Writer and director, Li Wallis, came up with the idea for NothingMan as a consequence of Covid but this in-production series has nothing to do with an emerging Novel virus. It’s elevator pitch description is ‘Wildlife traffickers clash with environmental warriors and pseudo-scientists at the crossroads of Europe’.
There’s a not-so hidden eco message in the series but the driving themes are what we love about episodics - interwoven agendas from different factions within an ever changing story. Li explains what she cherishes about drama programming, “My passion is a series. You want characters that you get to know over the course of the episodes. You root for them and support them as they change or you see them as they really are.”
But perhaps amongst the challenges for this production was managing expectations for the shoot. A location-heavy agenda and a low-light aesthetic meant a need for a lighting design that mixed portability with clever coverage.
NothingMan was shot in a Pandemic-stricken Berlin last year and finished this year but ironically the lack of people and infrastructure helped the production as Li’s business partner and co-writer John Dooley explains, “NothingMan started small and just grew. Obviously Covid restricted us but it gave us other opportunities that we weren’t expecting in regards to locations and to the fact that there weren’t many people around on the streets. That leant itself to a very eery atmosphere.”
95% of the shoot was location work in a very cold German spring, again helping with a stark aesthetic and minimal production design. Ironically the Pandemic was actually helping them gain access to some locations which were already in lock down. “We had a brewery to ourselves to film in, we had the full run of the place and so staged a bunch of scenes in there with our Litepanels Gemini range of RGBWW LED panels and an Astra 6X Bi-Color unit.
“We were also allowed to use the Natural History Museum in Potsdam just outside Berlin. We were in bars like the Loophole which didn’t have any power but we were able to re-charge our fantastic Anton/Bauer XT 150 batteries in a Kebab shop next door so had no break in filming.”
So, in the midst of the drama of the century the team started shooting their own, albeit with a minimal crew. Being a location-heavy production they needed equipment that was lightweight but effective enough to deal with anything. John Dooley explains why the Litepanels lights worked so well for them, “As a unit we needed to be nimble and move quickly. The Geminis seemed very robust even though they are lightweight. They also have lots of power in a small package. We ended up using the 1x1 panels a lot with the 2x1 being used more for big control, even turning night in to day on a couple of occasions."
“We rigged up the Gemini 2x1 to shine through the glass fronted shop – it worked perfectly as a ‘day for night’ scene.”John DooleyCo-writer
The Gemini panels also have full RGB control over 16.7 million colors and using that option was a revelation for a crew used to fitting physical gels on lights. “That was a huge thing” commented John, “It’s so convenient and helpful that you have the colors already dialled in. The fact that you could experiment with the colors just encouraged you to try things out.”
Li and John also customized a lighting effect to save time, money and ultimately move the story on quickly. “We had a scene where one of the actresses was getting arrested although she didn’t know it was going to happen. Even if we had a Police car we couldn’t have positioned it close enough for the location we were in. In the end we had our Gaffer hand hold the Gemini up to her face to bounce the flashing Police lights off her to get the effect. It was so effective and easy to do, he was running next to her to make it even more dramatic.”
Light control on location
The big lighting challenge for NothingMan was to control the lighting for their many locations. Sometimes the challenge was negating the light that was already there so you could establish some level of design. Li certainly valued her gaffer Jayden Bailey when appraising a location. “We often had to mask the real lighting of the location and then change it. One challenge was when we were shooting at the Natural History Museum, they had these fixtures that were really bad - very yellow - so we had to put the flags up and use the Geminis as the real light.
“We were effectively painting the scene with the Geminis from a daylight replacement light all the way down to establishing very controlled low-light scenarios. They were always so consistent in that control and so easy and quick to deploy.”
“The Gemini 1x1's are especially lightweight, yet reassuringly robust. In tandem with the Gemini 2x1 Soft, you have a very easy to handle and accurate light source.”John DooleyCo-writer