The Fall 2015 MFA Cinematography students have just completed Master’s Lighting, one of several major workshop classes in the third semester of the MFA Cinematography program. The class was taught by instructor Tommy Maddox-Upshaw, whose recent credits include Straight Outta Compton (2nd unit DP), The Perfect Match (DP), and The Miki Howard Story (DP). He demonstrated a variety of current lighting techniques including how to approach large-scale night exteriors, the use of mixed lighting, and some new approaches to using color in a scene.
The week-long workshop began with a visit to the Cine Power & Light rental house. Students learned how to set up powerful lights including 10K tungsten fresnels, 9-light Maxi-Brutes, and 4K HMI PAR’s, carefully going over proper safety protocols for all of the equipment involved. The students were then introduced to generators, power distribution equipment, and the heavy-gauge cable needed to run power to these bigger lights.
On the second day of the workshop, the students visited Griffith Park to shoot day and night exterior setups using a range of big lighting units and a 600 amp generator. This advanced equipment gave the students the necessary power to use lights in day exterior setting, controlling contrast and balancing the sunlight. These tools also allowed them to light a large night exterior scene, mixing different colored light sources to give the scene more depth.
The class then moved to the Sybil Brand Institute, a decommissioned women’s prison where they have shot a number of films and television shows including Legally Blonde, 24, CSI: Miami, and Desperate Housewives. Students used the same lighting package to experiment with new techniques over the next two days of the workshop, shooting scenes on the Red Dragon digital cinema camera.
The workshop concluded with a Cinematography Practicum at the Sybil Brand facility. The practicum shoot was lead by instructor Gilber Shilton, whose directing credits include episodes of Law & Order, MacGyver, Beverly Hills 90210, and Quantum Leap. With guidance from his instructors, student cinematographer Jaan Utno shot a tense scene in the jail setting. The class worked together to light more than 15 shots, incorporating techniques from the previous workshop days.
Students leave the workshop with greater knowledge of how to light challenging scenes on a larger scale. Having worked with generators and power distribution systems, they will be ready to work at the high level of skill demanded by professional productions.