Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Hotel Room Interview Setup


Shooting an interview at a suite in the Waldorf Astoria. 2 camera (PD-150 and DSR-300). Curious if anyone has any tips for making a hotel suite look like something other than it is. And what are the rules about moving around furniture and artwork in places like this? I know this is something I'll probably have to discuss with management, just curious about general practice for this sort of thing. Like if I wanted to move some paintings lower on the wall, perhaps propping them up against something. What are our liabilities as shooters if something gets scratched, etc.?

Jim Eagan
NY shooter/editor

The rooms all have wallpaper. Some more ornate, and the furniture can be moved around easily although it's all classic stuff, but soft focus it looks good. I have done up to 12 interviews a day in a single Waldorf room making 12 distinct looks for many A&E and history channel programs.

Nice thing is in the configuration they have, different walls are often different schemes.


Disclaimer : My opinions, thoughts, and beliefs are my own and may not reflect yours. The use of the pronouns "you, "some", and "many" to name a few are generalizations and without a proper name attached to them are not references to anyone reading my posts.

Walter Graff
BlueSky Media, Inc.

>anyone has any tips for making a hotel suite look like something other >than it is. And what are the rules

Firstly kick up a stink if they give you a tiny poxy room. I have had some stand up arguments but they usually end with a better room. Often conference, closed bars or special event rooms are more intertesting.

Everybody looks better including the talent, yourself and the hotel with the right room. Once in lock the door then "anything goes." I move the pictures, furniture and practical lights. Sometimes the room is completely remade. What Walter says goes. Never ask just do and put it all back as you found it.

The most powerful tool for remaking the hotel room "look" is the light control. Hope for light proof curtains (or bring black cloth) This allows you control of the ambience. Usually cutting the window ambience allows under powered portable lighting kits to do wonders. Always look first as sometimes the natural light is the best.

Many Thanks
Tom Gleeson DP

Thanks Walter, I remember seeing that article on your website a few months ago, didn't realize it was the Waldorf though. Very helpful! I'll be doing as much as possible with lighting (Lowell Rifa, arri-150, lowell DP, some fluorescents, gels) in the time allowed (30 minute setup). But will more than likely have to move things around to get something appropriate.

How important do you think it is for the background to "say" something towards the subject matter? I run into this occasionally where I feel like the location/background is too generic to "sell" the subject. Books, paintings, plants, practicals, out of focus patterns on the wall, etc.

And also - are there a variety of practicals available in the suites? And did you use dimmers or gel them?

Jim Eagan
NY editor/cameraman

Tom Gleeson wrote:

> Firstly kick up a stink if they give you a tiny poxy room

I second that. get the *biggest* room that you can. Been there done that....

Mark Smith


>Thanks Walter, I remember seeing that article on your website a few >months ago, didn't realize it was the Waldorf though.

I look at it as the background complimenting the subject, nothing more. Of course I have used flowers in the background of folks about to get convicted for shows, and red walls to make someone who is the antagonist look more like the antagonist and also stuff to make folks look good too. If you want it stark that¹s good too. For me it¹s about shapes and tones in the background and what works for the subject.

Of course shooting DV means you might need to back that camera up and leave it wide open to help in the DoF department.

Walter Graff
BlueSky Media, Inc.

>in the time allowed (30 minute setup). But will more than likely have to >move things around to get something appropriate.

Wow. 30 minutes to get in and set up? I always try for an hour, at least. I'm frequently set up in a half hour but sometimes the room takes some work to make it shootable.

Just saw that you're using two cameras. 30 minutes isn't enough for two cameras. After years and years of shooting interviews I could be in with my standard kit and lit in 30 minutes or less, but I'd never agree to that with two cameras.

> How important do you think it is for the background to "say"  something >towards the subject matter?

I never worry about that. I just use whatever's at hand. Most of the time the producer/director just wants it to look nice, and may ask me to make it more or less dramatic, but specific looks other than rules for framing are almost never decided in advance.

Most of the time I have no choice where I have to shoot so I just make the best out of whatever I have to work with. My clients seem very happy.

