Sitcom TV style Lighting tips?

Marco Giampa

Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Location
Melbourne, ustralia
I usually do live music and some theatre so need some starting points on effectively lighting a filmed show that the writers want to look similar to friends or seinfeld.

Ive got 6 phillips fresnels, 2 phillips profiles, 4 or so par cans, 2 large selecon cyc floods (i just use them as floods), then i have 10 or so cheapish LEDs (pretty sure the are just RGB

ive also got afew of those floor t-stands that can hold like 4 fixtures

and for consoles i have a zero88 elara, just using it as a simple 12 channel dimmer controller, and a jands stage CL for the LEDs, but I will probably not use the elara and patch everything into the jands

so im thinking like a cyc for a back light wash, maybe some LEDs on the trees for some frontal light, and then do the rest with the fresnels and the rest of the leds?

Also have some budget for maybe afew more fixtures, im thinking maybe some source 4s with afew lenses, havnt set up a rig to test it out yet but just looking for some tips
 

almorton

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 17, 2014
Location
Caterham, Surrey, UK
I'd use the tungsten for face light out of preference to "cheapish" LEDs - the LEDs won't be kind to skin and they'll look artificial. You need quite good (i.e fairly expensive) LEDs to be able o use them as the only face light. I'm guessing from your description that the fresnels, profiles, PARs and cyc floods are tungsten?
 

Marco Giampa

Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Location
Melbourne, ustralia
I'd use the tungsten for face light out of preference to "cheapish" LEDs - the LEDs won't be kind to skin and they'll look artificial. You need quite good (i.e fairly expensive) LEDs to be able o use them as the only face light. I'm guessing from your description that the fresnels, profiles, PARs and cyc floods are tungsten?
Thanks ill try use the conventionals then, pretty sure some of the LEDs are the chauvet slimpar ones but cant go into check because of quarantine and stuff
 

MRW Lights

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2017
Location
NYC
Here are some of the "big changes" I've experienced between theatrical lighting and lighting for the screen. (Pro Tip, they're not different, but the colloquial language can make it sound foreign) Theatrical lighting is gels and percentages, for screen and working with a DP you want to be comfortable translating those to tints/shades and "points" 🤮 the range of points to percentage can be infuriating! If it's someone I haven't worked with enough I typically respond with is that half as bright or twice as bright and I usually get the real answer of somewhere in the middle. I don't typically worry about fine tuning percentages, 25,50,75 and Full are going to be your friend. Adjust for color on background and set elements and ALWAYS ALWAYS review your looks on the camera. Ask for a monitor of the video if you can get it. Stick with a 2-3 Key Front Light and 1-2 back light and you'll get a nice even picture. You don't have to worry about top light as much when dealing with screen, the lens will give you the dimension and field depth.

Things to remember.... most cameras can't "see" green. If the image looks hazy or gray try dumping the green from your LED's/Filters and watch what happens. Yes it's ironic given green screen, but that's for a discussion about keying. Start with your camera friendly color temperatures of 3200, 4400 and 5600 and tint from there to get saturation and mood.

When using conventionals you may need to run them hotter so you're not fighting the red shift of an incandescent lamp, but you can always add an ND filter to cut back the intensity and have a stack of CTO/CTB on hand to tint your fixtures on a whim. Diffusion will also be your friend.

I would be careful with the SlimPars... see how they look with the cameras that you're using, but I don't find that they play nicely with most camera sensors because of their flicker and wave emission. They're a great little fixture for theater, but they're tricky to place for a camera.
 

Marco Giampa

Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Location
Melbourne, ustralia
Here are some of the "big changes" I've experienced between theatrical lighting and lighting for the screen. (Pro Tip, they're not different, but the colloquial language can make it sound foreign) Theatrical lighting is gels and percentages, for screen and working with a DP you want to be comfortable translating those to tints/shades and "points" 🤮 the range of points to percentage can be infuriating! If it's someone I haven't worked with enough I typically respond with is that half as bright or twice as bright and I usually get the real answer of somewhere in the middle. I don't typically worry about fine tuning percentages, 25,50,75 and Full are going to be your friend. Adjust for color on background and set elements and ALWAYS ALWAYS review your looks on the camera. Ask for a monitor of the video if you can get it. Stick with a 2-3 Key Front Light and 1-2 back light and you'll get a nice even picture. You don't have to worry about top light as much when dealing with screen, the lens will give you the dimension and field depth.

Things to remember.... most cameras can't "see" green. If the image looks hazy or gray try dumping the green from your LED's/Filters and watch what happens. Yes it's ironic given green screen, but that's for a discussion about keying. Start with your camera friendly color temperatures of 3200, 4400 and 5600 and tint from there to get saturation and mood.

When using conventionals you may need to run them hotter so you're not fighting the red shift of an incandescent lamp, but you can always add an ND filter to cut back the intensity and have a stack of CTO/CTB on hand to tint your fixtures on a whim. Diffusion will also be your friend.

