The Thorons: Anatomy of an HD Spot

If you live in California you've probably seen this already. Here's how we did it.

I shot this spot a few weeks ago and it hit the air in a big way on Sept. 22.

Sam and Julia Thoron spoke directly to camera, and we used the one angle in their house that suited our purposes: looking down a hallway toward their dining room. Like most people they’d painted their living room a very light and lively color, which would have been awful to shoot in as HD doesn’t play well with brightly light backgrounds except in certain dramatic circumstances–and this didn’t qualify.

The “keys” were Kino Flo Image 80’s, 8-tube flourescent fixtures that had enough punch to compete with the daylit exterior without cooking the talent or the crew. We put some light diffusion over them (probably Lee 2500) because, while Kino Flos are designed to be soft sources, the raw tubes can occasionally be a bit too harsh. A little diffusion turns them into beautifully glowing light sources.

We shot this spot using a Sony F900R and Pro35 adapter from Chater Camera of Berkeley. I believe the lenses used were 35mm, 65mm and 85mm Zeiss Super Speeds. I didn’t know that the 65mm existed until I started renting from Chater Camera years ago: I’d never seen one in Southern California! It’s a wonderful intermediate lens with a very interesting personality.

I used a Schneider Soft F/X 1 filter on all shots. It hides some of the high-frequency detail (“wrinkles”) without being super obvious. They needed to look like real people (because they are!) but my artistic side insisted on a little something to smooth them out. I looked at what the Soft F/X did on the different shots and decided to keep the same filter all the way through. I just didn’t see any real differences that made me think I needed to change to lighter filtration for longer lenses and tighter shots.

At one point you can see the Image 80’s reflected in Julia’s glasses, and you may notice that one is higher than the other. We did that to keep the reflection out of her glasses as much as possible. An occasional reflection “hit” is okay but if it’s there the entire time it’s distracting.

The idea behind using two Image 80’s was that one of them was the primary source (possibly a window to the side of the talent) and the secondary unit just carried that light around the front of the faces a bit, dropping off on the fill side. The backlight doesn’t feel completely motivated and I would have eliminated it for a dramatic piece; for a heartfelt political spot it seemed necessary.

The shot of the pictures was the hardest bit. How do you photograph two flat contrasty stills and make them look interesting? We used a Source 4 light with a round textured pattern and a zoom. The Source 4 zoom adds red and blue fringing to edges when it’s thrown out of focus. It’s a “random” effect that I love.

Sam and Julia Thoron are about the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. They meant every word.

I’ve got another No on Prop 8 spot on YouTube right now that I’ll write up tomorrow.


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Art Adams

Art Adams - Director of Photography

Cinematographer Art Adams shoots spots, visual effects, web/interactive/mobile and high-end marketing projects. His website is at http://www.artadamsdp.com.

Art has been published in HD Video Pro, American Cinematographer, Australian Cinematographer and Camera Operator Magazine He is a current member of the International Cinematographers Guild, a past member of the Society of Camera Operators (SOC), and an industry consultant and educator. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.