accomplish someone else’s artistic vision. But you still need to know
how exactly to do that.
Understanding Artistic and Emotional Intent
When you first read the script, you will need to break it down into
scenes and shots, if it is not already done for you. Scenes are all the indi
vidual measures of the script, each of which tells a small part of the story
in a specific setting. Scenes usually consist of individual time spans dur
ing which a specific kernel of information is revealed about the story. For
example, the three witches in Macbeth have their own scenes, each of
which occurs in its own locale during its own time period, and is sepa
rate from the other scenes. Each delivers specific information to the
audience. Each begins and ends logically and ties to the next and previ
ous scenes in some way. Within each scene there may be a number of
different shots. It is likely that most of the shots in each scene will have
a similar emotional tone. You will want to make note of whether a scene
is happy or sad, gloomy or foreboding, exciting or disgusting. These are
the cornerstones of your lighting design. It is your job to assist the sto-
ryteller and the audience in experiencing the story as fully as possible.
After you understand the feeling of a scene, your next job is to look
at the technical requirements of each shot. Back to basics. Is it interior
or exterior? Is it in a basement or on the roof of a 100-story skyscraper?
Now that you have the two key elements of lighting in your grasp —
the aesthetic and the technical — it is your job to find a way to convey
the first, without upsetting the second. For example, if I have a very sad,
morose scene and I wish to make the audience feel the despair of the
characters in the story, I would probably first think of using muted col
ors, low lighting levels, and perhaps some odd angles to make the whole
scene uncomfortable. But what if the scene takes place at midday at a
carnival? What if it is on a California beach? I seem to be stuck with the
light provided by reality, and there seems to be little I can do to help the
story with lighting. But if I put on my thinking cap, I will discover that
there are many subtle changes I can make to these two scenarios, espe
cially the carnival scenario, that will add surrealism to the scene. This
surrealism will support the negative emotional intent of the scene. If you
have ever experienced a real crisis, you will remember the feeling of
surreality that accompanied the event. This is easy to accomplish in a
carnival. I can choose unusual colors and angles. I don’t have to mute
colors and intensities. In fact, I can contrast the emotion by adding
brighter, more colorful lights, creating a deeper gulf between the envi
ronment and the tone of the scene. Sometimes going in the opposite
Part III: Creating Lighting ··································

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