I don't think you're going to have time for a lot of involved creative choices. Just pick the angle you can do the most with the fastest and go for it.

> And also - are there a variety of practicals available in the suites? And >did you use dimmers or gel them?

You won't have time to finesse a gel so I'd just bring some small dimmers. Gels are always a pain to hide inside lamps quickly.

Also bring some household light bulbs. Most hotel lights are fluorescent these days and they won't dim terribly well.

If you only have one angle to shoot I highly recommend you buy a roll of Hampshire Frost and hang it behind your subject. It will throw the background out of focus nicely, especially on a DVcam. It almost won't matter what's back there, it'll just look soft and pretty.

Art Adams
Director of Photography
Film | HiDef | Video

I must have done 1000 of these over the years. Can't recall if the Waldorf has switched their practicals over to compact flos but most of the time they are standard fixtures so you should bring some of your own bulbs. Also bring some flowers, plant or other "objects d'art" to fill the space. A table in the background with a book on it is always nice.

Demand a suite! Tell them that you are doing a shoot--they'll certainly know when you show up with your gear. Management is well-used to interviews shooting in their hotel, so they will be prepared to offer you more appropriate rooms. I don't think the Waldorf has dedicated media rooms like other hotels, but they'll stick you in a space with some elbow room.

Feel free to move EVERYTHING. I had to flip a bed on end to get enough space; just do what you gotta do. Bring dimmers, gel and whatever else you can fit in just a few cases. You won't havce much room to store gear and they don't encourage leaving cases in the hallway with a PA watching over. The bathroom will be taken over by makeup, and the bathtub is often the only place left to store stuff. Put the bed cover down in there first to protect it from scratching.

And give yourself a lot of time to load in & out. You'll have to come through the loading dock and use the service elevator. You'll be sharing access with housekeeping, catering and everyone else, so it can be very slow going through winding halls. Thirty minutes is very little time to set up--I always try to barter for an hour. Try to get some extra crew to set up quickly, and no, the PA and AP don't count.

Mitch Gross

Thanks for all the great suggestions. We're getting is about 30 minutes for setup, though talent may be in the mood to give us slightly more. But certainly won't be an hour. It will be myself, a PA, and the producer. Room is being chosen tonight, so I won't really know exactly the bg choices until we arrive. Looked at some images online of Waldorf suites, as well as Walter's examples, so I feel like there are a decent variety of things in the room to move into frame. Won't be able to fine-tune much in the time alloted, I've done a rough diagram based on elements that will most likely be available for background. Bringing along a few items; framed picture, some household bulbs, variety of gels, dimmer, will hopefully have time to utilize them.

One question though: best suggestion to temporarily hang a lightweight framed print on wallpaper? Obviously no holes in the wall, no gaff tape.. anyone have a good tape or sticky stuff that doesnt' leave a mark?

Jim Eagan
NY editor/cameraman

Steven Gladstone wrote:

>I've seen set dressers use Butyl (spelling?), not sure about own much >of a mark is left

This is the stuff that holds auto windshields in place. An art director I know once used it to place a Pay phone on a wall where it needed to be for a shot. He ran a bead around he perimeter of the back of the phone , stuck it to the wall and walked away. I would be careful on wallpaper surfaces. A NAPA auto parts store should carry it, comes in rolls. If you are careful it can be peeled off without leaving a mark.

Mark smith
DP and admirer of Butyl.

>And give yourself a lot of time to load in & out. You'll have to come >through the loading dock and use the service elevator.

Spoken like a true veteran.

Having done many junkets in hotels myself, it's the load in that eats you alive for time.

Bob Kertesz
BlueScreen LLC

In the past two years I've shot more hotel-room interviews than I care to think about. Ugh.

OK. Allow an hour's setup time if possible. A half-hour isn't enough for a decent single-camera setup.

If you can't get a suite, get a room with two Queen beds -- not a single King in the middle. That usually gives you more flexiblity to position the subject, camera(s) and lights, and a couple of large surfaces to put cases, etc. on. That counts for a lot if the room is small.

