone such as yourself? Through an agent or agency, how?

    I ask because, though we've done all of our photography in our team for years, I really want to make an investment and bring in a DP that can really contribute and enrichen our work, since it will be a period piece with really demanding scenes. Provided a DP were to like the script and after meeting with the production team felt our people had what it took to get what is an unusually ambitious story from script to conception (with a small budget still), would someone like yourself be somewhat attainable (provided whatever salary/conpensation concerns were met) or as an ASC member the motions that must be followed would put such DP basically out of consideration?

    Obviously, you can only reply on your behalf, but I will assume that others at your level would approach this matter with somewhat similar sensibilities...

    Thanks much,

    Rudi Herbert
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  3. #103  
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    many DP's work on 100+ mil budgets and then you'll see them doing a low/no budget as a favor or because they love the script .. it helps if you know the DP by a few degress of separation ... also remember if you don't ASK you will not get a answer which means NO - however if you ASK then odds might be more on the NO side but there's a chance of a YES ...
    bottom line will be the SCRIPT ... don't be afraid to ASK ...

    and speaking of Jim Glennon ... when i 1st started in the business .. i called a production company that was shooting a movie and Jim was the DP .. i didn't know him and i didn't know anybody on the production .. i left a message with production company asking to speak to DP about coming out to set to watch( learn) lighting ... 2 days later i got a call from Jim - spoke with him and he invited me out to the set ... if i didn't ASK i would have never seen Jim light and learn from him ....
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  4. #104  
    Generally you would go through the DP's agent -- in my case, the New York Office.

    I did shoot a small HD feature in Russia with pick-up scenes in Mexico and a one-day music video in the U.K., but that's about it for my out-of-country shooting experience, other than a betacam industrial for Disney at a factory in Bangkok, Thailand back in '94.

    I consider all sorts of projects -- obviously I'm trying to move up to bigger ones, but any visually interesting smaller ones too if it works with my schedule. Unfortunately, I also get a lot of low-budget visually uninteresting stuff coming my way all the time.

    Many people have told me stories of Jim Glennon's helpfulness to beginners over the past year. He was possibly one of the most positive-thinking, uncynical people I have ever met, and always quick to call a young person a "genius" and compliment them.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  5. #105  
    David, thanks for your excellent and detailed reply! It's VERY gracious and educational of you to allow us to pick your brain.

    I've always been curious as to how DP's on serials manage to work with the accepted style and yet still impart their own visual stamp on the material. Very sorry to hear about the passing of the earlier DP...

    I look forward to watching the show through the seasons and following the evolution.
    Jim Arthurs
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  6. #106  
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Mullen ASC View Post
    visually interesting smaller ones too if it works with my schedule. Unfortunately, I also get a lot of low-budget visually uninteresting stuff coming my way all the time.
    Can you expand on visually interesting vs. unintersting a little more? Do you see it in the script? Or in discussions with the director?

    What's a good example of very visually interesting to you?
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  7. #107  
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    The challenge: The bulk of the movie takes place inside an old building in downtown Los Angeles during a power blackout. It's night. The only practical sources are flashlights, candles and lighters.

    What do you use? Divas? Chinese lanterns? Kinos? Didos? A combo of them all?

    Would you overlight the set, get a good well-lit neg, and then print it down (or crunch the blacks in a DI) to avoid noise/grain?
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  8. #108  
    I'd shoot some tests to figure out a good combination of fast stock (maybe push-processed), fast lenses, bright flashlights, etc. to be able to get the most exposure out of those items as possible so I know what sort of base level I need to light to. It's generally good to work at a low-enough level so that these natural sources do as much real lighting as possible.
    David Mullen, ASC
    Los Angeles
    http://www.davidmullenasc.com
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  9. #109 hot spots - tricks of the trade 
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    Hi David and co,
    Apart from adjusting lighting (i.e. using soft lighting to lessen the chance of 'hot spots' off shiny metal surfaces), what other methods have you found to work well in dealing with hot spots off shiny machinery etc. A spray? If so which spray? Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks
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  10. #110  
    Quote Originally Posted by donatello View Post
    also remember if you don't ASK you will not get a answer which means NO - however if you ASK then odds might be more on the NO side but there's a chance of a YES ...
    bottom line will be the SCRIPT ... don't be afraid to ASK ...
    I think this is something a lot of less experienced people miss: professionals aren't that much different from yourself. They might be more talented, experienced and well known but they're still people not dieties. They have phones, they check their email over coffee every morning and for the most part they're driven by the same desires as you.

    I'm working on a spec spot right now and my boss just mentioned yesterday that one of the heads of Nike marketing was bored and would be more than happy to provide feedback because he had nothing better to do.

    People are people.
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