The role of the Chief Lighting Technician, or Gaffer, on a motion picture, is a balance of creativity and technical knowledge. I have had the privilege of collaborating with some very talented Directors of Photography throughout my career and the most rewarding jobs to me, are the ones where I can contribute my lighting aesthetic to the look of the film."Inception" proved to have many challenges throughout the prep and shooting. For starters, filming would take place in 6 different countries, so the logistics of planning rigs for stages and locations was achieved through many emails and diagrams that I created after I had scouted each country. I become more of an Executive Gaffer on pictures of this scope, managing separate shooting and rigging crews around the world to help unify the look of the movie.
There is a hotel hallway in the story where the characters are to be seen floating in zero G conditions and also fighting as the hallway rotates 360 degrees. The hallway was built within a structure fabricated by the Special Effects Department which designed to spin the set continuously when called for. There was track designed within the carpet so the camera could move up and down the hallway and be operated remotely while the set was spinning. We designed the lighting in the hallway to also be completely self illuminating. There was no way to have traditional movie lights rigged inside the set to safely allow the actors and cameras to move about and achieve the shots that needed to be photographed. There were 6 soffits built into the ceiling, which had a milkplexi retaining wall all the way around the edge of each soffit. 12- 1k Atlas (Broad Light) fixtures were rigged to illuminate the milkplexi of each soffit, so 12k x 6= 72,000 watts. Hanging within each soffit section was a practical fixture housing 6 x 150watt photoflood globes, which were coated in teflon as a safety precaution for all of the stunt work involved. Lastly, Art Department installed wall sconces on either side of the hallway, globed with 100watt globes, which were also safety coated. All of this lighting was wired back to dimmer packs which were installed on board the rotating set. They were placed very carefully so as to not throw off the balance of the set. Powering all of this was another challenge because the set needed to be able to turn freely and continuously for as long as it took to achieve a take. We could not simply backwind a bunch of cable and then reset it each time. We decided that a system of brushes would have to be employed to transfer a significant amount of power from the hard mounted structure holding the set to the rotating part of the set in the same manner as a merry go round. This device is called a "Slip Ring" and we had one custom made to fulfill our amperage and installation requirements. The dimmer packs were controlled by a wireless DMX signal. All of these solutions were worked out months in advance by working closely with the Art Department and Special Effects team. These preparations are essential to avoid any issues on the shooting days when any problem can lead to very costly delays.
Finding creative and practical solutions for unusual challenges is the most rewarding part of my career as a CLT.Return to Musings