I would be careful with the SlimPars... see how they look with the cameras that you're using, but I don't find that they play nicely with most camera sensors because of their flicker and wave emission. They're a great little fixture for theater, but they're tricky to place for a camera.
Thaks for the tips, this show was originally written as a theatre show, and I have done afew theatre shows with them before, and its been a sudden change to a filmed show as we probably wont be able to have an audience so we are jus putting some stuff togethor
 

dalebobvideo

Member
Joined
May 2, 2011
Location
Germantown, Tennessee
My initial thought was there's no way the writers will be happy with your attemp at a network sitcom look, so don't even attempt to do that. So don't. You don't have the experience or equipment needed. Are you shooting in a theatre with pipes/catwalks? Will there be multiple cameras? If so, how many? Will the cameras have large sensors that can reduce the depth of field and throw backgrounds out of focus? That's especially important for achieving that "look." I have way too many questions.

With your experience and equipment, forget going for harder shadows on the talent like one would see on "Friends" as opposed to say a 70's sitcom such as "All in the Family." You'll need to go with a softer look or I believe you'll have a rough time attempting this. You can minimize the flat look by using soft light from the front, hard lights on the backgrounds and increasing the backlight. On closeups, you'll have some modelling, reducing the flat look. This is a sitcom. You're lighting for closeups. Network sitcoms are shot with precise camera angles, lighting angles and exposure levels. I doubt that you will be able to do that.

So instead, you'll need to make your hard sources softer using diffusion or by bouncing. Your set-up time will be quicker because the flatter lighting is more forgiving of last minute changes to blocking, where a key light suddenly becomes a ¾ backlight.
As stated before, forget using the cheap LED's on faces. Maybe use them for the background where they will do much less damage to your images.


For soft frontal fill, I'd shoot the cyc lights with their broad spread, through large diffusion frames. You can make lightweight frames from strips of wood, metal or even cardboard. Hang them with coat hangers or whatever. The bigger the frame, the softer the light. Position the light so it fills the frame completely. You can then control hard spill light using homemade flags or cutters. There's all kinds of DIY info on the internet including using those $20 , 500 watt tungsten work lights from Home Depot. They can come in handy when softened with diffusion. With 500 watt globes, they are HOT. Globes range in wattage from 100 to 500 watts. Use the minimum wattage you can get away with. Hang the the lights downstage at a fairly low vertical angle to minimize facial shadows. To prevent light levels from building up in the center of the set, space them out evenly and don't focus them so that they're crossing each other.

Your fresnels can be the key lights. Depending on how many actors there are, or if there is a lot of movement, you can light actors individually or key areas where multiple actors are covered. If keying for broader coverage, use two, three or four fresnels positioned downstage. The vertical angle can be a little steeper. Use fresnels at full or close to full flood which gives a softer beam, makes for easier blending with each other and lets the barndoors make harder cuts.

This method is more from the 70's where sitcom lighting was flatter and not at all like the lighting on Friends or Seinfeld. The advantage is that it's more forgiving regarding camera placement and movement and once in place, requires little or no adjusting between scenes. Your fill light levels might range from a little less than the key lights to even twice that of the keys. That old "rule" of key to fill ratio was meant to be broken and it's broken all the time. Just look at the lighting on about any news set.

I say all of this because with your lack of experience and what you have to work with, getting the look that the writers want would be a monumental task, perhaps for even the most talented television lighting designers. Good luck!
 

Marco Giampa

Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Location
Melbourne, ustralia
My initial thought was there's no way the writers will be happy with your attemp at a network sitcom look, so don't even attempt to do that. So don't. You don't have the experience or equipment needed. Are you shooting in a theatre with pipes/catwalks? Will there be multiple cameras? If so, how many? Will the cameras have large sensors that can reduce the depth of field and throw backgrounds out of focus? That's especially important for achieving that "look." I have way too many questions.

With your experience and equipment, forget going for harder shadows on the talent like one would see on "Friends" as opposed to say a 70's sitcom such as "All in the Family." You'll need to go with a softer look or I believe you'll have a rough time attempting this. You can minimize the flat look by using soft light from the front, hard lights on the backgrounds and increasing the backlight. On closeups, you'll have some modelling, reducing the flat look. This is a sitcom. You're lighting for closeups. Network sitcoms are shot with precise camera angles, lighting angles and exposure levels. I doubt that you will be able to do that.

So instead, you'll need to make your hard sources softer using diffusion or by bouncing. Your set-up time will be quicker because the flatter lighting is more forgiving of last minute changes to blocking, where a key light suddenly becomes a ¾ backlight.
As stated before, forget using the cheap LED's on faces. Maybe use them for the background where they will do much less damage to your images.


