Here we go with a new fantastic lighting breakdown. This is a part of a series of blogs, if you missed the last one by Johnny Derango, take a look and stay tuned for the next!
Vincent Eckert grew up in Furtwangen in the Black Forest from a family of artists. He is the son of the sculptor Wolfgang Eckert and the painter Julia Elsässer-Eckert.
After getting his high school diploma from the Robert-Gerwig School in Furtwangen with a major in design and media technology in 2016, Vincent began training at Bavaria Film’s prestigious trainee program that only accepts 4 in 400 applicants.
Since 2019 he has been studying cinematography at the world-renowned Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.
Vincent Eckert has worked on more than 20 films as a cinematographer, which earned more than 100 film festival nominations in recent years – including at the Oscar-accredited LA Shorts International Festival – and won more than 20 awards.
Besides fiction films, Vincent Eckert also works on commercials and documentary shorts. He works as a freelance cinematographer.
Before diving into this breakdown, tell us more, Vincent! You said it was one of the most challenging sets ever, right?
Yeah, it was a struggle against extreme weather conditions: we had flooding, we evacuated the set, we even had falling trees and were rescued by the fire department – the medieval comedy “Martyrs of Striving“ was a challenge in every aspect.
We had to manage – for example – the lighting of a 200-meter moon scene in the forest, without a cherry picker, and in general, in these severe and extreme conditions, it was also challenging to keep the stylistic language and production value constant. But in the end, we were really proud of the result we achieved.
Sounds all great! How did you start the work?
After an intensive examination of the script and some inspiring conversations with the director Alexander Peskador, I broke down the statement of content into a few sentences. Around this content core, I wanted to create a visual language that would captivate the viewer. All creative decisions were based on this.
One of those was the choice of focal length. In the story, two guard soldiers guard the country‘s border. Death himself, with the plague in his luggage, wants to cross it. The soldiers have a quarrel over his entry and each one tries to implement their own decision on their own. A fight breaks out, but not against the plague.
Because of this, I used longer focal lengths in the opening scenes to show the guard soldiers’ lenses together as a unit. We are drawn into their own egoistic world of interests with the constant shortening of the focal lengths.
We had an especially tough schedule while shooting because the night shooting days fell on the shortest nights of the year. That meant 6h 30 min for 5 minutes of the script until the blue hour. For those reasons, special efficiency for the shooting was required.
The whole scene is in a wooded valley. To know exactly how dark it is in the denser places, I documented the sunset and sunrise in those with a light meter. This allowed me to get a few more minutes of shooting time at some positions.
For each lamp, I meticulously planned each position, so that they could be moved earlier for the following settings. This process had to be extremely precise: as soon as it turned dark in the woods, the first slate had to fall immediately for time reasons. Light corrections at night were not possible.
Breakdown Night Forest
During the recce, I discovered a path on the mountainside that ran parallel to the valley (the shooting location). I aligned the axes so that I could place the lamps for the moon there in the backlight. This allowed me to control over 200×100 meters of the forest at night, which otherwise would only have been possible with the strong use of cherry picker. We lighted the large areas with naked HMI‘S. Thanks to the Dual 2500 Base Iso of the Sony Venice, the largest unit at night was only 2.5 kW.
To define the look of the soldiers and extend the moonlight and torchlight, I had both boomed by hand with Aperature Bulbs. Even during the acting rehearsals, I made sure that everyone carried a torch in their right hand. The actors lit themselves with it.
So we were fast, flexible, and didn‘t have to move a lot of lamps during rebuilds.
The fog was a way for me to visually represent rot and death. Since we didn‘t have the budget for a big SFX team with fog tubes, I analyzed three wind directions at different times of the day during the visit. I let three Hazers run through at a location about 100 meters from where we were. Thanks to this, the fog always was evenly distributed all over the set.
Breakdown Night Castle
For the castle scene, I used a light lift from the left side, which was equipped with a 1.2 kW and a Chimera M. At the left tower edge I managed to get a rim light.
Again, I used the torches and extended them with a Skypanel hidden behind the left dark foreground wall. To improve the fire mode I let a black Mollton cloth flutter in front of it.
Breakdown Day Forest
I had the day shootings scheduled 2h before sunset, so I could do the night setup while shooting in parallel.
With this, the valley was already in the shade and small light units could do more.
In this setup, I pointedly used an M18 and bounced it over a 2×1 styro in the face while still hitting the back of the head for a light point. For eyesight (difficult with the deep helmets) I pulled in another silverfish. For negative fill, a floppy was enough.
Just as we were about to rebuild for the night, we were caught unprepared by a sudden thunderstorm. Old trees crashed down, forcing us to leave the equipment behind – which felt terrible. When the storm subsided and we fought our way through the fallen trees, we had to cancel the rest of the night shooting.
The next day, the set was flooded and the water was up to our knees. Unfortunately, our showdown had to take place right in the river (now torrential) because the beginning of the scene was shot there some days before. This was no longer possible.
Due to the enormous time pressure, the scene HAD to be shot that night or the film could not be finished.
I improvisationally shot all the perspectives from the frog‘s perspective and was thus able to keep the action next to the river.
In terms of content, the perspective makes sense because of the mutual rivalry between the soldiers. Unfortunately, I couldn‘t use the raised lamp path anymore and shone the lamps directly into the trees from below for the background, which is recognizable but gets drowned in the narrative flow with the use of fog and blur.
The scene was shot and saved, but suddenly a tree flew over out of nowhere, 200 meters from the set, and blocked our way back again.
Once again, the fire department had to clear our way at 5 a.m. Luckily the wait was not bad, because as a crew we enjoyed the still successful shoot at a warm campfire.
Wow! Awesome Vincent, incredible job! Now we are curious about your next challenge, what’s the next project?
The next project I am planning has the working title “Shell Shock Utopia“. The project deals with the inner conflicts of humans in the extreme conditions of war. In the setting of a battlefield, we will establish dreamlike elements, thus combining a colorful utopia with the harsh reality of war. At the moment I am experimenting with different light strips that are supposed to cover the entire set to create the outer-worldly utopia effect in-camera. In addition, we are still considering an option to combine this whole shabang with the possibilities of virtual production.
I think it is important to always stay open-minded to find different creative solutions to a problem. This by the way is one of the things I really like about my job.
More info and credit about Martyrs of Striving
Director: Peskador IG @alexanderpeskador
DoP: Vincent Eckert IG @the_winstone
Gaffer: Fabian Pfriem IG @fabipfr
Producer: Paul Hartmann, Max Sachsse
So, guys, we are at the end of this blog, thank you so much Vincent for sharing your awesome work and experience with the community and see you guys on the next blog!
We are already cooking the new piece, so stay tuned and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss the next one! Have a great day on our channels.