Jeff Ryan is an actor, writer and director who recently exercised all three disciplines for a new feature film called Mean Spirited. “I play Bryce Levy”, Jeff explains, “a famous actor who's constantly butting heads with his estranged vlogging friend. The basic plot is that they go away to this big house in the Poconos mountains and things go awry from there.”
‘Going awry’ meant everything from demonic possession, and crosses spinning, to thunder and lighting. Litepanels Geminis would bring all their FX programs to bear on these scenes as well as carefully matched RGB colors to carry the mood.
“The whole goal of this movie was to ask ourselves questions cinematically. It's kind of a satire on Vlogging: how do you make a cinematic film in the style of a Vlog. Everything in every scene in this movie has been an enormous challenge because it's a bunch of long one-takes but they're all very controlled.”
Lighting design for the house
The production rented a mansion in the Poconos and proceeded to ‘dress’ the huge interior space for the movie. While a feature film would normally have a truck full of lights to attempt a lighting design for such large spaces, Mean Spirited were carrying 15 Litepanels Gemini Hard and Soft panels and some Quasar Science tubes. But as it turned out, the lights were more than enough.
Jeff describes how they managed the lighting, “The house interior was our main set and had to be filled with light as we couldn’t have an empty feel to it. We found a way to use practicals as much as possible, adding the Gemini 1x1 Hards in a quad array as our key source. We then would fill in with individual 1x1 soft and hard panels from there".
Our entire Litepanels rig and some Quasars were hooked up via DMX by our gaffer. He basically just controlled everything through his iPad.
The movie takes place over three days, and each day the crew wanted the lighting and the mood to change slightly. "We used a lot of diffusion to help us work with the sun in that regard but we also used the Gemini 1x1 Hard quad array to balance that diffusion."
With Gemini's precision control over 16.7 million colors and a wide range of gels, the crew had beautifully rich color output with outstanding depth at thier fingertips. “We went from really white stark beautiful daylight themes to red, moody, scary themes for night scenes. We knew we had the Litepanels color ability going in to the project so we chose to take advantage of that", says Jeff. "We would use the highly saturated color from the Geminis to increase the tension in certain rooms where things go wrong.”
Using Gemini Hard and Soft panels
Jeff had both Gemini Hard and Soft panels but used them differently. “Our entire quad array is made up of 1x1 Hards. That's been incredible because it's as powerful as an HMI of a certain caliber. It’s also amazing to have four lights that can be individually controlled so when we have police lights for instance that we need to shoot off in the background, very far away, we're able to programme the quad array to do that", he said.
“To use the array as a background light is pretty powerful. It has been our saving grace in matching the enormous windows during the day, as well as lighting the entire backyard in some really interesting ways", says Jeff.
“I assumed the background light was going to be blown out. But we were able to match this enormous source of natural sunlight with it, which is incredible."
“On our first night shoot we spent a long time figuring out what the exterior of the house would look like. The house is creepy so we added Quasars throughout the bottom to up-light its features and then used the quad array to splash a cool light throughout the backyard like moonlight. Jeff goes on to explain, “We would use the other Gemini 1x1s to fill with practicals like street lights and rake trees in the background to get extra depth.”
Demands of LED lighting
Jeff owns his own sets of Litepanels so he can supplement the kit on his productions. His buying decisions are always based on the versatility of the lights he uses.
“I personally own Litepanels, but the addition of the high output Gemini 1x1 Hard has been incredible because usually we have to rent out an enormous kit to do a feature film of this caliber and we've been able to do it with all Geminis, and not a ton of them. I think when people see the movie they would have no idea how we achieved such a big film look with such a small number of lights", says Jeff.
As soon as my DP and my gaffer started using them, they were just blown away by the power, especially the 1x1 Hard.
With a high light output, Gemini panels create a world of creative options for filmmakers. "Creating a huge source of soft light for some of our scenes was really nice for talent because having the camera be 360˚, you know you can't just find your light, stay there for the close up, and then move away", explains Jeff. "We had to find a way to light people close to wide, all in one shot and that's been achieved by using Geminis because of their power and versatility."
"The other huge advantage", he continues, "is being able to use them remotely via Bluetooth or wireless DMX. You rig a light really high up and you're not having to bring it down every time to adjust the settings."
The importance of color accuracy
Color accuracy is vital for movies that use practicals. Nothing tells you that a movie is lit more than seeing two different colors theoretically coming from the same source. For Jeff, Geminis have been incredibly accurate throughout the set-ups.
“The Geminis are so color accurate, we were able to match a lot of practicals, in a fun way" he explains. "Having the Litepanels be able to accurately dial in color to match any sort of practical source helps make talent look incredible. When you see a desk lamp, but you know the real source is the Gemini right in front of it matching that color and creating a nice soft fall-off on people's faces, it makes a real difference" says Jeff.
“Externally we had a blank slate of just no ambient light because we were in the middle of the woods. Using the 1x1 Hards gave us a source that is artificial, and yet no one knows it because you're able to dial it in so professionally."
“So for us the biggest advantage to working with Gemini is the versatility, as in how you can customize it but then also the color accuracy", explains Jeff. "It just allows us to really make the story heightened because we're able to match any practical and have full control of the aesthetic."
Just being able to, so accurately and quickly fine tune every setting was incredible. Our whole team was just thrilled, and we moved so fast.