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Making Something Out of Nothing

You Can't Get There From Here, the expression goes.

Sometimes you find yourself in a seemingly untenable situation. You have 1 hour to get setup for an interview, in basically an empty blah room, Given a basic kit of gear that you take everywhere, lights, mics and stands, you need to be able to make something out of nothing - in other words, use your knowledge and creativity to get the job done.

**Thanks to my buddy Jake for this innovation!

I recall going to the home of retired general Bernard Trainor with a reporter back in the early 90's to interview him about the no-fly zone in Iraq post-Gulf War I. The shooter had his betacam, sticks and one Tota light. He made the general's living room look as nice as was possible, and the few sound bites that went on air looked pretty good indeed.

Hence, we find ourselves in cramped offices, hotel meeting rooms and occasionally plain white-walled board rooms, or just an empty supply closet. Indirect lighting, reflectors, gels, umbrellas and taking everything you ever learned about lighting and combining it with good old Yankee ingenuity - and you might just get a nice result.




Recently we picked up a low cost 19" LCD HD monitor to travel with. In an Anvil case originally purchased for an SGI Indy2, we can setup a client monitor or one for ourselves, to confirm that we are in focus and somewhat properly exposed. While the colors are not perfectly accurate, monitoring the V1U via HDMI is very nice indeed. Once can see a definite difference between the flip out LCD screen on the V1, the viewfinder and the LCD monitor. Presumably the true picture lies at the intersection of the other 3 views.

Sometimes happenstance is a good friend. A plant, a plexiglass award or some carefully stacked books on a table are just what you need to make blah into ahh. Wherever you find yourself, scope out the lobby or adjacent offices for plants, lamps, bookcases, framed landscapes - anything that you might be able to borrow to turn blech into ye(ch)s!

Thinking on your feet, often in a pinch, can be the key to getting something usable, versus just another plain background.

Speaking of backgrounds, it is also helpful to have some black muslin or other backdrop material (dubatine?) and a background stand (two light stands and a pvc pipe will do the job). With some nice folds and a slash of light with a gel, you can indeed create something out of nothing. It is of course important to have enough distance between the subject and the background, whatever it is, to put it out of focus. Modern full-auto video cameras try to make everything in focus. In a case like this, don't use auto-focus or auto-iris.

Check out the Whitehouse YouTube clips. Obama is making good use of the free video hosting on the web - saving us money presumably (?) - the interesting thing is the thumbnail keyframes are in some cases behind-the-scenes photos of the lighting setups - frames not present in the videos.

Some of my favorite shots on 60 Minutes or Dateline are when you see a cinema verite shot and you can see how they did what they did. It is always fascinating to see other peoples' setups. Sometimes simple can be best, and look anything but simple on camera.

In summary - you can have the best most expensive lighting kit and tons of flags and other gear. But your creativity and ability to think on your feet can make the difference in an on-camera interview situation. Whether you have 10 minutes or two hours to setup, the limitations of room size, decoration, distance between subject and background, power availability and available gear all come into play. But most important of all is your ability to make something out of nothing. Of course, if you have your wits about you, nothing is never really nothing - rather, nothing is the promise of something great.

Thanks for reading.

Mike Cohen



Posted by: Mike Cohen on Apr 17, 2009 at 9:43:39 pm lighting, improvisation, creativity



I have a passion for my job, which entails training for medical professionals such as surgeons, nurses and administrators, not to mention various industries.

Technology is great, but how you apply your skills is what pays the bills.

Years ago I canceled my Media 100 support contract upon discovering what a treasure trove of helpful advice can be found on the Creative COW website. I am proud to be a part of this fantastic community.

In my blog I talk a little about media production, a lot about travel and workflow, and occasionally about cooking, nature and my four-legged friends.

Follow me on Twitter: med_ed_mike

I'm also on LinkedIn if you can't get enough of me!




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