If you put the subject between the two beds, and the camera in the entrance area, you can get some distance from the background.

If it's an airport hotel, or near a railroad or freeway, insist on a quiet-side room.

If the decor sucks, you can try keeping the back walls flagged (or eggcrated) off and as dark as possible. That will also help in terms of matching apparent DOF between 2 different cameras. If you want, you can throw some slashes of light on background walls, but keep 'em fairly soft-edged.

Easiest setup by far is to shoot against a limbo (black velvet) backdrop clipped or clothespinned to the main window curtain. As a bonus, that lets you keep your something that should be talked about in CML-video in autofocus mode with guaranteed sharp focus at all times, because there's nothing for the AF to drift to, other than the subject.

Don't forget a little backlight for separation if the subject has very dark hair or clothing. I use a tiny 30-watt halogen PAR in a Lowel "L"-light with the stock barndoors and a dimmer.

Oops... Your two-camera interview probably includes the interviewer. With that kind of a setup you might be best off arranging two chairs in front of the window curtain - but as far as possible from the curtain, facing each other in 3/4 profile, and going for a more wide- angle look.

Using a very large black velvet backdrop in this configuration can give this kind of setup a posh studio look.

Bounce (for omnidirectionality) plus backlight might be all you need, and is quick to set up.

In a very small room, sometimes soft, general bounce plus some strategically arranged plants is all you need.

Dan Drasin
Marin County, CA

I know you are already set up at the Waldorf, but one silly thought for this thread in general... on a very fragile interview for a rather stunning doc that I had the privilege of working on, we ended up in a smallish hotel with smallish rooms...but the producer had the good sense to book two adjacent rooms with one of those funny pass-through doors that get used when you have a family travelling together...

We moved the bed over and set up the interviewee in the middle of one room, the interviewer against the common wall, and the camera shooting through the connecting door. The AC, gaffer, and other folk stayed in the second room, out of the eyeline of the star interviewee, but fully capable of hearing what was going on etc,

This worked well and looked good - by shooting on a diagonal through the doorway, the background was nicely far away and out of focus and there was plenty of room for everyone to work...and for us to establish a nice lighting look.

Mark Weingartner
LA based
countless hotel room shoots in the olden days
(now the only thing I shoot in hotel rooms are steady tests)

Not to clog things up here more with what is clearly a "beginners" thread, but figured I'd mention the results. So the suite was gigantic and beautiful, but slightly lower on props than expected. Hit an expected problem, which is that the artwork, table lights, etc. were either too low or too high to offer good background framing. Good for someone doing a standup but not a sitdown. Lots of shiny glass surfaces that would have been a reflection nightmare. In what is probably $10k room, ended up using some small props I brought from my apartment, a small practical and a couple framed images on a table near a curved corner/wall, for opposite side moved a lightstand over and put another practical with a fancy base. Did a split CTB/primary red on wall and objects behind subject, colors slightly desaturated by a bit of window light I allowed in. Ended up leaving practicals off, which looked best butI always wonder what the viewer thinks when they see practicals in backgrounds turned off. Kind of soft so not a big deal IMO.

The 30 minute setup time was hit, but ended up only shooting single camera (which producer was OK with). Subject is very familiar with being on tv and was pleasant enough, but the time was what it was. Looking at the ftg, biggest mistake was key was a little too high, and when subject looked down got a bit of the dark eyes. The key and slight ambient in room did a nice fill/contrast on face, just the eyelight was on the weak side.

One amusing aspect of the shoot was when the talent noticed the PA weighting down one of the lights with one of those big B&H lighting books (it was already bagged but as a safety). Subject (who has a great classics movie channel, amongst others) gave myself and the PA an interesting stare.

Overall, the key here was the time issue. 30 minutes for setup in a room you've never seen before is just asking for trouble. Certainly came out useable and the producer seems happy, but I like to leave a shoot thinking I nailed it, and looking at this I think there were probably a few things that could have been done better/differently.

Jim Eagan
NY editor/cameraman

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