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A Day in the Life of lighting director Michael Owen

By midlandsmovies, Sep 23 2019 07:00AM

A Day in the Life of lighting director Michael Owen

Our 'A Day in the Life' series continues with Midlands Movies' guest contributor kelly McCormack checking in with Leicester-based lighting director Michael Owen.

"In GM Finney productions we take the approach used by many smaller production teams whereby the director and main cameraman are blended", says Michael. He adds, "splitting out the lighting element to a separate role - which is me me - here is a (brief!) blow by blow of a typical day on set…".

22:00 (the night before) – Go through my kit ensuring no damage or missing elements for the shoot needed tomorrow. This normally involves packing everything depending on the terrain and accessibility of the shoot and what ambient lighting is going to be in place. Also have to consider the availability of power and how to solve supply issues.

09:00 – Load up the vehicle. This may sound simple, but through possessing the forward thinking potential of a yak means I bought a car which doesn’t lend itself to the lugging around of lighting equipment. This make the whole thing a game of giant Tetris in the back of a saloon car.

09:10 – Re-load the vehicle when I realise I’ve forgotten the main elements of today’s shots

09:30 – Finally on the road. Text the director to advise I’m going to be late, again.

10:00 – Arrive on set. Go through the main shots with the director and producer. This is where the second challenge of the day comes in. As the majority of the work we do is out of hours and everyone has day jobs, usually there won’t have been time to scope out the location prior to shooting. This then requires a lot of off the cuff thinking and solutions to be put in place. One of my absolute favourites is trying to turn day into night, in a room full of windows, in mid-august – I love that.

10:30 – Begin the set up. Blocking out windows, assembling lighting equipment, providing power where needed. This again requires some ingenuity, trying to find places to hide lights and provide adequate light without over or under exposure.

11:00 – Actors and extras arrive and start to run through some scenes. Its normally at this point that we realise the lighting as has been set up isn’t necessarily going to work, so it’s up to me at that point to again think fast and move lighting and associated power around to where is needed. What makes this tricky is that it is rare for me to be able to mount lighting above the actors, with it usually being on ground level. This makes the management of shadows and motivation of the light important to get as close as possible given the situation whilst ensuring no one trips over or destroys lights with clumsy feet.

11:00 – 16:00 – This part of my day usually involves keeping things consistent over the shoot. If an actor moves, or the director wants to shoot in another direction, the light has to look like it is coming from the same place and isn’t un-naturally bright in spots as people approach, or walk away from, lights. This can sometimes involve advising the director about shots, trying to avoid shooting in ways which will look unnatural or out of place and contributing to the overall feel of the picture by changing colours or intensities of light depending on the mood. This can be fun when we shoot in a different order where we could end up returning to a location later on, matching light in these circumstances is tricky at the best of times, and is sometimes impossible. Communication is key here, making sure that what the director sees in their head is re-created as close as possible on screen and if it isn’t possible, discussing what we can do.

16:30 – Following the end of the shoot it is then a case of managing the clear up operation. While people are very willing to help with the tidying away (thankfully or it would take hours!), it makes it very hard to keep track of everything and eventually boils down to a ‘chuck it in the bag and I’ll sort it at home’ strategy.

17:00 – Head for home with a car full of badly packed lighting equipment – why don’t I just buy flight cases?

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