For soft frontal fill, I'd shoot the cyc lights with their broad spread, through large diffusion frames. You can make lightweight frames from strips of wood, metal or even cardboard. Hang them with coat hangers or whatever. The bigger the frame, the softer the light. Position the light so it fills the frame completely. You can then control hard spill light using homemade flags or cutters. There's all kinds of DIY info on the internet including using those $20 , 500 watt tungsten work lights from Home Depot. They can come in handy when softened with diffusion. With 500 watt globes, they are HOT. Globes range in wattage from 100 to 500 watts. Use the minimum wattage you can get away with. Hang the the lights downstage at a fairly low vertical angle to minimize facial shadows. To prevent light levels from building up in the center of the set, space them out evenly and don't focus them so that they're crossing each other.

Your fresnels can be the key lights. Depending on how many actors there are, or if there is a lot of movement, you can light actors individually or key areas where multiple actors are covered. If keying for broader coverage, use two, three or four fresnels positioned downstage. The vertical angle can be a little steeper. Use fresnels at full or close to full flood which gives a softer beam, makes for easier blending with each other and lets the barndoors make harder cuts.

This method is more from the 70's where sitcom lighting was flatter and not at all like the lighting on Friends or Seinfeld. The advantage is that it's more forgiving regarding camera placement and movement and once in place, requires little or no adjusting between scenes. Your fill light levels might range from a little less than the key lights to even twice that of the keys. That old "rule" of key to fill ratio was meant to be broken and it's broken all the time. Just look at the lighting on about any news set.

I say all of this because with your lack of experience and what you have to work with, getting the look that the writers want would be a monumental task, perhaps for even the most talented television lighting designers. Good luck!
And here is the thing, I have all the same questions you do, the writers and the producer have never done a TV style show, I have no clue what cameras are being used yet, we only found out last week that we werent doing theatre show anymore! I need to sit down with the producer they are clueless interms of anything tech related but thats understandable, we have several locations to film but the one she wants to use doesnt have power near it for dimmers and the roof is too high, etc. I'll see if i can find out anything else
 

dalebobvideo

Member
Joined
May 2, 2011
Location
Germantown, Tennessee
And here is the thing, I have all the same questions you do, the writers and the producer have never done a TV style show, I have no clue what cameras are being used yet, we only found out last week that we werent doing theatre show anymore! I need to sit down with the producer they are clueless interms of anything tech related but thats understandable, we have several locations to film but the one she wants to use doesnt have power near it for dimmers and the roof is too high, etc. I'll see if i can find out anything else
Not having dimmers is the least of your problems.
 

MRW Lights

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2017
Location
NYC
given the continued conversation... I think now is a better time than ever to back your conversations up to the budget section... this is no longer looking like a situation where you'll be able to use what you have.... You're now looking at multiple locations with a need for power supply in at least one of them correct?.... I would make friends with a local film shop and put together a rough budget for rental. Match the list you started at with the film equivalent of what they have. HMI's, Fresnels, linears, panels, distros, generator truck. If you're not on a stage and they're not going to be lengthy setups I would ditch the DMX architecture. Some fixtures have wireless DMX, but that's not a route you're going to want to go down with location moves and truncated load ins. In some ways it's going to be easier and in a lot of ways much harder.

This is a developing production and we're staying tuned to see what happens next!
 

kicknargel

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 10, 2009
Location
Denver, CO
The good news is today's cameras and post-production software are WAY more forgiving than 5, 10 or 20 years ago. You can shoot in a lot lower light and get away with more contrast.

One major thing to determine: are you shooting with multiple cameras and running long sections of scenes? In that case, you do need "studio" style lighting like a sit-com that works for multiple camera shots and blocking at the same time. Or are you shooting single-camera like a movie? In that case, you can light for every shot ("set-up").

In general you want to think more about color temperature than color. 1/4, 1/2 and full Color Temp Blue and Color Temp Orange are standard kit. Often times dimmers aren't used because they affect color temp. To make a light less bright it is walked farther away on its c-stand.

I'm no expert and should shut up. I'm sure some internet research in the basics of film and studio lighting will be instructive.
 

MRW Lights

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2017
Location
NYC
The good news is today's cameras and post-production software are WAY more forgiving than 5, 10 or 20 years ago. You can shoot in a lot lower light and get away with more contrast.

One major thing to determine: are you shooting with multiple cameras and running long sections of scenes? In that case, you do need "studio" style lighting like a sit-com that works for multiple camera shots and blocking at the same time. Or are you shooting single-camera like a movie? In that case, you can light for every shot ("set-up").

In general you want to think more about color temperature than color. 1/4, 1/2 and full Color Temp Blue and Color Temp Orange are standard kit. Often times dimmers aren't used because they affect color temp. To make a light less bright it is walked farther away on its c-stand.

I'm no expert and should shut up. I'm sure some internet research in the basics of film and studio lighting will be instructive.
I think you might be an expert...this is a large part of my daily duties in the studio and this couldn’t be more spot on. So... what @kicknargel said...