Week 5: Poor Kitty – Night Scenes

They are the shots everybody likes to do. And they’re the shots that people always tend not to know too much about. How much light can you use in the scenes before the audience is going to lose focus and wonder why there is a sun at night! Do you film at night to give a realistic effect, or are you going to change the time of day in post? These are a couple of questions among the heaps of other questions you need to ask yourself when filming – and scripting – a night scene.

First off you should really be asking yourself the fundamental question of film – why is this here for? If you have a night scene and it’s there because you think you’ve scripted too many day shots… don’t. Night scenes are powerful features, and should be used only to progress the film – other than when characters go to sleep.

In Poor Kitty, we have a night scene to: a) reveal Kitty’s return to life, effectively progressing the story into the greater picture and; b) set the mood, style, and tone for the following scenes, intensifying from the humour beforehand.

With our purpose to be the progression of the film, we came to the decision of filming at day or night. We went with night filming because we simply could fit it into the schedule, and slightly to stop the pile up in the post editing. There were very good lessons learnt from filming at night which I’ll share, as well as ones I’ve learnt from my past where I filmed during the day and turned into night in post.

Filming During Nighttime

First off consider the neighbourhood. If it’s residential, know the cut-off time for loud noises. You can’t go scripting a massive house party, and then an angry neighbour actually calls up the police for the loud noise. It would be great realism, but so is the fine you’ll end up having to pay, as well as lost footage and a waste of time. If you are going to make some noise, do it on a weekend, and at least let the close by neighbours know that from XX:XX PM to YY:YY PM you’ll be filming a loud night scene. Even give them a mention in the credits for their co-operation – it’s the little things that if you run into them again you’ve got good ground to stand on.

Noise. No not the one I just described, but noise resulting from the lack of light. As you camera loses the sun’s natural light – probably 80-90% of overall light – your camera has to start guessing the depth, and distance of objects. On top of that the full black background pixelates as just a common drawback to digital film. To combat noise you need to relight the scene so the camera has a better data to capture. This, as aforementioned, can cause the audience to stop watching and begin analysing because you end up using too much light (or the wrong type of light – future post :]).

So what do you do? Well use a lot of soft lighting, so it’s not as intense, but still alright for the camera. Also change the script if you have to, so the character turns on the porch light – bonus light, and the audience knows where it’s coming from!

Filming During Daytime

The easier option because you can film anytime, any day, and no-one knows the difference. Well not fully correct, it’s actually not easier at all. Sure there is the accessibility of doing it anytime of the day, and there’s no noise – and if there is, it’s created in post so you can remove it – but there are extra things on top of nighttime filming that needs to be focused on.

To start off, light falls differently during the day to night. Highlights, lowlights, fill lights are all reacting differently to the atmosphere. And note dearly, you cannot replicate light in post production. It’s not that easy as some think. You can’t create a light in After Effects and expect it to react to the objects as a real life. Remember your footage in post in no longer 3D, but merely a 2D video layer.

So how do you film during the day if you can’t light it in post? Well while filming you are going to have the main light source well in front of the characters and/or objects. For better results try filming in shady areas so it’s already dark and your editor doesn’t have to crank the exposure below 0.

Now if you’re wondering why you would film during the day if there is so much more precautions you need to take, well you wouldn’t be the first person. But the fact is somethings schedules clash, and if you’re only available during the day well you either re-write the script with night scene(s) omitted, keep the scene and wait until you miraculously all can film at night – could take up to months without progress, or just simply film at night. This is why I said it’s easier because of the accessibility of everyone, but challenging for the amount of effort needed.

So it’s your choice in the end as the filmmaker, but if it’s extended shots consider you editor and the backlog it could cause if you’re doing it all in post.