Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Auto Interior Filmed On A Stage


I have a music video coming up in which the director wants to shoot the talent in a car as she sings along with her own song. The budget isn't there for a shotmaker or hostess tray, not to mention that she isn't old enough to drive yet! (just barely). So, it'll be done on a stage. The car must seem like it's moving through the city at night. I'm planning on a very shallow dof and plenty of ballyhoo but any words of advise would be most appreciated.


Tom Camarda

I've always been of the opinion that the more ballyhoo the merrier.

Use lots of sources of different types (hard/soft) from a variety of places. Mix the color and intensities as much as possible. This usually requires lots of hands on lights and rotating mirrors. It's also great to create practical lights outside the car as much as possible or even rear/front projection outside the windows. I guess this just all adds up to lots of ballyhoo like you said.

Also, reflection of light sources on the windshield works well. See the AC article on "The Game" that Harris Savides shot with the article by the LA gaffer on the night car lighting rig. Very interesting approach as I recall with an overhead street lamp reflection rig that was very convincing.

Usually when I see a night car scene I am always bothered by seeing the same source repeated (except motivated street lamps) especially in a city scene.

Hope this helps some...

Jim Sofranko NY/DP

I've run into the exact same situation on a couple of low-budget projects I've worked on recently. Naturally, there's no substitute for shooting tests! But here's what we did...

In one setup, I wanted to get a better 'moving breakup' effect, as the truck was supposed to be driving down a country road at night - moonlight through trees. We rented a Martin Mac programmable light - usually used for stage effects. It's a 575W HMI source, with built-in gobo rotation, remote light control, and gels. The patterns that come with these lights are much too artificial - circles, radial lines, etc. - but the guys at the rental house inserted their own 'breakup' pattern, which was sufficiently random. I used this as a hard backlight and it was quite effective - but don't bring it around front, or the patterns become recognizable and it looks phony. Since the light is already 5600K, it produces an adequate 'moonlight' without filtration, but I opted to dial in the lightest CTB value for a little extra colour, and was quite pleased with the result.

We also used 'headlights' effectively - a full CTB on a 575 or 1.2K PAR (we kept all the lights small because 575 was the largest Martin Mac we could get), and a grip with some flags and some patience produced a very realistic effect.

In one of the setups we did, which was actually shot on a highway at night - but it was 2AM and the last shot of a very long day - we had a PA actually drive another car by in the background, and this worked incredibly well. I wonder if it would work in a studio? Small lights in the distance through a windshield can work very well, but I think testing is critical there... I've also used fog and a wind machine to add 'ambience' to the background.

George Hupka Director/DOP

Downstream Pictures Saskatoon, Canada

>The car must seem like it's moving through the city at night.

TC, Rent "Night on Earth", shot by Fred Elmes. Although his cars WERE moving, he used some of the most realistic/beautiful lighting effects I've seen.

And this trick is so easy as to be overlooked: lock your tripod head, and occasionally tap the pan handle roughly. It adds a vibration to the image that look amazing similar to road bumps.

Christopher Mosio Cinematography Santa Barbara/LA

Tom Camarda wrote:

>The car must seem like it's moving through the city at night.

How about shooting some 16mm from a real moving car at night and projecting that onto the car on stage for additional interactive lighting? if lights/signs etc. were seperate enough from dark background it might work OK. Could be particularly useful in a loop for streetlights passing overhead reflected in the windscreen, which always seem to be a hard thing to get right. I presume bluescreen or proper back projection is out of the question?

Tom Debenham

Visual Effects Designer Computer Film Company,


Have just finished shooting similar scene for both day and night. For night I lit slighty under simulating instrument lighting a soft glow from inside all other lighting moved- simulated headlights that flashed past, blue moonlight with moving gobo or cutter. Another trick which worked well for the day scene and expect will for night ( I am shooting it tonight) is to shoot a windscreen reflection roll. Which is half mixed over image in post. I had no background as it was a truck cabin but I am sure you could chroma key, matt or project a background roll.

Hope this is of some help


Peter Warren Cinetel Pty. Ltd.

Along with all the other responses, I once used two mini-mag lights taped together about 4 inches apart and had a juicer (decked out in duvatine) hand hold them about 10 feet behind the car. With a little bit of movement, it sold a convincing look of card headlights in the distance.

