By Pete Kelley, Founder, Pete Galaxie Productions
In lighting Just Out of Reach, there were very few opportunities to actually plan a lighting technique. Of course, the major scene is at the cemetery, and we were locked into a date with the facility, so we had to take what we got, in as much as the mood and lighting of the scene.
I had hoped for a misty drizzle all day, in my dreams, to make a more somber mood for the film. However, in Southern California, even in January, when we shot Just Out of Reach, rainy days are sporadic at best. Having said that, the three days before the cemetery shoot were a deluge; some of the heaviest rains in Southern California in years. Rumor was the one road to the actual cemetery we intended to shoot at was closed, so, despite all the prep I had to do the day before the shoot, I had to brave the downpour and check the access to make sure the road was, in fact, open and we could shoot our most important scene the next day. Also, just like Southern California, after three days of intense rain, the day of the shoot dawned crystal clear and sunny. The roads were open and my fate was set, sunny and clear.
Andrew J. Traister, our director, and I had made several trips to the cemetery to pick the exact location of the gravesite. I was insistent we shoot backlit, and we chose the location and shot based on that choice. The gravesite was nearly a quarter mile from any power source, so I knew we would have to rely on minimal power, a putt putt, in this instance (after all this was a low budget short film project). Even still, I was faced with lighting a large group of people, backlit, with the maximum of two 1200 HMI pars I could power with 4500 Amps. I think I rented some shiny boards, and borrowed some others.
The sun provided the backlight source. I filled with the two 1200's through some lovely diffusion, and bounced from foam core, 6X6 reflectors, and anything I could come up with to satisfactorily front light the entire group of mourners. We ended up with a bank of lights, diffused through frames and bounce boards interspersed to make the front fill spanning perhaps 25 feet. There are some photos of this rig in the production stills.
We used the shiny boards to fill dead spots, backlight and highlight certain characters. I remember thinking at the time how fortunate I was that it was working, because had I been even a half a stop lower on their faces it would have been dark, and I was out of gas. I had no more to give. Fortunately, it was enough, and it worked.
It wasn't a giant set; we used maybe 10 C stands, 1 4X6 diffusion, 1 6X6 reflector and the 6 shiny boards, but in all I only had myself and my very good friend Tom Rowe as grip, gaffer and electrical department.
As I was shooting, and, essentially stuck behind the camera, we had a one man grip and electric department. Tom had to handle all the duties, run the generator, shake every board, trim each lamp in an effort to chase the sun, and he did this single handedly all day. I owe him deep gratitude for making the cemetery scene look great.
Another scene that was unique is the kitchen scene when Rebecca opens the letter from Jacob. We had originally intended to shoot the dolly shot with the family that day, but when we arrived it began to pour rain and we were forced inside to shoot the kitchen.
I put up my prized possession, my old 2K junior outside shooting into the window. No sooner did I turn it on, than it poured rain in buckets and then began to hail. I put a little 18X24 solid rain hat over the 2K, which was instantly soaked. I used a little china ball for fill inside, but all during the shoot I was concerned that the rain would short the 2K and ruin my favorite light and worse yet, leave me without the source light for the scene.
Well, we shot for a good hour, and the 2K stayed on. We got our shot and the rain enhanced the scene in a way that made our shot even more special. Of course it stopped after we were done, but too late to shoot the dolly shot, as we had released the actors, but when I finally got outside to check on the 2K, there was not any sign of rain on it at all. The hat had kept the rain from flooding the light, and it was hot enough that it had evaporated any water that got into the housing instantly. No harm no foul!