Another technique that I have seen in use, although I have never gotten the chance yet to use it, is this. I saw a setup once that used a piece of clear plexiglass about 3x8 feet long. It was secured in place on top of the hood by a curved wooden rack with pegs, so the plexi stood upright in it, on top of the hood. The camera shoots through this, and with a couple grips on either side, slowly flexing and twisting it to and fro, it catches any lights you place behind it. It gave a very nice impression of moving reflections.

Hope this helps

Ken Glassing

Last time I did poor man's, I bought a mercury vapor lamp at Home Depot and ND'ed and half minus green'ed it to where it gave a really nice blue/green color. I think I might have had some 1/2 CTB on it too. It made for an interesting, non-fresnel windshield reflection when helicoptered via menace arm. The key grip loved menace arms... part of his kit rental.

Mercury did repeat though, but for the most part there wasn't enough screen time on any given cut.

It didn't work on the other Humvee scene due to flat/upright windshield, and those shots don't have as much dimension.

I also attached small units to a low menace arm in "rowing position". At the front of the vehicle and motivating oncoming headlights. Got the idea from Brian Reynolds ... I really went with it since the effect was so convincing (the headlights really move and float as they pass). It also lets the light grow in intensity as it booms towards the hood... and the A-pillar makes a very convincing spacial shadow to complete the effect. Beats panning it on a stand.

Also had a 650 with heavy red backlighting the rear windshield for occassional brake light... there was a near miss scene that called for it. Dulling spray on the rear windshield to catch the red.

And generally lots of small shafts of rim here and there dimming and panning around.

Kino car kit on the dash not doing enough... which is probably a more realistic look.

Juicers carried a total of four 4x4 kinos along the side for a more forgiving, soft moving ambience. And sometimes the scene was still too dark !

One vehicle had heavily tinted windows and we really had to pump the light in there. Some tints were slightly magenta, some windshields are slightly green.

Someone mentioned staying on the 2-shots, but I talked the director into mostly CU's and tight-twos for the coverage (where actors stacked up), and everything with lenses in triple digits, and lateral dolly moves (which works out very well if you can coordinate the driver's steering and head turn to create an absolutely realistic turn).

That also allowed the use of two 300's on a rolling double header as a car in the background (an old trick I've seen a lot). An easy way to put your vehicle into the city. If they're not soft enough, you may want to black wrap snoot them to make squarish headlights, or double 'em up for that older Jaguar look.

You can also have it bounce into the rear-view mirrors to occasionally light the driver, but that requires stronger units.

I had wanted to rig that headlight gag onto a small jib so the cars could look like they were on an imperfect road... give it some float. But I did not have the time. Producer's were already aghast at how much work we put into this (it was all pretty much prelit when we got to it). Some people always think this is really quick and simple, and I think it takes finesse, so it's best to have it ready when you get there.

With regards to water on the windshield: one of the more convincing things is to blow a strong fan onto it. For the shows that do not afford ADR, the sound mixer will not like you, but some are cool with it since the scene will require motor noise (which in this case is provided)... and some vehicles are pretty well insulated. It's strange when they add engine noise in post and the actors are speaking in hushed tones when they should be trying to raise themselves above the engine's din. So maybe a fan is not a bad thing since the mixer and director will definitely have the actor's speak up... unless they're supposed to be in an EV-1 of course.

Without a strong fan I avoid the water since I think it looks really fake when the water is trickling down at autobahn speeds.... and I think it's strange to have rain when the adjacent scenes are dry.

I cannot think of too many closeups that require as much grip/electric activity (while rolling) as poor man's.

Next thing I want to try is daytime poor man's with rear projection and relatively wide lenses, as was so expertly done by Harry Savides in the "Game".

Mark Doering-Powell

Mark, what's a "menace arm"?

-JR Allen

Many possible incarnations, here's the least menacing:

Speedrail with a Lollipop-ear sleeve so that you can make a boom out of it. Loosen Lollipop grip head and riser knuckle and you can pan/tilt the boom around. Support a light over your subject by ratchet strapping the counterweighted end down to the stand. Don't use ratchet strap if you plan on helicopter-spinning the rig. Similar to using a meat axe horizontally (minus the ability to telescope).

Mark "yeah, but what's a lollipop?" Doering-Powell


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